UEFA Champions League 2018-19: Five key battles which could decide the semi-finals
Written by: Neelav Chakravarti
The winners will play against each other at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium for the finale.
Tottenham Hotspur host Ajax for the first leg of the UEFA Champions Leg semi-final clash, while Liverpool visit Barcelona, on 1st and 2nd May respectively. After these fixtures, Spurs will travel to Amsterdam for the second leg on 9th May, while Ernesto Valverde's side will travel to Anfield on 8th May.
With these matches coming up soon in a couple of days, we at Khel Now have compiled five key battles, which could decide the fate of each outfit:
5. Christian Eriksen Vs Frenkie de Jong
Eriksen will be up against a prodigy in the form of De Jong
When Spurs face Ajax, one of the most crucial battles for supremacy will be fought between Eriksen and De Jong. Mauricio Pochettino will obviously task the Denmark international with creative duties, and he could very well be his side's main creative outlet. On the other side, the Dutch international will be tasked with similar duties, although not of the level as Eriksen. The 21-year-old could very well be assigned responsibility to thwart the likes of Eriksen and Dele Alli.
Till now, the former Willem II player has been successful during this campaign against much-fancied counterparts like Luka Modric.
Eriksen will be looking for empty spaces, from where he can punch in his sublime passes, or maybe even go for a screamer himself. De Jong will need to be at his best, when up against a former Ajax player itself.
If Eriksen is contained, then the game could very well finish in favour of the Eredivisie team's side!
4. Luis Suarez Vs Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk will need to play his best game against Suarez
Come 2nd May, Suarez will be up against probably the best centre-back in the world currently; a mammoth task indeed for both players!
The Uruguayan has found form of late, especially in big ties, which has really proven his commitment to the Catalan outfit. Although he has been scoring in the LaLiga (21 goals in 32 matches), his statistics in the UCL have been unimpressive. But we all know that his off-the-ball movement is really crucial to his side's cause and Lionel Messi too. The former Liverpool man has scored zero goals in eight appearances this season, but has registered four assists. Off late, stats don't really matter for Suarez, it is movement without the ball, which has really helped the club this season.
Up against Van Dijk, the former Groningen player will have a huge task! The Netherlands international has been impressive with statistics this season, and without them too! A gigantic presence in Liverpool's half, the battle between these two players will be in flow, with none of them giving up.
Suarez will also be tasked with reducing Van Dijk's passes, which have really helped the side transition from defence to attack over the course of this season. The former Celtic is good in attacking too, and has already scored two UCL goals this season.
Although, Suarez might not score against Liverpool, but he will really need to bring up his best performance against Van Dijk; the same goes for the Dutchman.
Get ready for an intense physical battle between both of them!
3. Mohamed Salah Vs Jordi Alba
Salah and Alba could play out an exciting and intense battle
This could be one of the most exciting face-offs in the semi-finals; pace Vs pace!
Both Salah and Alba rely on their speed to have an impact in the flow of play, as we have seen for the past few years. For the first time this season, Alba will probably be against a player, who shares similar strengths in terms of pace. Salah has already scored four goals and registered two assists this season. Meanwhile, the Spaniard has scored one and registered four assists this season.
Whenever Salah will attack, we could be set for an epic competition with former Valencia left wing-back. The problem for Liverpool, is when Alba will be on the attacking side. Salah arguably is not really a fan of defensive duties, so the pace of Alba (combined with Ousmane Dembele or Phillipe Coutinho) could really create problems for Trent Alexander-Arnold, as he will be left alone to face two buccaneering players.
When analysed, it is true that Salah doesn't contribute much to his team's backline, which could have a negative effect for Klopp's side, as other than defending, Alba loves to attack too!
Salah will really need to put up a shift defensively too, or Klopp will need to instruct one of his midfielders to drift wide and help Alexander-Arnold, which could create a gap in the middle for Barca to exploit.
2. Hakim Ziyech Vs Danny Rose
Rose will be against an in-form Ziyech
Danny Rose is one of the most underrated defenders in the Premier League. He has already become his side's main left-back, pushing Ben Davies down the pecking order. The Englishman has also proved his attacking prowess this season, playing as a box-to-box midfielder once during this campaign. He will be up against another underrated player in the guise of Ziyech.
Every team in the semi-finals have someone who can create a moment of brilliance while attacking. Barcelona have Messi, Liverpool have Sadio Mane, Tottenham Hotspur have Son Heung-min, and Ajax have Ziyech. The Moroccan is in fine form, helped by his amazing ball control, technique, movement with the ball, and trickery. He is basically an upgraded version of David Neres.
Most probably, Neres will play on the left, and Ziyech on the right. This season he has become a crucial cog for his side, while in the final third. Rose will need to give him stiff competition, and will need to reduce his attacking instincts.
Ziyech has already scored two goals and registered two assists in the UCL, this season. Up against Rose, he will need to bring in his best form, and Rose will need to garner all his experience and stop the former Twente man.
1. Lionel Messi Vs Fabinho
Fabinho could be tasked to shackle Barcelona's talisman
Over the course of this season, Fabinho has become a very reliable and steady player for Liverpool, although he still has to compete with the likes of Jordan Henderson and James Milner for the defensive midfielder role. Against Messi, Jurgen Klopp will need to start the Brazilian, as Henderson is just too inept to handle the likes of Messi, and Suarez.
Playing Henderson in the defensive role, instead of Fabinho, could cost Liverpool to a great extent!
Honestly, Messi will be involved in battles with Van Dijk, Robertson, and Alexander-Arnold too, but his face-off with Fabinho could have the biggest impact. Credit goes to Fabinho for developing into a very matured, calm and confident midfielder; a quiet transition from being a right-back. The former Monaco man will need to shackle Messi in every open space throughout the 90-minutes, somewhat similar to N'Golo Kante (when he played against Argentina in the FIFA World Cup).
This battle could really be the decisive one, as to who goes to the finale; Liverpool or Barcelona.
Published: Thu Apr 25, 2019 03:33 PM IST