Why you should back an English winner of the Champions League
Half of this year’s Champions League semi-finalists are from the Premier League, and yet the bookmakers do not fancy an English winner of the competition this year.
Liverpool have bludgeoned their way into the final four where they will meet Barcelona, while Tottenham have squeezed into the semis and will take on Ajax.
Both semi-finals are expected to be pretty tight affairs, but it is the Spanish and Dutch sides that are favourites to make it through to the final in Madrid, leaving the English sides heartbroken. However, there neither Spurs nor Liverpool will be trembling in their boots going into their semi-final ties, in fact, they both have very good reasons to be confident. Not only confident of moving into the final, but of lifting the trophy come the end of the competition as well.
Starting with the most glamorous tie of the round, it is a surprise to some that Liverpool are even going into their meeting with Barcelona as the underdogs. While Barca are clearly a fabulous side, they are not at the peak of their powers and were not exactly sparkling as they saw off Manchester United in the quarter-finals.
Ernesto Valverde’s side laboured to a narrow victory at Old Trafford, and while their win in Catalonia was comfortable in the end, they were not exactly impressive. Let’s not go overboard, this is still a side that is a long way clear at the top of La Liga and has Lionel Messi in their ranks, but they are not the team they have been in the past.
They remain deadly up front, but the centre of midfield is not the bastion of strength it once was, and their defence is far from impenetrable. Certainly Liverpool’s own lethal attack of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will fancy the chances of breaching it.
The Reds have the advantage of going to Spain for the first leg and they will be testing their much sterner defence against Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele. Jurgen Klopp’s transformation of Liverpool into a mean-spirited defensive force, while maintaining their fervent attacking threat has been a spectacle to behold.
The Merseysiders have conceded just 20 goals in 36 Premier League games so far this season, producing a remarkable 20 clean sheets. They will expect to have their backs against the wall, to an extent, in the Nou Camp and to play on the counter-attack, but that will suit them just fine.
The defence, marshalled by the sensational Virgil van Dijk will look to soak up the pressure of the Catalans, with the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson patrolling in front of them. Then they will spring rapid forays with the front three and the flying full-backs whipping in crosses.
Liverpool are so threatening when playing on the counter, as they showed in the away legs at Bayern Munich and Porto, scoring seven goals across those two contests. They look nailed on to score in the Nou Camp, and that will give them a massive advantage when they welcome Barca to Anfield.
Klopp’s men are well capable of getting a result in Spain, or at least scoring in a narrow defeat, which will give them a superb chance of getting over the line in front of their own fans. They have a fully fit squad (with Roberto Firmino likely to be ready) and could not be going into the test with more confidence behind them.
Playing Barcelona is never going to be easy, and it is understandable that they go into any game as favourites, but Liverpool are well worth backing to beat them. 5/4 on the Reds to qualify for the Champions League final looks a great punt with Betfair.
On the other half of the draw there may be less international superstars, but there is no less intrigue in a beautifully poised contest between Tottenham and Ajax.
Few were tipping these two to make it into the semis at any point of the competition and they certainly weren’t when Spurs drew Man City and Ajax took on Juventus in the quarter-finals. However, both produced sensational, dogged and impressive displays to scrape through into the last four against the bigger and more-fancied sides.
Tottenham can hardly be called a surprise package, seen as they haven’t signed a player in either of the last two transfer windows, but Ajax certainly can be given that moniker. One of the most exciting young sides in Europe, Ajax have romped into the semis, knocking out Real Madrid and Juve in the knockout stages so far.
It is something of a shame that most of their thrilling young talent will be picked off over the summer, but for now, they have a very appealing side, that has scored an outrageous 111 league goals so far this season.
However, in Spurs, they are facing a team that is as well-oiled as any you will find. Mauricio Pochettino has created his own young, vibrant team that has been together for a few seasons now and is malleable into many different formations and plans when necessary.
Pochettino doesn’t always get it right, but he can make changes to personnel, formation and tactics whenever necessary and he might just prove the edge over his Ajax counterpart, Erik ten Hag, in this tie.
Tottenham certainly rode their luck against City, but they were masterful in their ousting of Borussia Dortmund, keeping two clean sheets against the Germans. Without the injured Harry Kane in attack, Pochettino will be well aware of the need to keep it tight at the back and he will be ready to frustrate the Dutch side then catch them with the pace of Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura on the break.
The bookies agree with most onlookers who believe this is a very evenly matched tie. Yes Ajax have beaten Real and Juve, making Spurs an easier-looking target, but no one has a comfortable time against Pochettino’s men, especially in their new home. However, Tottenham are the marginal underdogs at EVENS to qualify with bet365 and they are well worth a bet to do just that.
Clearly if Liverpool and Tottenham win then we are guaranteed an English winner, but if one of them get through to the final then they would have a superb chance of lifting the trophy. A Liverpool v Ajax final would have the odds comfortably in the Merseysiders’ favour.
Now is the time to back an English team to lift the Champions League this season, which you can do at 11/10 with bet365.
30 Apr – Spurs v Ajax
1 May – Barcelona v Liverpool
8 May – Ajax v Spurs
7 May – Liverpool v Barcelona
April 27th, 2019 by Simon A