Eyeing the European Crown

first_imgAn impressive UCL campaign has seen Barcelona end their quarter-final curse (2016-2018) and reach the 8th semi-final in the last 12 years. As the only European giant standing in the elite competition, Barcelona is pipped as favourites to lift the trophy for the 6th time. Subduing Inter and Spurs in the group stage and Lyon in last 16, Barça were matched against Manchester United in a rematch of the two UCL finals (2009, 2011). And, similar to those finals, Barcelona triumphed owing to the brilliance of their talisman Lionel Messi who is in dazzling form leading the scoring charts with ten goals. Barcelona’s balanced performance in attack, midfield, defence as well as a calm and cautious goalkeeper means it would be an apt test of Liverpool’s overly attacking gameplay. They have conceded less and Camp Nou’s effectively a fortress with Barça unbeaten in Europe since 2013. Drawn against second favourites Liverpool means this semi-final will be a goal fest given the firepower both sides possess. Barça possesses the flair, experience, and vision to make it to Madrid but will have to be careful given the scintillating form the Reds are in. Also Read – Puducherry on top after 8-wkt win over Chandigarh Gameplay: Possession, high-press and pace on the break remain Barça’s dominant traits. Their mesmerising momentum shift, sharp passing, crisp one-twos, delicate through-balls and devastating long balls are capable of unlocking any defence. Key Players: Lionel Messi and Luis SuárezMemories of the final defeat last season to Real Madrid must have brought a horde of realisations and ensuing improvisations – strengthening defence for starters. Liverpool possesses the deadliest attacking trio right now with the possibility of goals coming from any direction. Klopp’s two years at the helm have created a team that does not sit back waiting for a chance on the break but instead looks forward to orchestrating the game, with reinvigorated counter-attacks and a better conversion rate of attempts to the goal. Liverpool came out of group stage courtesy of more goals after being tied on points and head-to-head with Napoli. Removing Bayern Munich in a sensational away match performance in last 16, Liverpool’s quarter-final clash against Porto was a cake walk (Agg. 6-1). Making it to a consecutive semi-final, the Reds’ bolstered defence and ultra-high pressing will certainly cause problems for the Spanish giants. Pursuing a neck-to-neck league title race against City, Liverpool will have to tactically rotate the squad in order to produce the sublime performance they have, so far or they could jeopardise chances of silverware in both competitions. Also Read – Vijender’s next fight on Nov 22, opponent to be announced later Gameplay: Strong defence, explosive pressing and the in-form attacking trio provide balance to the team. A serious counter-attacking threat, Liverpool can unleash Mane and Salah through long balls creating certain goal opportunities. Key Players: Virgil van Dijk and Mo SalahHaving brushed aside league rivals Manchester City in a high-octane match, Spurs has already made history. Their first semi-final berth in 57 years of Europe’s elite competition was achieved in a dramatic fashion trumping the citizens who were favourites to win and advancing on away goals. A seven-goal thriller with a meandering scoreboard kept everyone at the edge of their seats till the final whistle as City failed to overturn the aggregate deficit despite winning 4-3 on the night. Spurs are accredited with an admirable fighting spirit which has brought them from being almost out of the group stage to a maiden UCL semi-final appearance. The 1-0 home victory against Inter and late Lucas Moura goal at Camp Nou on the last matchday facilitated their progress from the group stage based on a better head-to-head record against Inter. In the round of 16, they edged past an in-form Dortmund with a comfortable 4-0 aggregate score. Spurs’ all-out attack might just leave them vulnerable to Ajax’s sustained gameplay and it would be better if they balance their efforts while not letting Ajax get an away goal. Gameplay: Spurs maintain an average possession while stressing on counter attacks to surprise opponents owing to their great speed on the break. Pochettino’s ‘attack is the best defence’ strategy fits their narrative. Key players: Son Heung-Min and C EriksonWith an exhilarating performance at Turin to reach the semi-finals after 20 years, Ajax has demonstrated that efficient team dynamics can outclass big fishes owing to one simple fact: Football is a team game. Smooth passing, neat one-twos, flexible yet maintained team positioning and balanced attack and defence have all accounted for Ajax’s dream run in the UCL this season. Having not lost a single game back in the group stage, Ajax has since taken on European heavyweights one after another and produced beautiful football. Drawing both matches against Bayern, defeating Real Madrid in Bernabéu (1-4) and usurping favourites Juventus to book a place in the semi-finals, a team of youngsters has left the world in awe of its resilience and skill. Led by 19-year-old Matthijs de Ligt, this Ajax side has suddenly stimulated the global audience with its vibrant and young squad outplaying the veterans of UCL. For Ajax, style is not an alternative to substance but a route to it and through its unwavering faith and high-performance tempo, they have axed their way through to the top four. In a match of comparative underdogs, Ajax might just trump Spurs owing to their majestic form this season. Gameplay: Displaying total football in all its glory, Ajax’s philosophy of high-pressing, more possession and controlled tempo fits their explosive energy. Key Players: Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligtlast_img

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