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Champions League Semi-Finals: Real Madrid, Bayern, PSG and Dortmund

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We are down to the final four of Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League semi-finals.

It was a quarter-finals of surprises. Paris Saint-Germain stunned Barcelona while Borussia Dortmund surprised Atletico Madrid.

Then Bayern Munich sent Arsenal packing and Real Madrid, buoyed by goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, outlasted the defending champions Manchester City on penalties, to ensure there would be no repeat winner this season.

City were heavy favorites to repeat as Champions. Now, the storylines are refreshed as there could be a Klassiker in the final in London. Or Harry Kane could return to Wembley with a second chance to win the European Cup. Or Kylian Mbappe could face Real Madrid, his much-reported new team from this summer, in his final game for hometown club PSG.

A look at the four teams
Bayern Munich
Having been deposed as Bundesliga champions after 11 years of dominance, it is all or nothing for Bayern in Europe as they look to avoid a first trophyless season since 2012. Ending their four-year absence from the Champions League final four is a timely tonic, but with Kane providing the world-class finishing that was missing in Europe last term, there is a belief that this star-studded Bayern squad could yet end a difficult season with the biggest prize of them all.

Why Bayern can win the competition
Bayern have had their ups and downs, but title-winning class is permanent; in Thomas Tuchel, they have a coach who boasts the same quality. To an extent, the pressure is off in Europe, with domestic travails dampening expectations. But, in Kane, the six-time European champions have an elite striker, the type of player who could fire them to title number seven.

How Bayern play
Tuchel has preached about “fast and fluid” football since arriving at the club last season, and that translates into sharp vertical passes out from the back and some incisive interplay in the final third. Kane has proved the perfect puzzle piece up front, not just because of his goalscoring but also his ability to drop deep and link up the play, allowing Bayern to get the best out of the pace advantage they have against most sides in wide positions.

Borussia Dortmund
Not many expected Dortmund to be the first team to qualify from an extremely tough Group F. Having lost 2-0 at Paris in the first match and drawn another blank at home to Milan (0-0), back-to-back wins without conceding against Newcastle changed their fortunes. Another mature performance at Milan ensured qualification with one game to spare. BVB held their nerve under intense pressure from PSV in the last-16 return to reach the quarter-finals, where they edged a classic against Atlético de Madrid.

Why Dortmund can win the competition
When Dortmund get on a roll they take some stopping. BVB stumbled in the first leg in Eindhoven and again in Madrid but, stirred by a boisterous crowd, the Black and Yellows prevailed each time. Home advantage is a major factor. Dortmund have shown this term that they can beat any team, so their journey in this season’s competition is far from over.

How Dortmund play
Wary of a difficult task ahead, BVB set out with a counterattacking mindset and a back three for the first group match at Paris. They changed their set-up during that match, brought on a natural No9 instead of two counterattacking forwards and their game improved right away. Since then, they have always opted for a system with a back four and three central midfielders, with pacy wingers such as Donyell Malen, Karim Adeyemi and Jadon Sancho playing a decisive role. From that basic formation, Dortmund are capable of progressing the ball or pressing in different ways.

Paris are through to the Champions League semi-finals for the third time in five seasons. After a group campaign which included a chastening 4-1 defeat at Newcastle, hopes of a deep run in this year’s competition were tempered. Fast forward a few months, though, and following an expertly navigated round of 16 second leg against Real Sociedad and comeback triumph over Barcelona, Parisian optimism is rising. This outfit is tactically astute and growing in stature with each passing game.

Why Paris can win the competition
It would be reductive to pin all hopes of a Paris win on Mbappé, but the side from the French capital possess arguably the best player in the world right now. Since arriving at the helm last summer, Luis Enrique has injected energy and youthful exuberance into the side. In Warren Zaïre-Emery, they boast one of the brightest midfield talents in the game, and collectively they’re growing in maturity.

How Paris play
Luis Enrique has implemented a system predicated on tactical flexibility. Nominally a 4-3-3, their approach soon moulds into a 3-4-3 when in possession. Lucas Hernández’s positional nous on the left of their back four allows Achraf Hakimi the freedom to operate as an auxiliary midfielder. Another common switch involves Vitinha, who often occupies the berth on the left of the midfield three, moving wide to allow danger man Mbappé to roam into the central spaces.

Real Madrid
Madrid remain fun to watch, and report on. But the nerve-shredding and sensory overload moments which were unheralded themes of their otherwise perfect group qualification became more notable in the round of 16 and quarter-finals. How much Madrid owed to their goalkeeper, Andriy Lunin for the elimination of Leipzig was increased hugely against City. The Ukrainian was stellar in most of both knockouts, especially his 24-karat display throughout the penalty shoot-out win in Manchester. Frankly, Madrid will be keen to re-impose their goal threat in the semi-finals.

Why Madrid can win the competition
Because they’re Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti’s side live and breathe the stress, the pride, the ambition, the Houdini acts and the majesty any club needs in order to win this trophy. Surely few share the same all-consuming desire to win this trophy. And if there are some candidates across Europe in better form right now, don’t discard the big guns in this squad – Vinícius Júnior, Bellingham, Toni Kroos (plus perhaps the returning Thibaut Courtois and Éder Militão, according to the Italian coach) – hitting their stride at just the right time.

How Real Madrid play
Vivaciously. And, latterly, pugnaciously. If you had to state Los Blancos’ current predominant formation, it would be 4-4-2. Ancelotti has a treasury of midfield talent and, until injuries intervened, he wanted to field as much of it as feasible. But rather than viewing four in midfield as a defensive measure (Madrid had largely used 4-3-3 since Ancelotti returned), the key is that Bellingham, alternating between the left side without the ball and the tip of the midfield diamond when Madrid are in possession, can attack the box and score. They are arguably the best counter/transition team in Europe.

Champions League Tickets: Semi-finals

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