The first semi-final of this season’s unique “knockout” format of the UEFA Champions League competition will see two of the best and brightest football minds of the modern era testing their wits against each other for a prized-spot in the final against the winners of Bayern Munich and Lyon.
Photo Copyright – Steve Haag Sports
Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers will take charge of the high stakes matchup in Lisbon as Thomas Tuchel’s PSG, that consists of some of the best players in world football takes on Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig team, that have been handpicked by their coach to play in systems that we haven’t seen at the very best level, until now.
We’re set for an intriguing contest, Leipzig come into the clash as underdogs, a label they relished when they caused one of the upsets of the quarter-finals by knocking out much-fancied Atletico Madrid, while PSG successfully turned around a 1-0 first-half deficit against Atalanta in injury-time thanks to a Neymar inspired performance. The French champions enter as favourites.
UEFA Champions League semi-final | Tuesday 18 August | Estadio da Luz | 21:00
To Win (90 mins)
RB Leipzig 31/10
Paris Saint Germain 15/20
Since Jose Mourinho’s 2004 triumph with FC Porto, only the elite European clubs have tasted success in the Champions League. However, Nagelsmann who was dubbed the “Baby-Mourinho” after leading Hoffenheim to an Under-19 Bundesliga title has the opportunity to guide his team to the promised land with two victories.
The Leipzig boss crossed paths with the PSG mentor 12 years ago during their brief spell together. As an 18-year-old centre-back, Nagelsmann’s career was prematurely ended by knee injuries and was asked to scout opposition players for the then Augsburg manager Tuchel. This set events in motion that would lead to Nagelsmann falling in love with football again and deciding to pursue a career in management.
Tuchel and Nagelsmann have been in opposite dugouts on numerous occasions while at their previous clubs Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim. Nagelsmann took over the reins at Hoffenheim and managed to avoid relegation at the ripe age of 28 at the time (youngest coach in Bundesliga history).
Hoffenheim were led to fourth and third-placed Bundesliga finishes in the following seasons which saw the club compete in Europa League and Champions League action, before the next chapter saw the German tactician take over at the Red Bull Arena.
Leipzig were formed in 2009, gained promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016 and are now in the 2020 Champions League semi-final. If ever there was a fairy tale football story that could top Leicester City winning the English Premier League, it would be the combination of Nagelsmann and Leipzig lifting “old big ears”.
Leipzig will be looking to continue playing their brand of football that took many by surprise against Atletico. When in possession and springing the counter-attack on Diego Simeone’s team, Leipzig changed into a 3-4-3 formation. But when the Germans were tasked with defending, they reverted back to their trusted 4-2-3-1 system.
Timo Werner’s early departure to Chelsea and refusal to end the campaign with the Red Bulls will sorely be missed as Die Mannschaft striker scored 33% of their goals across all competitions. The other experienced players now have to pick up their hands and put it in solid performances.
No one impressed more than Dayot Upamecano who earned the Man of the Match award for a stellar outing against Atletico. The 21-year old has recently signed a contract until 2023 with Leipzig but will have all top clubs wagging their tongues at the sight of the young Frenchman physically dominating the “bully” Diego Costa.
If Upamecano can be just as solid at the back and step into midfield to spray well-placed passes again, it might take one or two goals to earn this victory. The other outstanding player that deserves mention is left-back Angelino that is currently on-loan from Manchester City. American Tyler Adams was the fresh face that was interviewed post-match for scoring the winner, but the incisive cut-back pass was provided by Angelino who deserves credit.
The shape of the team consistently changes with the inventive manager always thinking while the game unfolds in front of him but one thing that doesn’t is that Angelino will always provide width on the left-flank, always wants the ball and possesses some wicked accuracy in the delivery of his crosses.
Paris Saint Germain
PSG have been financially backed heavily to conquer the UEFA Champions League and are two games away from achieving their ultimate objective. For the last seven seasons, the Parisians have been unlucky to get knocked out of the competition at the round-of-16 or quarter-final stages, despite having an ultra-talented team in the same period.
This time around things might go their way if Neymar can replicate his invaluable performance he enjoyed against Atalanta. The Brazilian has fallen off his incredible standards to a certain degree but gave the world a stern reminder of what he is truly capable of.
Kylian Mbappe, who was a doubt after injuring his ankle in the French Cup final against St. Etienne, came off the bench with 30 minutes to play and the cameo appearance didn’t disappoint with the 21-year-old forward proving instrumental alongside Neymar to create havoc on the Italians’ well-organised defence as they went gung-ho for the win.
Together the duo is worth over €400 million. With this kind of price tag on both players, the weight of expectation has always been that they were signed to compete for the Champions League. Another failure could see both players looking for greener pastures as the best clubs would love to add these talents to their respective teams.
Angel Di Maria is expected to return to the starting line-up after serving his suspension, but the big miss will be goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who is unavailable with a thigh injury. Navas’ experience in this competition will surely be missed. The Costa Rican shot-stopper was between the sticks as Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid won three consecutive Champions Leagues. Sergio Rico will deputise in the absence of the preferred number one.
The likes of Julian Draxler, Pablo Sarabia, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Mauro Icardi have to fight it out for the remaining starting positions, which will always leave great options to bring off the bench if needed. PSG have more depth in all departments compared to previous seasons.
The midfield required defensive reinforcements and players like Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gueye were added to the squad with the experience of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos guiding young French defender Presnel Kimpembe to form a solid spine of the team.
PSG set the tone of their Champions League campaign by defeating Real Madrid 3-0 on the opening matchday and will now look to finish strong as the final hurdle is in sight. Tuchel’s men showed a lot of character by recovering a first-leg loss to Dortmund and outplayed the talented Yellow and Blacks in Paris. The French champions will be aiming to be only the second club to take the trophy back to their country since Marseille in 1992/93.
Verdict: Half-Time/Full-Time – Draw/PSG (38/10)
Go into the Half-Time/Full-Time market and select Draw/PSG at 38/10 odds. A cagey hard-fought European semi-final is expected with both sides giving nothing away in the first half. PSG will surely wrap up the game with a late flurry of second-half goals to meet Bayern Munich in the final on Sunday 23 August.