Game to watch – Lyon v Bayern Munich
Bayern are the best team in Europe: Mauricio Pochettino knows it; Frank Lampard knows it; Quique Setién definitely knows it. The combination of talent, relentlessness and ruthlessness is a mean combination.
They are all in the form of their lives: Robert Lewan-goal-ski has never been more deadly; Thomas Muller is ageing like a fine Hofbrau; Serge Gnabry is a long way from the Hawthorns; there’s no better box-to-box midfielder in the world right now than Leon Goretzka; Thiago Alcantara, Joshua Kimmich, Alphonso Davies, you get the picture.
And they’re a likeable team now, too. From Muller’s honest and entertaining press conferences to Davies’ amusing takes on social media. Is this a case of the favourites actually being the favourites?
Recordemos el tik tok de Alphonso Davies pic.twitter.com/3A5ZHlDiJK
— 🌹 (@ismael_mg18) August 14, 2020
Maybe not. Everyone loves an underdog, and Lyon have thrived under that label. The unfancied side against Juventus and all-but dismissed ahead of the Manchester City tie, they thoroughly deserve their place in the Champions League semi-finals.
They will be hard to break down – harder than Barcelona were, certainly. Rudi Garcia will set his team out to contain with five at the back and hope Bayern’s extraordinarily high line gives them chances on the break – it usually does.
Team to watch – Paris Saint-Germain
Those two late goals really sucked, didn’t they? Atalanta – the most-loved side in the competition – knocked out by the most deplorable. Sure, they deserved to win, and Eric Choupo-Moting’s goal made it somewhat bearable, but for the joy of another PSG bottle-job to be snatched away in the dying minutes like that was a cruel blow for all but the Parisiens.
Fortunately, another potential screw-up is always around the corner. It’s Europe’s most hated club versus Germany’s most hated. And while treating a football club as a marketing platform is far from being for the good of the game, as far as I know the RB Leipzig owners don’t commit heinous human rights violations on a daily basis, so I’ll be rooting for them.
All that said, PSG are fun to watch. The ingenious game plan of give the ball to Neymar means dribbling, tricks and chances aplenty. And then there’s the histrionics, which provoke both laughter and anger – emotions we can all get on board embrace while watching a game of football.
Player to watch – Houssem Aouar
The lights are now blinding in the Lyon shop window, and no player is illuminated more right now than Houssem Aouar. Pep Guardiola is a long-term admirer, Liverpool have been linked and Arsenal have reportedly offered £44m plus Matteo Guendouzi for the 22-year-old. £44m without Guendouzi is probably more tempting.
Six assists in seven Champions League games this season, Aouar is productive and incredibly smooth. He sees an opponent’s open legs as some sort personal affront to his ability; it’s nutmegs ahoy when he’s on the ball.
If Lyon do lose to Bayern, this is Auoar’s last chance to impress ahead of a surely imminent summer transfer – any club would be lucky to have him.
Manager to watch – Julian Nagelsmann
RB Leipzig’s decade-long rise in German football has been met with scepticism, resentment and boycotts: the haters say they play football to sell a product and a lifestyle, rather than for the benefit of the fans. But they’ve got one of the most highly lauded young coaches in Europe, and he’s built a young, energetic, attractive team to watch – painful though it may be for many to admit.
The Leipzig boss may be hailed as mini-Mourinho, but Nagelsmann himself says the man in the opposition dugout on Tuesday – Thomas Tuchel – has had the biggest impact on his career to date, having worked under him briefly at Augsburg.
“Dominance in all phases of the game – that would be the big headline for it. To put it more simply, it is about awareness that football is not just about conquering the ball, not just about possession. It is about a holistic approach and about developing solutions in all phases. I personally experienced which exercises Tuchel did in training – that shaped me. I also have a similar approach.”
Not many gave Leipzig a chance against Atletico in the last 16, particularly without 34-goal Timo Werner, but Nagelsmann masterminded that victory and it would be remiss to suggest he can’t do the same against his former guru.
Scottish game to watch – St Johnstone v Aberdeen
It’s time to look north of the border, and there’s a score to be settled at McDiarmid Park as the Saints take on the Dons in a clash massively mattering to someone, presumably.
Will Ford is on Twitter