Predicting the Champions League Semi-final Second Legs
If you’re a Manchester City or Liverpool supporter, you’re going to be just fine with boring conclusions to the Champions League semi-final ties. If you’re a neutral, you may be just fine with a City-Liverpool final, but you want between 180 and 240 minutes of midweek disorder before arriving there.
The supercomputer worked the UK bank holiday on Monday to deliver us the following chances of progression for the four remaining clubs, numerically stating it’s unlikely to be something other than an all-England final for a second straight season. The numbers may look daunting for Villarreal and Real Madrid, but in the context of UCL heroics in the 2000s, neither the 2-0 Liverpool advantage nor the 4-3 Manchester City edge being overturned by their Spanish opponents would make for serious amendments to the list of recent comeback theatrics. More on that within.
Chances of advancing: 3%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 1%
One more number: 2
In the first leg of the semi-finals, the neutral fan may have found themselves wishing Bayern Munich had progressed into this tie. Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Anfield just wasn’t the Champions League semi-final entertainment the masses may have wanted:
Everyone loves an underdog story, but at some point that story goes from unlikely to farfetched fantasy. Unai Emery’s team have two shots on target in their last three Champions League matches. They’re going to need to at least match that in their next 90 minutes, and that’s assuming Liverpool don’t add to their tally. But maybe the optimist can look back at the first leg against Bayern Munich and find hope. Villarreal managed 12 total shots (one on target) amounting to 1.54 expected goals.
The supercomputer isn’t convinced. We give Villarreal a 3% chance of advancing. Stranger non-Netflix things have certainly happened right here in this very competition. Barcelona had not a 3% chance or a 0.3% chance but a 0.03% chance of getting past Paris Saint-Germain after 87 minutes in 2017. Liverpool had a 0.6% chance of coming back after 53 minutes of the 2005 final against Milan. But, to ground us a bit, this hypothetical Villarreal comeback would actually be more substantial than Liverpool’s over Barcelona in 2019. Six minutes into that match, Liverpool’s chances bottomed out at 4.3%. Then things got weird.
Arnaut Danjuma, Gerard Moreno, Samuel Chukwueze, the masses have come to expect a certain level of spectacle from Champions League semi-finals. It’s your move.
Chances of advancing: 97%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 45%
One more number: 54.1
Liverpool have pressed more opponent sequences (215) than any other team in the Champions League this season. That’s resulted in the second-most high turnovers (130), but it’s yet to result in a goal. Real Madrid have scored five, Manchester City have three and Villarreal even have two goals from high turnovers. But even without goals, what consistent pressing means for Liverpool is starting their own sequences higher up the pitch. The Reds’ sequences are starting 46.3 metres from their own goal, which is the most advanced of the remaining teams with City second at 45.7.
In the first leg against Villarreal, Liverpool’s sequences started 54.1 metres from Alisson’s line. That’s not only Liverpool’s best for the competition or the best among the semi-finalists. It’s the most advanced for a team in any game in this season’s Champions League. They pressed 31 Villarreal sequences, which is second most in a single match in the competition. Their 22 high turnovers in the match rank third for a single UCL match this season:
They just didn’t let Unai Emery’s side out of their own half very often, and it’ll be interesting to see what the approach is today with a two-goal advantage away. Many sides would ease that pressure. A Jürgen Klopp side might see no reason to stop smothering an opponent. Considering Villarreal’s zero shots on target and 0.12 xG from the first leg, it’d be surprising to see the Reds relent all that much. Even less so considering how good Liverpool have been away in the Champions League this season. If they win today’s match, they’ll be the first team to win six true away matches in a single Champions League campaign.
Chances of advancing: 15%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 6%
One more number: 6.69
A 15% chance of getting through to yet another Champions League final isn’t bad considering how open Real were defensively last week, not to mention the second leg against Chelsea. In those two matches, Carlo Ancelotti’s side conceded seven goals and 5.42 xG.
But if there’s anyone who can make up for that, it’s
Casemiro Robert Lewandowski Karim Benzema. He’s scored nine goals in his last four matches (against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Chelsea and Manchester City no less) and he’s done that on 3.77 xG:
His xG overperformance for the competition is now at 6.69 (14 goals, 7.31 xG). That’s more than twice next-best Roberto Firmino’s overperformance (3.24) and now comfortably the best we’ve got on record ahead of Lionel Messi’s 12-goal 2018-19 season with a 5.53 overperformance.
It’s tough to top that, but having Casemiro, who played centre back for an hour on Saturday in their title-clinching win over Espanyol, could also be a boost for La Liga’s recently crowned champions. Real won a total of five tackles in Manchester last week after averaging 10.8 in their first 10 UCL matches. They won possession in the middle third 14 times after averaging 18.2 entering the match. They had 47 ball recoveries after averaging 57.4. Those seem to be areas in which he could offer his services to preempt some of the defensive issues.
Chances of advancing: 85%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 48%
One more number: 6
Finally, the competition favourites. It looked for much of the first 45 minutes last week like City were going to effectively end this tie a week early. Instead, they conceded three goals (and failed to retain three two-goal leads) after going their first four matches in the knockout stages without allowing an opponent goal celebration.
Riyad Mahrez was not one of City’s four goalscorers last week, but he is their leader in the competition this season with six goals despite City scoring at least four in five of their 11 matches. Underwhelming in comparison to Benzema, yes, but how uncommon is it for a UCL-winning side to not have someone scoring more consistently throughout the competition?
Look no further than last season. Olivier Giroud led Chelsea’s Champions League celebration-instigators with six goals. Turns out it’s just the English way. None of the three Premier League teams to win the Champions League in the last decade have had a leading scorer in the competition with more than six goals. The other seven sides (Spanish and German) have had a minimum of eight goals per leading scorer with an average of 13.3. Names like Lewandowski, Ronaldo and Messi will do that. But none of those names reached the semis.
City have had a competition-best 11 goalscorers this Champions League season and seven have scored at least twice, totaling 27 goals. Villarreal have spread their 18 goals across 10 players. Real Madrid’s 24 have been scored by six players. Liverpool’s 25 have been scored by 10, and Mohamed Salah, by English standards, has been a bit selfish with eight. Perhaps he wasn’t happy with his team-leading five in 2018-19.
City also have nine players with multiple assists in the competition. The other three remaining clubs combine for 11. All that is to say they don’t care where the goals come from as long as they come, and they usually do.
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Design by Matt Sisneros.