A likely Liverpool procession, Carlo ‘The Don’ Ancelotti, one of the many Chelsea lads to get away and West Ham head to Frankfurt. We preview a Big Midweek of European semi-final action…
Game to watch: Eintracht Frankfurt v West Ham
It’s a huge game for both sides. Frankfurt have a one-goal advantage as they look to book their place in a first European final for 41 years, while the Hammers’ wait has been five years longer still.
David Moyes’ side weren’t quite at it in the first leg. They weren’t overawed per se, but looked a bit taken aback by Frankfurt, who produced an excellent away performance. West Ham should be reasonably well rested as Moyes has shuffled his pack in the Premier League and they need to be at their assertive, physical best to make it through.
The importance of winning this game, and then the final, isn’t limited to the joy of winning, though that is obviously the most important thing. Both clubs have players in the shop window who want, and have the quality, to be playing European football, and all face the prospect of that not being the case if they remain with their respective clubs.
Frankfurt are tenth in the Bundesliga and completely out of the running for European qualification. West Ham currently sit in the Europa Conference League spot in the Premier League, which is lovely, but quite possibly not enough for Declan Rice, or perhaps Jarrod Bowen, both of whom have the quality to be playing at the very highest level. They’ve played a huge part in West Ham getting this far, but could well be off should they not take them all the way.
Team to watch: Liverpool
Liverpool are playing football like they’re a driver on a boring stretch of motorway. The monotony makes you forget hours of driving to the extent that you wonder whether you’ve been asleep at the wheel, but you’re still there, getting closer and closer to a destination that seemed an impossible dream when you set off.
Tuesday’s second leg against Villarreal will be Liverpool’s 58th game of the season. They’ve won 44 of them and lost just three, including the 1-0 second-leg defeat to Inter Milan which ultimately didn’t matter. They’ve been tediously brilliant, with so many of those games forgettable as they blend into one. Trent Alexander-Arnold plays some unbelievable passes, one or more of their five outstanding forwards has an outstanding game, the opposition get caught offside 25 times and Alisson gets them out of jail when he needs to. OK guys, fine, we get it!
Unai Emery said his side have to be “perfect” to overcome the two-goal deficit, but they also need Liverpool to have a bit of a shocker, and they just haven’t at any point this season. The baying Yellow Submarine fans can have an impact, but the combination of skill, know-how and maturity in Jurgen Klopp’s side is unmatched in world football, other than perhaps Manchester City, and it’s hard to see anything but the usual, mind-numbingly excellent routine.
Manager to watch: Carlo Ancelotti
Ancelotti, who became the first manager to win all of the ‘big five’ league titles over the weekend, will move above Bob Paisley and Zinedine Zinedine to stand alone as the only manager to win four European Cups/Champions League titles should he take Madrid all the way this year. Given they will have to beat Manchester City in the second leg, and then likely Liverpool in the final to achieve the feat, it doesn’t feel likely. But then nothing about their run this season has been likely.
Real Madrid have smashed and grabbed their way to this point in the Champions League. It feels as though they’ve been the better team for about half a game of football combined in the knockout phase so far. They’ve seen off eminently superior Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea sides and are somehow within touching distance of Manchester City having been battered in the first leg at the Etihad. In the five knockout legs combined, Ancelotti’s side have scored 11 goals from an xG of 5.5; their opponents have scored ten goals from an xG of 11.76…
What a legend. pic.twitter.com/d1E0LAP0Lj
— Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) May 1, 2022
There’s been a spattering of Luka Modric genius, but their progress has relied hugely on Karim ‘The Dream’ Benzema, who’s scored 14 goals in the competition at a ridiculous rate of one every 65 minutes. The striker was rested as Madrid clinched the La Liga title on Saturday, still managing to score as a second-half substitute, as Ancelotti saved his 34-year-old legs ahead of the clash at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Ancelotti isn’t one to overthink games of football like Pep Guardiola, and there’s a sense this year that he’s embraced the chaos that can give his team the advantage. He backs his star players, and one in particular, to win the big moments and score goals at key times. And it’s hard not to root for this Real Madrid side, firstly because they’re so damn entertaining, and secondly because Ancelotti is a gentleman, a scholar and an absolute Don.
Player to watch: Tammy Abraham
If embarrassment was no factor, Chelsea would currently be heavily linked with a move for Tammy Abraham. 24 goals so far this season, a lover of and loved by Jose Mourinho, someone who ‘knows the club’, with Premier League experience. It would be a ‘no-brainer’ that ultimately, inevitably, would end with the assertion that perhaps brains were in fact necessary. He, like Romelu Lukaku, isn’t suited to Thomas Tuchel’s system, but Mourinho is making the most of him.
It’s been Abraham’s link-up play, along with his goals, that’s been so impressive, and was the talking point and social media obsession after the 1-1 draw at Leicester in the first leg.
— ASRomaComps (@roma_comps) April 29, 2022
And with the renewed confidence and form that has put him in with a very decent shout of heading to the World Cup in Qatar with England this winter, few would bet against the 24-year-old being the scourge of Brendan Rodgers’ side again on Thursday night.
EFL game to watch: Bournemouth v Nottingham Forest
Those of you who don’t fancy watching a Liverpool procession on Tuesday can instead turn your attention to what could be the Championship automatic promotion decider.
When Steve Cooper took charge of Forest eight games into the season, on September 21, they were bottom of the table on four points; Bournemouth were top on 18. Forest are now third and should they win at the Vitality Stadium, will swap places with Bournemouth, pulling the Cherries out of the automatic promotion spots for the first time since the day Cooper arrived.
The closest Premier League equivalent would be Dean Smith taking Norwich to the Champions League having taken over from Daniel Farke. There is no superlative grand enough to describe how good Cooper has been.
European game to watch: Salernitana v Venezia
It looks like it’s going to the wire at the top and bottom of Serie A. While the Milan clubs battle for the title, four clubs are vying for 17th spot to avoid relegation.
It’s Salernitana in 18th against Venezia in 20th on Thursday and the away side desperately need a win. Venezia are six points off Cagliari and safety with four games to play, having not picked up a single point since mid-February after a shocking nine defeats on the bounce. Salernitana have a better chance of avoiding the drop – they sit just three points behind Cagliari with two games in hand.