3 must-see match-ups in Champions League semifinals

Kevin De Bruyne (R) reacts after a challenge from Luka Modric during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England on August 7, 2020. (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Kevin De Bruyne (R) reacts after a challenge from Luka Modric during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England on August 7, 2020. (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /
Champions League
Karim Benzema reacts during last week’s UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid and Chelsea FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. (Photo by Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images) /

The UEFA Champions League semifinals should be action-packed as the four remaining teams boast impeccable pedigree.

Real Madrid and Liverpool have 19 Champions League titles between them. Manchester City are the “big guns” looking for their first title, while Villarreal are the wild card who have reached the semifinals for the first time in 16 years.

The Madrid-City and Liverpool-Villarreal matches offer vastly different, but intriguing narratives. The amount of top-quality players involved ensures that several key on-field battles will decide which team prevails to the Champions League final.

Let’s have a look at the three critical match-ups in these semifinals.

Will Benzema-Dias duel decide Champions League finalist?

Karim Benzema is a very strong contender to win the Ballon d’Or this year. If he continues to perform in the biggest of stages, he can start clearing space on his shelf for the trophy.

Benzema has done a fantastic job in the Champions League, virtually carrying Real Madrid to the semifinals. He’s scored 12 goals in nine games, including hat-tricks against PSG and Chelsea.

But the Frenchman faces a much more dangerous challenge in the form of Manchester City. The Citizens have been quite solid defensively, posting back-to-back clean sheets against Atletico de Madrid in the quarterfinals. Ruben Dias is the backbone of City’s back line.

The Portuguese defender is a no-nonsense, aggressive player who marshals a near-unbreakable Citizens defense. Dias’ impressive marking skills, ability to make clutch challenges and confidence is hard to break down.

Benzema will have his hands full against an alert, quick centre-back like Dias. But the Frenchman has embarrassed the best of defenders this season and is at the height of his game, finishing whatever chances he gets.

This should be a highly entertaining, dramatic battle in both legs and the Madrid striker has to produce something special to win this battle, and perhaps the war, for his team.

Who’ll rule in midfield? De Bruyne or Luka Modric

The tie between Real Madrid and Man City is likely to be decided by fine margins. The real battle across the two legs, which could potentially decide who comes out on top, is likely to be in the middle of the park. City and Madrid boast quality midfielders capable of tipping things in their team’s favor.

The most prominent battle in midfield should be between Kevin de Bruyne and Luka Modric. Both played influential roles in helping their sides get to the semifinals and are going strong this season.

De Bruyne has enjoyed a prolific season, scoring 14 goals and providing nine assists. He scored his first Champions League goal of the season in the 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid, the lone tally in that quarterfinals tie. The Belgian midfielder’s creativity, ability to split defense with pinpoint passes while also providing threat as a goal-scorer make him a nightmare for any side.

Modric, however, won’t back down in this battle. The Croatian is still going strong at the age of 36. He provided an incredible assist for Rodrygo’s goal in the quarterfinal second-leg against Chelsea, saving Madrid’s UCL season before Benzema won it in overtime. Modric’s hard-working nature, unpredictable passing and experience factor make him one to watch.

De Bruyne and Modric’s battle should be a fascinating encounter. Both love to run the show for their respective sides, but both will have to work hard defensively. The player who is most clinical with his passes and crisp with his finishing could come out on top.

Salah vs Torres: Irresistible force vs immovable object

Villarreal might be perceived as the “weakest link” among the four remaining clubs, but underestimating them is a big mistake. A high-flying Liverpool side are, of course, the favorites to end the La Liga team’s dream run, but it won’t be easy.

Villarreal are a very hard nut to crack, boasting a stubborn, proactive backline capable of frustrating the best of teams. They proved that by defeating Juventus and Bayern Munich in the knockout rounds! Pau Torres is the defensive leader for Unai Emery’s side and there will be a lot riding on his shoulders.

The biggest challenge for him will be to keep Mohamed Salah quiet. The Liverpool winger is having a dream season with 30 goals and 12 assists in all competitions – including eight goals in 10 Champions League outings. The Egyptian is another potential Ballon d’Or contender and he torments teams with his ruthlessness in the final third.

Salah is nominally a right-winger, but often moves into central areas to cause the most damage. As a result, Torres will be tasked to handle him. The Spanish centre-back needs to maintain full concentration and read the attacking patterns perfectly to stop Salah & Co. from running riot.

Next. 3 things we learned from UCL quarterfinals. dark

Mo looks unstoppable right now, with his movement, clinical nature and brilliant finishing ability being the focal point of Liverpool’s quadruple charge. Torres has the chance to prove himself as among the best in the world by nullifying Salah’s threat with his sturdy defending. This should be a feisty battle.