Bayern Munich and Real Madrid joined Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday, but some feel it’s not the strongest quartet. How accurate is that?

And then there were four.

It’s fair to say Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final second legs threw a couple of spanners into the works.

They completed the lineup for the semi-finals, but perhaps not in the way many of us expected with defending champions – and overwhelming favourites – Manchester City dumped out by Real Madrid on penalties, and Arsenal sent packing by Bayern Munich.

That meant Bayern will face Madrid while Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund – conquerors of Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, respectively, on Tuesday – tussle in the last four.

Champions League opta predictions

Before the first legs of the last eight, City were given a competition-high 28.3% chance (up to 31.1% following the 3-3 draw in Madrid) of retaining their title by the Opta supercomputer, going all the way in 2,830 of the 10,000 tournament simulations.

Arsenal, winning their first Champions League crown in 13.6%, were deemed to be the fourth most likely to enjoy European success this season.

Only Atlético (5.0%) were considered to be greater outsiders than Bayern (6.2%) less than two weeks ago; that’s partly due to the Germans being on the tougher side of the draw, though it’s also a reflection of a generally underwhelming season (domestically, at least).

With City and Arsenal battling it out at the top of the Premier League table, there were undeniably great expectations on both, especially considering they were pitched against arguably weak iterations of Real Madrid – despite having a fairly comfortable lead atop La Liga – and Bayern.

And yet, as this competition routinely proves, expectations are there to be defied.

A consequence of City and Arsenal ultimately failing to reach the last four is that there are no Premier League clubs in the Champions League semi-finals for only the second time since 2016-17 (also in 2019-20), when Leicester City were the last men standing in the quarter-finals.

As such, there’s a perception this group of semi-finalists might not be as strong as usual.

As mentioned, this doesn’t feel like a classic Madrid team; Bayern are 16 points behind Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen after having their 11-season monopoly ended; Dortmund are fifth in the German top flight; and PSG were on course to be eliminated by a largely unimpressive Barcelona before Ronald Araújo’s sending off on Tuesday.

Thanks to the Opta Power Rankings, this idea that the semi-finals class of 2024 might be weaker than the norm can be put to the test.

Firstly, the Opta Power Rankings are a data-backed global team ranking system that assigns an ability score (Opta Power Rating) to over 13,000 domestic football teams on a scale between zero and 100, where zero is the worst-ranked team in the world and 100 is the best team in the world.

We can analyse this data going back to the start of the 2014-15 season to get an idea of how strong each Champions League semi-final lineup was in the context of each individual campaign.

Dortmund are, unsurprisingly, the lowest-ranked of the four semi-finalists this season, though they’re still in the top 10 with an Opta Power Rating of 93.2, even if they’re the ones rounding off the top 10. So, with Real Madrid at number two (98.2), PSG at four (95.8) and Bayern at eight (94.5), all four can consider themselves among the 10 best teams in the world.

The average ranking position for these four teams is 6.0, so as a bottom line, we certainly can’t say this is a weak group of clubs. But how does this compare to the other seasons in our study?

Well, the last campaign to only have clubs ranked 1-9 was the 2016-17 season when Real Madrid (2), Monaco (9), Juventus (4) and Atlético Madrid (5) made it to the semis. Since then, there’s always been one club ranked 10th or lower in the last four.

The most extreme example is undoubtedly Lyon, who were ranked 30th (83.8) in 2019-20. Now, admittedly Les Gones were at a slight disadvantage here because Ligue 1 was officially cancelled at the end of April 2020 with 10 matches still to go due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That season never resumed and so they were severely limited in how many ranking points they could earn compared to teams in other competitions, many of which did resume over that summer.

Champions League semi-finalists lowest Opta Power Rankings

Nevertheless, Lyon weren’t enjoying a particularly impressive season on the domestic front, ending it seventh based on their record of 1.43 points per game. They’d have likely brought the average rating down even if they had been in regular competitive action.

So, in 2019-20, the average ranking of the four semi-finalists was 10.5 and the average team rating was 91.98, both of which are the worst we have on record going back as far as the 2014-15 season.

People might also be tempted to point out RB Leipzig were one of the four on that occasion, though their rank of seventh in the world clearly had little to do with the average ranking being so high.

UEFA Champions League semi-finalists - Opta Power Ratings
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

The strongest semi-final lineup over the period in question was right at the very start, in 2014-15. With Barcelona (1), Real Madrid (2), Bayern (3) and Juventus (5), the Champions League semis that season had almost the strongest possible group of teams. With an average ranking of 2.75, that’s the beefiest last four we have on record.

This also highlights another curious point; in no season since the Opta Power Rankings came into being have the four Champions League semi-finalists been the four top-ranked teams in the world, with 2014-15 comfortably coming closest to such a lineup.

However, the 2014-15 and 2023-24 campaigns aside, the other eight seasons under the microscope here had semi-finalists with an average ranking of 6.21, meaning the 6.0 average of this season suggests it’s not noticeably weaker than usual.

Furthermore, the four remaining clubs this time around have an average team rating of 95.43, which is higher than in four of the past five years.

The kicker, and perhaps the main reason some people might subconsciously regard the class of 2024 as the weakest group of semi-finalists in a while, is this is the first time since 2016-17 that the top-ranked team (so, Man City at the moment) haven’t made it to the penultimate hurdle in the Champions League.

Champions League semi-finalists Opta Power Rankings

A consequence of that is the most equal group of clubs to play at this stage on record, with there being just 4.92 Opta Power Rating points between the best (Real Madrid) and worst (Borussia Dortmund) – statistically speaking – teams left in the competition. Previously, the fewest rating points between the four semi-finalists had been 6.88 in 2016-17, but this season beats that easily.

Perhaps the fact the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 aren’t as well watched internationally as the Premier League has had an impact on perceptions; maybe Real Madrid and PSG sitting top of domestic leagues that haven’t enjoyed thrilling title races (yet…) has also played a part.

Either way, the data says these are the most equal semi-finals in years, and while this may not be enough to convince everyone, no one should be daft enough to doubt the Champions League’s potential to churn out unrivalled sporting drama.

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