Champions League 2019 semi-final draw, fixture dates and when the final is
The Champions League returns with four teams standing, and the road to glory is completely open. All the teams that remain in the race have possibilities, but also questions regarding what awaits them. Will Liverpool find the return to Lionel Messi and company to deny them the triplet? And which of the less likely teams will prevail in the other semifinal?
This is all you need to know, from superheroes and their peers able to make a difference, to the keys to victory.
Tottenham vs. Ajax
WHEN: Tuesday, April 30, 3 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. BST / 2 p.m. MEX
BACKGROUND: Ajax honored its glorious past by eliminating the great Serie A champion, Juventus, and the last Champions League champion, Real Madrid, to get into the semifinals. The quality, freshness and audacity that he showed in these games made him the favorite team of the neutrals. It is tied in the tip of the Dutch league and in the final of the Cup of the Netherlands, so that this team also aspires to win a triplet of titles.
Tottenham has lost more than half of the games he played since Valentine’s Day, but he’s still clinging to third place in the Premier League, and eliminated Manchester City to get here. Having reached the semifinals is remarkable given the string of injuries they have suffered – Captain Harry Kane will miss the entire series – and their limited resources. Limited with respect to the majority, but not with respect to Ajax: in any other season, the Spurs would be the Cinderella team at this point.
HOW TO COMPARE: Tottenham tends to be more pragmatic, but these two teams have much in common in the game. Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, of the Spurs, add almost three decades of experience in Ajax among the three, between juniors and seniors, so there will not be many surprises.
Given the absence of Kane and the fact that Ajax does not change much his approach to play local or visitor (regardless of the pedigree of his rival) the Spurs will surely seek a counterattack, taking advantage of the speed of Lucas Moura.
THE STAR OF TOTTENHAM: Eriksen. In many ways, it is at a crossroads. He has not yet renewed his contract, which ends in June 2020, which would indicate he is open to a pass this summer. An unexpected turn in the semifinals of the Champions League would not be the best showcase? He will face his past, literally, but he is also the man who can create from nothing for Tottenham, and he might have to carry the team on his shoulders, as he has done so many times before.
THE STAR OF AJAX: Frenkie de Jong. He is the epitome of the modern two-way midfielder, and has a charisma and a personality that goes way beyond his years. He will go to Barcelona this summer, but very few 21-year-old players seemed as prepared as he is to hit this type of jump.
FACTOR X, TOTTENHAM: Dele Alli. He did not compile such striking figures as other years (in 2016-17 he scored 22 goals from midfield against seven this year) partly because he missed seven weeks due to injury, and partly because he had to reinvent himself as a footballer due to the multiple Spurs injuries, especially in the middle. But his dynamism and altruism are at the height of Ajax, and if he manages to prevent it from dominating the midfield, he could put Tottenham ahead.
FACTOR X, AJAX: David Neres. At 22, he’s still very green, but his dribbling and unpredictability make him a headache for his rivals. In a philosophy that shows a fine balance between the team and the individual, at times it leans for itself (maybe that’s why the campaign started with the blows), but that does not diminish its value in the 180 minutes.
TOTTENHAM NEEDS … To find a provisional combination that pushes them (task that will not be easy, taking into account the possible absences of Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks) without leaving the initiative to Ajax, while it can locate Eriksen in the positions where he can create.
AJAX NEEDS … To maintain intensity and aggressiveness at all times because Tottenham’s pedigree is not the same as that of its previous Champions League rivals (Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern), while ensuring the need for the central defender duo composed of Daley Blind and Matthijs de Ligt to do as little work as possible defending in the open against Lucas Moura.
PREDICTION: Tottenham 2-1 Ajax. The momentum is not with Tottenham and the midfield is a mystery, but otherwise they can face Ajax.
Barcelona vs. Liverpool
WHEN: Wednesday, May 1, 3 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. BST / 2 p.m. MEX
BACKGROUND: Barcelona won La Liga on Saturday and will face Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey at the end of the month, which means they are still in the race to get the treble. It will be the third since 2008, which is a great achievement if you take into account that it has only been achieved three times in the first 40 years of European football.
Liverpool made it to the Champions League final last year, of course, but unlike at that time – when they were eliminated from the domestic competition early – they are now head to head with Manchester City fighting the Premier League title. They have won ten straight games in all competitions, and they look stronger and more complete than last year.
HOW TO COMPARE: It used to be a rarity for a team to score 100 goals in all competitions, but Liverpool exceeded that mark on Saturday and Barcelona did in February. However, while both teams can and do score many goals, there is also a more patient and defensive dimension than what they do. Jürgen Klopp unleashes his pressure “heavy metal” and total intermittently and in comparison with his previous incarnations, this squad of Barca has a more directed orientation towards security in the middle of the court. The fact that the two teams have outstanding goalkeepers in Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Alisson adds another layer of strength.
LA ESTRELLA DE BARCELONA: Lionel Messi. It averages more than one goal per game (one more time) while playing a bigger role in terms of going down more and creating more chances for others. Here you can add the superlatives you want.
LA ESTRELLA DE LIVERPOOL: Virgil van Dijk. Few incorporations have been as transformative in recent years as the arrival of the Dutchman at Anfield in January 2018. A giant in the air, his job is to read the game and form a four-pocket in which the two defenders usually attack both.
FACTOR X, BARCELONA: Jordi Alba. He has 16 assists in all competitions this year from his left-back position and an almost supernatural understanding with Messi, who usually cuts from the opposite side. He will face Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah, which means that Liverpool will need a midfielder to help when he advances. But they have to be careful not to compromise too much with him, since Messi will be on the other side …
FACTOR X, LIVERPOOL: Roberto Firmino. He is a central striker who does not score as much (he has surpassed the mark of 20 goals only twice in his career) but his prodigious movement with and without the ball far outweigh the lack of goals. Between Sergio Busquets in the midfield and Gerard Pique in the background, Barcelona will not want to lose sight of it.
BARCELONA NEEDS … To dictate the game in the midfield and keep Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, the Liverpool defenders, behind, while he has to deny service to Salah and Sadio Mané, especially in the transition.
LIVERPOOL NEEDS … Be careful with Messi at all times, but above all when he goes down to create. You have to make sure that the front of three is not isolated, while retaining its shape.
PREDICTION: Liverpool 1-2 Barcelona. Two very even teams, but one of them has Messi, and the other does not.