Champions League semis: It’s Spain vs England for spots in Paris final

The UEFA Champions League trophy prior to the draw for the 2021/2022 European football tournament in Istanbul on August 26, 2021. (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
The UEFA Champions League trophy prior to the draw for the 2021/2022 European football tournament in Istanbul on August 26, 2021. (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images) /
Real Madrid players train before their Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid players train before their Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images) /

The UEFA Champions League semifinals are here, with both match-ups featuring an English club facing Spanish opposition. That could leave an all-English or all-Spanish final in Paris.

Of the four teams remaining, two are historically renowned and celebrated teams (Liverpool and Real Madrid), one that has become one of the richest clubs in the world in recent years (Manchester City), and a side from a small city with about 50,000 inhabitants (Villarreal).

Here is a preview of the two ties at this Final Four stage and what I predict will happen.

Manchester City vs Real Madrid (first leg April 26, second leg May 4)

Two sides that have become familiar with each other over the last few years will go head-to-head once more in what promises to be a high-level affair.

Aiming to go one better than last season, Pep Guardiola’s City were the defeated finalists in Porto last May, but have steamrolled through the competition so far. PSG and Leipzig are the only sides to have defeated the Cityzens in the Champions League this season, though the latter’s victory came in a dead rubber from City’s perspective.

Still searching for their maiden title in Europe’s premier club competition, The Sky Blues are on top of the Premier League at the time of writing, holding a 1-point lead over Liverpool. This adds another unwanted wrinkle for Guardiola and Co. A trip to Leeds comes in between the matches against Madrid.

Full back João Cancelo will sit out the first leg due to yellow card accumulation, while John Stones and Kyle Walker are both doubts for the defending English champions. Outside of that, everyone else will be available for the first leg at least.

Real has had a much more testing path to the semifinals. After topping their section, they lost the first leg their Round of 16 meeting with PSG. An incredible ten-minute stretch at home to PSG saw them overcome a 2-goal deficit to move on.

They also had their backs against the wall last time out, as Chelsea were 10 minutes away for knocking out the Galacticos for the second campaign running. That was until a stunning Modric assist to Rodrygo forced extra time, where Benzema found the net for the fourth time over the two matches to send Madrid through.

While the title in LaLiga is not yet secured, it is practically a formality now as Carlo Ancelotti’s men find themselves 15 points ahead with five games to play. They are almost sure to wrap up the title next weekend at home to Espanyol. This gives them a significant advantage over City in that they can put all their focus into this tie.

There are no suspensions for Madrid going into the first tie, but the likes of David Alaba, Casemiro, Mariano Diaz and Luka Jovic are all doubts for various injuries.

For a winner, I have that feeling that Real will have the slight edge. As mentioned, they have virtually nothing left to fight for in LaLiga as they are going to win the title. I expect that to be the difference-maker here. Furthermore, they have shown the ability to bring out their best when it matters most, so I am going with Madrid to reach the final.

Liverpool vs Villarreal (first leg 27 April, second leg 3 May)

A second ever Champions League semifinal awaits Villarreal, facing another English club just as they did 16 years ago. They will hope for a better result as the Yellow Submarine will be up against a very strong Liverpool side still in contention for an unprecedented quadruple.

With a record of 8-1-1, the Merseysiders have the best showing in the Champions League this season of the remaining teams. Going for six for six in the group stage, they suffered their only defeat against Inter in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie. They had less trouble against Benfica last time out, winning 6-4 on aggregate.

The two meetings with Villarreal are part of at least eight more Liverpool fixtures before season’s end, which will become nine should they see off their Spanish opponents. A second cup final with Chelsea this calendar year is also on the horizon for the Reds. A weekend trip to Tyneside to face an in-form Newcastle is also on Jurgen Klopp’s mind in pursuit of their second Premier League title in three seasons.

Only Roberto Firmino is a doubt for the Reds heading into Wednesday night’s match, the Brazilian nursing a foot problem.

Lifting the Europa League trophy last May to make this edition’s Champions League, Villarreal are on the cusp of doing something last done by Porto at the start of the millennium; win the Europa League (or in Porto’s case, UEFA Cup) and then the Champions League in back-to-back seasons.

The worst team left in the competition according to their record, the Yellow Submarine has done quite the job to get this far. Getting the better of Atalanta on Matchday 6 in Bergamo led to a meeting against another Italian side in Juventus in the last 16. An inspired second half performance in Turin was enough to progress to the quarterfinals, where an 89th-minute winner from Sam Chukwueze put them past Bayern earlier this month.

Domestically, things have not gone to plan. Currently holding on to the Europa Conference League spot in LaLiga, winning the Champions League is the best (and only) realistic path to return to the tournament next September. A trip to Deportivo Alaves comes on the weekend for Unai Emery’s men as they hope to pass at least one more team before the end of the league.

Francis Coquelin, Gerard Moreno and former Liverpool man Alberto Moreno all miss out for the Yellow Submarine, with no suspensions to note for their trip to Anfield.

Villarreal was the only team to deny me a perfect set of predictions in the quarterfinals. For the most part, Liverpool have struggled with Spanish opponents in knockout round football recently, save for their turnaround at this stage against Barcelona in their most recent Champions League-winning season. Still, they are looking incredibly strong and will be quite the challenge for Villarreal to get the better of, and for that reason, I favour the Reds of Merseyside to go through.

A look ahead to Champions League 2022-2023

It is looking more and more likely that the Champions League group stage place awarded to the winner will not be used. All three of Manchester City, Real Madrid and Liverpool have already secured a return to this competition next September. This means that bar a Villarreal win, the place awarded in next season’s group stage attached to this season’s winner will go to the Scottish champion. That is currently Celtic with a few games left. Several adjustments will be made to the qualifying rounds as well resulting from this.

Next. 3 center-back options for Real Madrid. dark

Will we see an all-English affair in the Paris final? An all-Spanish match-up? Before that one-off game however, we have four games to determine who will show up at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.