There were four names in the hat for the Champions League semi-final draw after a tumultuous week which saw some unbelievable results in the competition.
In the end, it was Liverpool who got the draw they all wanted.
Jurgen Klopp’s men will face Roma in the last four; with the Italians considered to be the weakest outfit left in the competition despite their 3-0 thumping of Barcelona in midweek. The other semi-final will see defending champions Real Madrid tackle Bayern Munich.
The Reds will host the first leg at Anfield on either Tuesday 24 April or Wednesday 25, before the return trip to Italy follows a week later. They will be desperate to take a victory to Rome, although really they would just be happy to keep a clean sheet in this first leg, you’d wager.
The outcome of the draw has seen some significant shifts in the betting market, with Liverpool coming in from around 11/4 to lift the Champions League trophy in Kiev on Saturday May 26 to the 2/1 mark – not bad considering they were 40/1 prior to a ball being kicked! They can also be backed at a mighty short 4/9 to qualify for the final.
Curiously, Roma’s odds have also shrunk to 10/1 after they too missed out on what is perceived to be the tougher draw, with Real Madrid and Bayern – the two favourites to the title – lengthening slightly to 21/10 and 23/10 respectively.
Reds to Unseat Italian Stallions?
It is easy to write Roma off as the so-called ‘weakest’ team left in the competition, but anybody who witnessed their 3-0 win over Barcelona first hand in midweek will know that this is a serious side to have to overcome.
They dominated the second leg from the first whistle; necessary after going down 1-4 to the Spaniards in the first leg at Camp Nou.
And the Italians got their just desserts as early as the sixth minute when former Manchester City man Edin Dzeko prodded home.
But they failed to find the net again in the first period despite creating a hatful of chances, and they must have gone rather forlornly into the half-time break; after all, Barca only needed to score once, or avoid conceding two more goals, in order to advance.
They maintained their intensity in the second period, and when Dzeko was fouled in the box by Gerard Pique it was left to captain Daniele De Rossi to bring his side a step closer to their target. He duly obliged.
The Italian faithful inside the Stadio Olimpico could barely contain themselves when Kostas Manolas guided home a corner at the near post to make it 3-0 with ten minutes to play, and Barca – no doubt with memories of heir heart-stopping late win over PSG in this competition last season, laid siege to Roma’s goal.
But the hosts held firm to secure a quite incredible victory.
They will have to go through the emotional ringer once more if they are to beat Liverpool, you’d fancy, and the reason why Liverpool are such a heavy favourite to progress to the final is because of their goal power: they have netted in 37/43 Premier and Champions League matches this term.
That suggests they will conjure up an away goal or two in Rome, and so Jurgen Klopp’s men have to be considered a strong favourite to reach their first Champions League final since that fateful day in Athens just over a decade ago.
Europa League Set to Save Wenger’s Bacon?
The Europa League semi-final draw could have been kinder to English football’s sole representative, however.
Arsenal were in the hat alongside Marseille, RB Leipzig and Atletico Madrid….and it was Diego Simeone’s side who the Gunners were paired with.
That is clearly the toughest draw available: Atleti have reached a pair of Champions League finals in recent memory and are super-tough to beat, losing just 3/31 La Liga outings this term. In Antoine Griezmann, they have a proven match winner too.
But Arsenal won’t take this competition lightly, and indeed Arsene Wenger – ever the opportunist – will realise that a) it’s his side’s only viable route into next season’s Champions League, and b) it could wrestle back even a tiny amount of sentiment from the Gunners faithful, most of whom are now against him.
Could we be set for a pair of English finalists on the continent? Liverpool are a worthy favourite, but Arsenal are well and truly up against when taking on Simeone’s well-drilled outfit.