The Champions League semi-finals this week feature two intriguing match-ups. Barcelona have reached this round for the first time since they last won the competition in 2015, but the ninth time in the last 16 years, the most of any team in that period.
Liverpool were most recently here last season, Ajax in 1997, and Tottenham way back in 1962. The relative novices get the action underway in north London on Tuesday, so what can we expect?
The Dutch side have made it this far via two fabulous away victories, triumphing at both Real Madrid and Juventus. Those sides had collectively lost just seven of their previous 52 home games in Champions League knock-out rounds, so to beat both is remarkable. A Spurs side who have just lost at home to West Ham shouldn’t pose too many problems, should they?
The difference in previous rounds was Ajax had already played the home leg and not won, so had to go for it on the road. Even so, they’ve scored in every Champions League away game this season. But they’re up against a Tottenham team who’ve kept a clean sheet in their last three European home games.
Spurs will come out on top, but Ajax’s impressive attack should ensure they have an away goal to take home to Amsterdam.
Over in Catalonia, Barcelona host Liverpool. Paddy has these teams respectively priced as the first and fourth most likely to reach the final, but first and second to win the competition. This is undoubtedly the bigger of the two ties.
Much like Ajax, Liverpool won the away leg in both of their knock-out ties. However, the newly-crowned Spanish champions possess the longest unbeaten home run in Champions League history. Barca haven’t lost at Camp Nou in any of their last 31 European games, winning 28.
They also haven’t lost the first leg of a knockout tie in Europe’s top competition since 2007, when a golf club powered Liverpool upset the odds. Jürgen Klopp’s side would also be upsetting the odds if they won, as they are available at 3/1 while Barcelona are 4/5.
While the Reds won’t continue their unbeaten run at Camp Nou – they’ve won two and drawn two of their previous visits – they will definitely have chances to score.
Ernesto Valverde’s team have been weak at preventing opposition counter attacks this season, so Liverpool’s front three could be in heaven. The likes of Huesca, Girona and Levante have all had a couple of clear-cut chances at Barcelona this season, which doesn’t say much for Manchester United, who had none.
Given this, we’ll see the same outcome as in London where both teams will score, but the home side will prevail.
Lionel Messi is 1/200 to be the tournament’s top scorer this year, so it’s safe to say he’s got that in the bag. Liverpool are one of just four clubs the Argentine has faced at least twice without scoring against though. The world’s greatest player will no doubt have a say in proceedings. But we can’t rule out the likes of Messi going past Virgil van Dijk and scoring.
Sadio Mané looks to be the man to back for the Reds. Only two players have scored more away goals in the Champions League this season, and the former Saint has bagged 11 goals in his last 12 appearances. This run includes scoring at Bayern Munich and Porto, so Barca beware.
It’s unfortunate for Spurs that Son Heung-Min is suspended. He and the equally absent Harry Kane have netted half of Tottenham’s Champions League goals this season. Of the remaining players, Lucas Moura is the best option, as he’s got two European goals and three against top six sides in the league.
The joint-top scorer of away goals in the 2018/19 Champions League is Dusan Tadic. Ajax’s number 10 has bagged four on the road, something he never did in the Premier League with Southampton. He scored at Tottenham last season too, even if it was at a different stadium.
*Spurs to win & BTTS and Barca to win & BTTS pays approx 13/1 at time of publication