Champions League 2019-20 – a brief preview of the semi-finals

In this fourth and final part of our mini-series on the knock-out stages of the 2019-20 Europa League and Champions League, we are taking a look at the upcoming Champions League semi-finals. With RB Leipzig and Olympique Lyon, this season’s semis feature two surprising names, while German side Bayern Munich reached the penultimate stage of the competition by blowing FC Barcelona away 8 goals to 2. The quartet are completed by French champions PSG, who eliminated Italian side Atalanta Bergamo in dramatic last-minute fashion.

This edition of Europe’s elite tournament is also the first since the first edition in 1992 in which no team from either England, Spain or Italy features in the semi-finals. Instead, each semi this year is a classic France vs Germany, with PSG facing RB Leipzig on August 18th and Olympique Lyon playing favourites Bayern Munich on August 19th.

Fun fact: three of the four semi-finalists this year have a German manager: Hansi Flick (Bayern Munich), Thomas Tuchel (PSG) and Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig).

RB LEIPZIG – PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN – 18th August at 8pm (UK time)

Where Leipzig caused a considerable upset by eliminating an overly defensive Atletico Madrid side in the quarter-finals, Paris Saint-Germain overturned a 1-0 deficit against Atalanta Bergamo in the dying minutes of the game. For this one, PSG are once again the favourite, but Leipzig are definitely a more deadly side than Gian Piero Gasperini’s ultra-attacking side. The Germans overwhelmed Atletico with their trademark disciplined, dynamic playing style, but the Parisians have the quality up front to cause them very serious trouble. In fact, to cause any team in Europe serious trouble.

The two eye catchers in attack for PSG are obviously French wonder kid Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, the world’s most expensive player after transferring from FC Barcelona to Paris in £198 million back in the summer of 2017. The former wasn’t fully fit for the start of the Atalanta game, but came on right on the hour mark and changed the dynamic of the game, while the Brazilian, despite his under-par finishing, was unstoppable at times. As a matter of fact, he completed 16 dribbles, the most in a single Champions League game in history, and provided the assist for the critically important equaliser in the 90th minute. With the likes of Mauro Icardi, Pablo Sarabia, Julian Draxler and match-winner Choupo-Moting in support, the French side boasts one of the most abundant forward lines in world football. If they can be a bit more clinical in front of goal than against Atalanta, combined with the disciplined defensive strength of world class names like Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Gana Gueye, they have all the possibilities to reach the final.

Then again, RB Leipzig aren’t one of the semi-finalists for nothing. Before eliminating Diego Simeone’s fighting machine, Julian Nagelsmann’s men took care of Spurs in the round of 16 with an aggregate score of 4 to nothing, all of it with their signature vertical style of play. The Germans tend to produce very high-energy, disciplined performances carried out by a very talented group of players. The loss of Timo Werner to Chelsea was obviously painful to Die Roten Bullen, but the money was well invested in Spanish attacking midfielder Dani Olmo. Apart from the talented forward, who scored the opener against Atletico, Leipzig boast an abundance of footballing talent with the likes of midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, the genius Kevin Kampl, Christopher Nkunku and captain Yussuf Poulsen. Goalkeeper Gulasci regularly shines as well, well the regular wing-backs Laimer and Angeliño are perfectly suited to Nagelmann’s style of play. In the face of powerhouse PSG, the Germans will need to be at their very best once more, but if they’ve shown one thing in the past seasons, it’s that they are capable of booking big results. The only thing still missing is a piece of silverware and we think they could spring a surprise so look out for free bets if you have a hunch that the bookmakers’ odds are overly generous for a Leipzig win.

Prediction: PSG 1 – 2 RB Leipzig

OLYMPIQUE LYON – BAYERN MUNICH – 19th August at 8pm (UK time)

In the second semi-final battle between Germany and France, German champions Bayern Munich are facing French side Lyon, who finished in seventh place last season. The German Bundesliga champions have cruised through the knock-out stages so far, first beating Chelsea with an aggregate score of 7-1 over two games and then destroying Barcelona 8-2 in the quarter-finals. It’s no wonder that the Bavarians are considered the favourites to win the most coveted cup in club football. Lyon’s track record in this CL campaign has not been unmpressive though, and that’s really saying something. The French first eliminated Italian powerhouse Juventus over two games, and then booked their well-documented and eventually well-deserved victory over Man City in the quarters.

The previously mentioned Bayern scorelines kind of tells us the whole story already. Since Hansi Flick took over from Robert Kovac during the season, the German giants have patiently been built into a multi-faceted monster that seems to have little to no weaknesses. Their attack is led by, probably, the best number nine in the world in the shape of Robert Lewandowski and he is supported by an incredible array of experience and talent. From Thomas Müller and Leon Goretzka to Serge Gnabry, Ivan Perisic, Barcelona-loanee Coutinho and Kingsley Coman, there is simply too many of them to start all at once. Oh, and we forgot the magnificant Thiago Alcántara. At the back, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer leads a set-up consisting of the extremely talented Alphonso Davies and the perfect all-rounder Kimmich who takes many of the free kicks and coorners, as well as excellent defenders such as David Alaba, Lucas Hernandez, Niklas Süle and Jerome Boateng. There’s just no other way to put it: despite Lyon’s impressive CL campaign so far, Bayern are heavy favourites here.

Of course, that’s what most of us thought as well when l’OL played Juventus and then City. We all know how that ended. Lyon’s approach to the game will largely be the same as it was for their previous knock-out ties, in big part due to the fact that they simply do not enjoy the kind of squad depth other clubs like Man City or Bayern do. Still, it was Moussa Dembélé who came off the bench against City to score a brace, the second goal after a Jeff-Reine Adelaide shot, another substitute. Because that’s one thing that Lyon do have, a non-stop flow of footballing talent from their world-renowned academy. In combination with some excellent first-team names, such as midfield maestro Houssem Aouar, the tireless Maxwell Cornet and, of course, Dutch star Memphis Depay, they have managed to overcome big names in European football from an underdog position. Bayern will be punished if they dare to underestimate the French, but we don’t think they will. We feel this will be a win for the Germans but doubt very much they will be able to go on the same scoring spree they did in the last match.

Prediction: Lyon 0 – 2 Bayern