The likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Napoli have all fallen by the wayside, leaving a replay of last season’s semi-final as the first game in the last four this time around: Real Madrid v Manchester City. City had things under control last season until they lost storyline at the Bernabeu as Real grabbed a 6-5 aggregate win to go into the final on their way to winning the trophy.
With City again in the semi-finals, the other big talking point at the moment is how Pep Guardiola’s men are ready for a potential hat-trick. They currently lead Arsenal by 1 point in the EPL table and are scheduled to face Manchester United in the FA Cup Final on June 3rd.
THE Champions League the semi-finals will kick off on May 10 (early morning Indian time) at the Bernabeu, with Real Madrid hosting Manchester City. The reverse fixture of this clash will be played at the Etihad Stadium on May 18 (00:30 IST). Meanwhile, Inter and Milan will join forces on May 11 and 17 (00:30 IST).
In view of the first leg of the first semifinal, TimesofIndia. com spoke to professional soccer coach and former player Ashley Westwood, who has coached Indian clubs like Bengaluru FC, ATK and Roundglass Punjab, about the lineup for the semi-final this time around, key players fans should look out for and more .
This is the first part of the interview with Ashley.
Manchester City players (AP Photo)
The line-up for this season’s Champions League semi-finals: a Spanish team, which also holds qualification, an English team and two Italian teams. Is there any team that you thought would be in the final four, but didn’t make it?
How Napoli played in the first rounds. By beating Liverpool, they have been in fantastic form in the league, so I was surprised they didn’t go into the latter stages. Obviously Bayern Munich were the favourites. The only team to win every single group game and to win them convincingly. But unfortunately for them they faced Manchester City. I thought both of them would reach the final four, but of course their meeting in the quarterfinals made that impossible. So I think Napoli and Bayern Munich lost for me, (teams) I expected to be there (semifinal), but the way the matches are done and the way the draw is done, it’s not always the best teams which they get to the final stages. Sometimes you have to get lucky, sometimes you have to avoid some people. Benfica – the way they played at one point – were also something of a dark horse, but they obviously faltered against Inter Milan. The four teams that are there deserve to be there, they deserve to be there on merit. Inter beat Benfica, not an easy feat, back and forth. Milan beat Napoli. They are an incredibly good offensive team who have scored so many goals. Then of course Manchester City took care of Bayern Munich who are very tough and Real Madrid took care of Chelsea. It’s an interesting composition and I don’t think anyone expected two Italian teams to reach the semi-finals. But you can’t call it, they are so closely matched. Arguably, Manchester City-Real Madrid would have been an ideal final, but I’m pretty sure Italy is grateful that one of their teams makes it to the final.
Of the two semi-final clashes which would you say is the real main clash? Would you lean towards Real Madrid-Manchester City, also based on how the two teams are doing this season in their respective leagues, in La Liga and in the EPL?
Yes, it must be. Real Madrid are champions, Manchester City are still in the running for the treble, which will be incredible. They did so well to turn the tables against Arsenal, when it looked like (the EPL title) was going to maybe be Arsenal’s, it just shows the kind of form they’re in. Even Guardiola vs Ancelotti – a repeat of last year’s semi-final where Manchester City were in the driver’s seat and knocked it away at the Bernabeu, this must surely be the deciding clash. With those two managers – as I said – Guardiola and Ancelotti – one of them will get to the final again and hopefully, for me we should say, it’s Manchester City.
Real Madrid players (Photo Reuters)
You mentioned the hat-trick City are chasing. They will face Manchester United in the FA Cup Final on 3 June. Would you say this current City side deserve to win the treble? We heard from someone like Xavi, who also said he deserved to win the treble with Pep…
They deserve to win something, but football isn’t always like that. It can be cruel. They have been so well equipped in the last 3-4 seasons in the Champions League and they just didn’t make it. I even think back to the Tottenham match (QF 2018-19), 2 games against Tottenham Hotspur where I couldn’t believe they didn’t win it. It looked like they were going to win. They’ve done things a little differently this season. They found an incredible striker in Haaland – 50 goals. They’ve changed a bit tactically during the games, they’ve been really fluid in their football, they’ve been solid defensively. To counter teams on the break, which hasn’t always happened in past seasons, so they did something different again. It’s not just a repeat of last season. They seem to get stronger and stronger. If you see them play against Arsenal who everyone was talking about winning the league – they’ve played them three times and played them completely out of the park – it just showed you how good they are and how far they can go with a team like Arsenal. ‘Arsenal really silenced it and it shows you how strong Manchester City are.
If you had to pick 5 players who you think will really impress in the semi-finals, in both matches, who would you pick?
You should choose Erling Haaland (Manchester City). Nice to see him back on penalties over the weekend too, as he took a penalty in the Champions League and missed it, but then picked up a penalty over the weekend, so that’s telling me it could be on penalties which when we’re looking for finer margins in the semis there’s always a penalty somewhere, because it’s so fiercely contested. Vinicius Jr. (Real Madrid) is dangerous. We’ve seen it in previous games, the acceleration he has, maybe he could make his mark in the semis. Rafael Leao (Milan) is dangerous. He seems to do these driving races with pace. He is a player who can capture attention. I really like Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), he’s doing very well. And you can’t forget Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City). Now that’s quite biased you’d say Manchester City, but there are many: Brahim Diaz (AC Milan) is a tough winger who actually came from Manchester City and plays for AC Milan (on loan from Real Madrid), which is in good shape. Inter’s Lautaro Martinez is a player who can create moments of brilliance and score goals. There are so many players you know: Modric, Benzema always seem to find a goal in big games. We really are spoiled for choice. But if I had to pick (only) five, I would pick: Haaland, Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, Leao and Vinicius Jr.
Clock Countdown to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals with Ashley Westwood