Bold predictions for the Champions League: Vinicius Jr shakes Manchester City, Villarreal frustrates Liverpool

The Champions League semi-final is approaching, and work will start on Tuesday CBS and Paramount +. Manchester City host Real Madrid on Tuesday before facing Liverpool and Villarreal the following night. Here is what to look for.

Vinicius outperforms Benzema for once

Real Madrid did not go this far because they were clearly the best team in all the matches in the previous rounds. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League thinking they had outflanked their conquest during the draw. Instead, in the bigger moments, they had the best player on the pitch in Luka Modric or Karim Benzema.

It’s hardly a sustainable approach, not least when the latter is running on one super-hot streak. With 12 goals to his name, including back-to-back hat-tricks in the knockout stages, Benzema is likely to be a magnet for individual accolades in this competition and could later jump Robert Lewandowski to win the Golden Boot. But a word of caution comes from comparing his actual scoring return with his projected goal balance (xG) of 6.46.

The true greats, like the Frenchman, might be expected to outperform xG a bit even in the long run but not to such a flashy level that he scores nearly twice as many goals in 90 minutes as the quality of his shots suggest he might. In simpler terms, it was Benzema’s header against Chelsea with two great headers precisely because of the rareness of these positions in the end in goals. Even the best can’t charm those moments as he likes.

In the meantime, City may be more difficult to face Benzema than their last two rivals. On both occasions he entered the voids between midfield and defence. That was most notable in the win at Stamford Bridge, where the most destructive striker of the match scored more touches at right-back positions than the three in the penalty area. The recurring theme of that game was Jorginho gazing unobtrusively over his shoulder. He spotted the Frenchman, who was too far up front to back out and give room for Modric and Kroos, too deep to be dragged forward by Thiago Silva.

Benzema in the pocket, which he constantly found between the Chelsea lines. In this regard, Vinicius helped him run after him which pulls the defenders with him

Wyscout / BT Sport

That may not happen much against Manchester City, who will have Rodri anchor the midfield. They’ve been drawn, at times this season, to something a bit like a 4-2-3-1 where Bernardo Silva falls back to help build capacity, but largely Rodri’s responsibility is to protect the spaces Benzema loves to fall into.

However, there will be other situations that Real Madrid can exploit. This could be a good match for Vinicius Jr, who will almost certainly attack a player unprepared for the task. Joao Cancelo’s suspension was enough to send Pep Guardiola a headache but both Kyle Walker and emergency right-back option John Stones struggled with injuries. The City boss gave a soothing assessment of what that could mean for his team after Saturday’s win over Watford. “If it’s November or December, that’s a problem, but if it’s Gabriel [Jesus] He must play at right back, he will play at right back. So it’s not a problem, when the players feel we are in real trouble, the players do more.”

That may be true, but Vinicius won’t hand out favors to those who put in the extra effort. When he realizes he is facing the weak link on the field, as was the case against Andreas Christensen at Stamford Bridge, he is ruthless in his investigations. Walker must be able to tame the Brazilian. If City don’t have the best defender to cover at this level, it could be Vinicius rather than Benzema doing the damage.

Leading De Bruyne City

Of course, it’s not just City who suffers from injury headaches. In fact, there may be no absence with the possibility of him having a more defining role in this competition than Casemiro’s. The Brazilian traveled with the team to England, but reports in Spain indicate that there is great doubt that he can appear in any capacity. Without him, can Real Madrid really hope to cool off the driving rounds led by Kevin De Bruyne?

As the Belgian has hit his all-time highs in recent weeks, he’s had something else fantastic Manchester City on his game. He picks up the ball on the turn, skips a player and sticks more in a way very reminiscent of Yaya Toure. Where earlier in the season, De Bruyne had a ball lead probably less than 100 yards over the field with seven or eight holding the progression of those numbers now. In recent games, most notably against Brighton, he’s been running 150 yards of lead and double the numbers for the progressive carry.

Twice in the fifth minute of a 2-2 draw with Liverpool, he made his way onto the field, first playing a cross to Raheem Sterling which later brought Gabriel Jesus close before he netted the opening match goal. He’s been doing the same a lot against Atletico Madrid, who seemed to have precious few ideas to quell him beyond hurting him, and it’s fair to wonder who exactly could stand in his way and slow him down.

Villarreal makes Liverpool work to win

It can’t happen again, right? The answer is almost certainly not the answer, and it’s the unfortunate answer for those who are from Villarreal or indeed those who just want to see a little spice in the final stages of the Champions League. Then again one can write the exact same thing during the quiz. Villarreal had enough to beat Atalanta but that wouldn’t work against Juventus. Villarreal had enough to beat Juventus but wouldn’t work out against Bayern Munich.

Be careful, Jurgen Klopp. This wouldn’t be a fun relationship. All the basic stats and metrics of course point to a gap between these two teams. After 10 matches in the Champions League, Liverpool’s goal difference was twice as many as Villarreal’s seven. The Reds average 2.15 xG and 1.1 xG per European game. Unai Emery’s team is 1.86 for 1.46 vs.

Then of course there is the field talent gap. One of these teams has nine players on our team The Top 25 of the Top 50 remained in the competition. The other has two. Villarreal has good players like Arno Danjuma and Pau Torres. But, he put them in front of their red counterparts (Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk for example), and it became clear that these are very good players against the best in the world.

Over time, you expect the bay of talent to be reflected in the results. But, time may be required. One thing that’s very true about Emery’s side is that it’s hard to break right away. During the Champions League matches so far, Villarreal conceded 4.85 expected goals and two actual goals in the first half compared to 9.73 and nine goals in the second half. Those of four or more banks before Geronimo Rulli take time to collapse regardless of context.

In the second leg of the quarter-finals, with Bayern trailing by a goal on aggregate, these were the shots they took. Bubble size reflects the xG value for each shot. And yes I double checked that there was nothing wrong with sizing it. This is what 0.38 xG looks like from eight shots.

Bayern Munich’s shots in the first half of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Villarreal


Of course it cannot go on forever. tire defenders. Opponents become more desperate. But in that first half of the second leg, Villarreal seemed to conclude they would win this tie, their faith not quelled even by Robert Lewandowski’s goal. The same thing can happen again, on this leg or the next. But it seems highly unlikely.

When Julian Nagelsmann rolled around the bench, he had Serge Gnabry, left back Alfonso Davies and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting as options to renew the attack. If the junior players were not going to win it for Bayern, it was fair to ask if the bench could. The same cannot be said for Liverpool, who can make a rather devastating three goals out of everyone not in Klopp’s starting line-up. Against Inter Milan, Roberto Firmino was the winner of their match on the bench, for Everton in the Merseyside derby, Divock Origi was inevitable at the level of Thanos.

Flip the script of Villarreal’s recent games and if Klopp needs to toughen things up, he tends to have a top-tier midfielder with fresh legs on the bench. Jordan Henderson has most recently excelled in this close role. If he really needs it, he will also have one of Ibrahima Konate or Joel Matip waiting on the bench. Whatever the circumstances, Liverpool can change it with new legs against Villarreal’s tired minds. This seems like the end of the road.

Reward expectation: English teams sweep the European board

This one has been out in the background for a while, not ready to take off in the world until Barcelona’s exit from the Europa League. Now is the time to boldly declare this part of the Premier League exceptional. The English teams will win everything. Certainly this is not a huge surprise in the case of the Champions League as Liverpool and Manchester City have been on the pitch for some time now.

From the top of European football to the base camp, Leicester went into a draw as a relative underdog for Roma but a side that has been spoiled by injuries for most of this season looks somewhat stronger now that Jamie Vardy is back from injury. Wesley Fofana and Jonny Evans have also been reinstated with Brendan Rodgers prioritizing this trophy. This duo might have enough to suppress Tammy Abraham. At the other extreme, Inter Milan have shown the rewards to be won with the kind of direct counterattack the Foxes can excel in… if their manager is willing to let go of the possession game they have been so drawn to recently. Leicester may not be the favorites for the Europa League, but then it wouldn’t be a very bold prediction if it were.

West Ham are in a similar situation with RB Leipzig, who are likely to lift the Europa League trophy in Seville next month. But, there is something to be said for the relentless momentum that has gripped this club, as everything is directed in its quest for continental titles. David Moyes showed on Sunday that he is ready to sacrifice the level of the Premier League to get the best possible chance against Eintracht Frankfurt, the seasoned experts in this competition.

Come to the first leg on Thursday, Michael Antonio, Jarrod Bowen and Declan Rice will be as relaxed as anyone would expect at this point in the season. A defense that may only have Craig Dawson as a decent center back will be tested, but this team has held out solidly on both ends of the pitch in Europe. With the London Stadium in their backs, they could do enough to control a draw this week and book their return to Seville, where their journey to the playoffs began. Who would then doubt that West Ham’s absolute will to win this competition will not prevail?