The main phase of the 2021/22 edition of Europe’s premier club football competition, the UEFA Champions League, started in September of last season with 32 teams. After ten enthralling rounds of football games of the highest calibre, we now have gone down to the top four candidates to lift the crown come the end of the season. Two Spanish teams in Real Madrid and Villarreal, and two English clubs in Liverpool and Manchester City, will fight for the tag of ‘Europe’s greatest.’
Check out how these four teams made it to the semi-finals of the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League:
1. REAL MADRID
Real Madrid have made it to the UEFA Champions League semi-final for the second season on the trot, but unlike last season, they will be determined to leave no stone unturned this time around and go all the way.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men have had a stunning campaign so far, with significantly more highs than lows. They topped their group by winning five and losing only a solitary game. Whilst Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol might have taken them by surprise with a 2-1 win, Los Blancos did well to win all of their other group stage ties – including a double over defending Italian champions Inter Milan.
The La Liga league leaders met a star-studded Paris Saint-Germain team in their round of 16 tie. A Kylian Mbappe goal handed them a 1-0 defeat in the first leg, whereas the Parisiens opened the scoring in the second leg as well, courtesy of another Mbappe strike.
The Whites needed a miracle in the second half to turn the deficit around and it came from none other than their messiah, Karim Benzema, who struck a hat-trick in only seventeen minutes. Benzema not only fired his team to the quarter-finals, but he also became the oldest player to have scored a hat-trick in the history of this competition.
Real Madrid’s journey has not been comfortable, as after beating PSG, they were drawn against last season’s champion Chelsea in the quarter-final. Despite a 3-1 win in the first leg, it seemed that Chelsea’s hopes were all but dead, when the Blues took a 3-0 lead in the second leg. However, goals from Rodrygo Goes and Karim Benzema helped Los Blancos make the scoreline 5-4 on aggregate.
Villarreal’s qualification to the semi-final stage came as a surprise to many, as the La Liga outfit did not even finish in the top four of their domestic league last season and got a place in the Champions League only because of their 2020/21 UEFA Europa League triumph.
However, Unai Emery’s men have proven that they have arrived at the big stage not merely to fill up numbers but to compete and beat big sides. They finished second in a tough group, where they were placed alongside Atalanta, Manchester United and BSC Young Boys. Though they suffered two defeats against the Red Devils, the Yellow Submarine did well to beat the other two teams.
In the round of 16 tie, Emery’s boys were drawn against Juventus, who might not be as intimidating currently as they once were, but still, possess plenty of talented superstars in their ranks. The first leg tie ended 1-1 at Villarreal’s home ground Estadio de la Ceramica, but the team from Eastern Spain shocked the football world when they handed Juventus a 3-0 drubbing at a packed Juventus Stadium.
If that win was impressive, what happened in the quarter-finals was even more special. Villarreal faced German champions Bayern Munich and fought bravely to secure a 1-0 win in the first leg. Though Emery’s team conceded first in the second leg, an 88th-minute strike from Samuel Chukwueze was enough to take the team from a small city in Castellon to unchartered territories in Europe.
3. MANCHESTER CITY
Last season’s runners-up Manchester City are now just one step away from making it to the finale for the second successive season, having made it back to the last four. They did not have a particularly flawless journey in the group stage, where Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig handed them defeats.
However, Pep Guardiola’s team did enough to narrowly top their group. In the round of 16, the Cityzens were lucky to be drawn against a comparatively much weaker opponent in Sporting Club de Portugal and the outcome was along the expected lines, with the defending champions emerging as 5-0 winners across the two legs.
The quarter-final, however, was when things got really tricky for Guardiola’s men. They fought hard for a 1-0 win in the first leg against 2020/21 La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, and then battled for over 100 minutes to play out a goalless draw in the second leg in what was a hostile atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Liverpool are the only team among the four semi-finalists who not only remained unbeaten in the group stage, but also won all six of those fixtures – beating formidable sides in the likes of Atletico Madrid and AC Milan.
In the round of 16 tie, the Reds were drawn against the blue half of Milan, Internazionale. The first leg tie ended 2-0 in Liverpool’s favour and though the Italian side won the second leg 1-0, Jurgen Klopp’s team emerged victoriously on aggregate.
The Reds faced Benfica in the quarter-final, and once again, they killed the tie in the first leg itself. The six-time winners of the competition won the first game 3-1 before playing out a 3-3 thriller in the second leg.
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