UCL / UEL Semi-Finals – what we learned this week

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Written by Sujay Gaurav & Rhys Desmond

In a week that saw Neymar battered and bruised at the hands of Manchester City, Christian Pulisic dazzle against Real Madrid, and Edinson Cavani terrorize Roma to bits, the UCL and UEL semi-finals threw up a ton of action and intriguing sub-plots. Here is what we learned this week in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League semi-finals.

real madrid 1-1 chelsea

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rising stars: militao and pulisic

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With too many world class talents to count on the pitch, you could be surprised that the two standout players when Madrid met Chelsea were 23-year-old defender Eder Militao and 22-year-old Chelsea man Christian Pulisic. The American attacker completed as many dribbles as the entire Madrid team, and scored the opening goal of the match as the Blues dominated large spells of the game. Militao on the other hand completed 7 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 4 clearances. He handled the constant threat of Mason Mount down the left-hand-side just about as good as any player before him, and this was very promising to see from a man who is supposed to replace Sergio Ramos in a few years time.

zidane willing to adapt system

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Thomas Tuchel has used a back-three formation throughout his time at Stamford Bridge so far, and it was no surprise to see the German stick true to his principles of play with the Blues once again. The surprise came at the other end, with Zinedine Zidane’s side opting to match Chelsea for pace and play their own take on the 3-5-2. While Chelsea’s system floated into a 3-4-2-1 and Mason Mount operated in a similar role to what we have seen all season long, this formational change from Zidane ultimately thwarted Mount’s attempts to dominate the game. Militao was up to his task, while Toni Kroos was given license to operate as the regista in the team, attempting to control Madrid’s possession from deep. Other Madrid men weren’t so lucky. The aging Marcelo couldn’t keep up with Chelsea’s willing runners all over the pitch, with Pulisic and Kante causing havoc for the Brazilian. If it wasn’t for some wasteful finishing from Timo Werner, Chelsea could have been out of sight. But as a result of these missed chances, Benzema was able to claw his team back into the match, after a sumptuous volley inside the box. Many still see Chelsea as favourites heading into the second leg, but scoring only one away goal could spell danger for a team that has struggled to score ever since Lampard’s departure.

psg 1-2 manchester city

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Often criticized for overthinking it in the big games, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side came out flying in the second half to secure an excellent 2-1 away win to Paris Saint Germain. Pep has failed time and time again to advance past the quarter finals in the Champions League. But thanks to second-half goals from De Bruyne and Mahrez, that hoodoo now appears to be over.

Mauricio Pochettino knows what it takes to beat Pep, having done so in 2018-19, and will likely do everything in his power to motivate his team in the second leg. But the tide appears to be turning for Pep, and this could be his first Champions League title since 2011.

free-flowing fullbacks –
the key that opened the lock

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It was a disappointing first-half performance from Manchester City, with Pep’s side clearly taking on a cautious approach to the match. The fullbacks weren’t given as much license to go forward, and PSG’s use of Marco Verratti in left midfield almost became redundant as a result. Walker and Cancelo offered very little threat in the first half, and PSG took control of the match through a header from Marquinhos. But whatever Pep and his staff fed the City boys at half-time seemed to work, and the fullbacks came out in the second half full of life. Zinchenko entered the frame soon into the second half to inject more pace and precision in possession, and it paid off as the Citizens quickly found a route back into the match. Eventually, City’s pace and power proved to much for PSG to handle, and they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat.

PSG will need to come out of the gates flying in the second leg if they are to go through. However, even if they do, City have proven time and time again that they can be patient in breaking teams down and hit them at their lowest moments. Regardless of the result, we can expect to see goals in the second leg.

manchester united 6-2 as roma

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cavani must be kept next season

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Out of all the magnificent performances this past week, none was greater than Edinson Cavani’s phenomenal performance over AS Roma. The Uruguayan striker linked up magnificently well with the dazzling Bruno Fernandes, as United hit six against Roma. Cavani’s movement up top was impeccable, drifting left to right to pick up the ball, linking up with his mates as though every single one of them was his personal twin, and providing a constant threat for Roma’s wobbly defense to contend with. The Uruguayan had a hand in five of the six goals, providing 2 goals, 2 assists and winning the penalty that Bruno converted to put the game beyond reach. Bruno Fernandes also dazzled in the match, but it was Cavani who really stole the show. Above all else, the performance proved that Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and Manchester United should be doing everything in their power to keep hold of their striker.

second half fc?

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With United 2-1 down at half-time, this match could have played out very different. Luckily for United fans, the Red Devils produced a stirring comeback, scoring not one, not two, but five second-half goals. Their puzzling trend of conceding early continued, but as we’ve seen over and over again this season, Solsjkaer’s team came out in the second half ready to blow their opposition away. Pogba glided around the pitch, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani tore the Roma defense apart at will, Wan-Bissaka and Shaw dominated the wide areas, and Greenwood showed his class in front of goal once again. With the score at 6-2, the tie is all but over now. United have one foot in the finals of the Europa League and Ole will hope for more of the same in the second leg.

villarreal 2-1 arsenal

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arsenal’s ex comes back to haunt them

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At the time of Unai Emery’s sacking from Arsenal, many fans of the club believed it was the right decision. Now that the club are significantly worse off under Mikel Arteta, it’s obvious to everyone that Unai Emery’s sacking was a bit unfair. That became even more apparent on Thursday night, with Villarreal completing outplaying the Gunners. Two goals within 30 minutes from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol saw the Spanish side gain the advantage, and a second-half penalty from Nicolas Pepe felt more like a consolation prize than any sort of real hope that the Gunners can come back with any bit of bite in the second leg. Emery, who led Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League titles, will certainly want to add a fourth to his collection. Getting one over on his former club in the semi-finals will make their European run this season all the sweeter.

saka running out of steam

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Arsenal’s undeniable top performer this season has been their phenomenal 19-year-old Bukayo Saka. Unfortunately for the Gunners, Saka is well…19-years old. The versatile wing wizard has played an awful lot of minutes this season and appears to be running out of steam as the season comes to a close. Probably still one of Arsenal’s best performers on the day, Saka’s poor run of just 1 goal in his last 10 appearances for the Gunners speaks to a serious issue that goes beyond just his own personal woes. Quite simply, their best player is a 19-year-old, who they’ve played into the ground this season. Saka’s no longer able to showcase the same magic and threat that he offered the team during the winter, and the rest of the team are suffering as a result. To be fair to the academy product, he still had a decent match. Not to mention the fact that many other Arsenal players (hello Dani Ceballos), were absolutely abysmal. But the fact that Arsenal’s top performer this season has been in such poor form has to be examined in further detail, and perhaps the 19-year-old is in need of a break.

concluding thoughts

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It was an exciting week in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League semi-finals. With three out of the four matches having such tight score-lines, there is still plenty to play for in the second legs. Beyond that, the final in both competitions should prove to be intriguing as ever, with the potential for four English clubs to best the rest and showcase why they are so super after all. Whatever happens, TheMastermindSite will be right there with you to break it all down. Thanks for reading and see you soon.


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