Smart Money Soccer Picks For 8/18/2020 & 8/19/2020
The single-game elimination structure of this year’s COVID-tailored Champions League has been nothing short of a massive success. The quarter-finals saw shocks, thumpings, and comebacks. Now, it’s time for what Sir Alex Ferguson used to call “squeaky bum time.” The Champions League Semi-Finals see three teams who have never won the competition and Bayern Munich, the overwhelming favorites.
This should be a fascinating affair. Both teams are in unfamiliar territory in the Champions League in their first-ever semi-finals. For Leipzig, it’s been 11 years in the making, ever since their inception in 2009. PSG on the other hand, while much older than Leipzig, will also feel that it’s been around a decade in the making since their oil-rich owners came in and set out to put together a squad to win the Champions League.
With that, it also means that one of these sides will also reach their first final. This is a game of stardom versus tactics. Brilliant players versus brilliant coaching. PSG were arguably out-coached against Atalanta for most of their quarter-final, but superstars Neymar and Mbappé dragged them to a later comeback. Meanwhile, Leipzig are without any global superstars in their team but their coach, Julian Nagelsmann, has proven that that is not a problem if the team sets up correctly.
Leipzig made a statement against heavily-favored Atlético as they deservedly ran out 2-1 winners thanks to a last-minute winner from American Tyler Adams. Julian Nagelsmann, only 33, showed once again that he is one of the best young minds in the game with even the stubborn Diego Simeone conceding that Leipzig had understood and won every tactical aspect of the game.
Leipzig will have loads of belief heading into this Champions League Semi-Finals match Tuesday. They have been written off from the start of the knockout stage and then written off even more once Timo Werner departed. They are more than comfortable with the underdog tag. I think they’ll really have another go at PSG. PSG’s midfield was absent against Atalanta, and Nagelsmann will be relishing the opportunity to exploit the glaring weaknesses that PSG possess.
Despite looking lost at times against Atalanta, I believe that ultimately, this might just be PSG’s time. They are not a great side by any stretch of the imagination. Leipzig are probably going to look the better team for long stretches of the game, and they very easily could cause an upset. In fact, that would not surprise me at all. That being said, Neymar was unplayable against Atalanta, and Mbappé will be returning from injury. Those two are two of the top 5 players on the planet, and their chemistry is second to none. Angel Di Maria will also return to the fold after serving his suspension.
PSG just have too much firepower for Leipzig. It feels lazy to say, but sometimes, particularly at the highest level, no matter how well your team is coached, quality prevails. Neymar looks like he has a point to prove, and Mbappé has looked irresistible this season. Win or lose, I’m not sure how much longer Thomas Tuchel has left in charge of PSG because they have looked so flat at times this season. But I think their big players are going to show just why they are big players.
What will concern PSG is that goalkeeper Keylor Navas has been ruled out due to injury, but their team are in good hands with the very solid Sergio Rico set to come in.
Pick: PSG to cover. It will be cagey out of the gates. PSG will control the tempo, and Leipzig will look to counter. If PSG get one in the first half, Leipzig will have to take the game to PSG and play a higher line. If that happens, Neymar and Mbappé might start running riot. Either way, I think PSG will just have too much here for Leipzig.
Both of these teams produced the two headline results of the quarter-finals in their own ways. Bayern served up one of the great European humiliations to Messi’s Barcelona, while Lyon shocked Guardiola’s Manchester City who, along with Bayern, were among the favorites for the competition.
Lyon will need to pull off the impossible again and then some to win this Champions League Semi-Finals match this time around, as Bayern have been playing soccer on another planet this season.
At this stage, Lyon are by far the feel-good story of this Champions League season. They’ve defied odds twice in a row now to defeat Juventus and Man City, and who knows what next. On paper, they are miles behind Bayern in terms of quality and tactics, but this Lyon team are resilient and they believe.
If Lyon are to reach their first-ever Champions League final, they’ll do it by soaking in the pressure and creating chances on the break. They’ll need their midfield general Houssem Auoar to put in the type of display he did against Man City and need captain Memphis Depay to be clinical, as they may only see a handful of chances all game.
Moussa Dembélé, the two-goal hero last time out, will most likely start on the bench once again, but he will know that his time will come and that he’ll need to make his minutes count again Wednesday.
There’s not much to say here other than Lyon need to hope. A win for them will not be chalked down to anything any expert can predict. It will either go exactly as analysts say, or it’ll play out like a Hollywood classic.
8-2. Has it sunk in yet for anybody? Me neither. I knew Bayern were good, but I didn’t think they were that good. In all honesty, it could have maybe been more. Barcelona were horrid, but Bayern were spectacular.
You could write a whole feature on Lewandowksi, but there’s so much more to this team.
Alphonso Davies – the Canadian wunderkind and MLS export who is now probably the best left-back in the game, Joshua Kimmich – the best right-back in the world whose best position isn’t even right-back, Thomas Müller – the evergreen heart and soul of Bayern, or Serge Gnabry – the former Arsenal outcast who’s now one of the most clinical wingers in world football. And that’s not even half of them.
Bayern will really be thinking in the back of their minds that this tournament is there’s to lose. All of the other big dogs are out. Bayern are the only side left who’s ever won the competition, and none of the remaining field have even looked as close to as dominant as Bayern.
If there’s a team they don’t want to face right now, however, it’s Lyon. That’s not down to anything tactical. That’s down to the nature of sports. Lyon are the miracle makers, the Cinderella team. That being said, Bayern know this. They know that their 8-2 win means nothing if they fail to win their next two games. And they know that Lyon carries with them a little magic at the moment. They’ll be ready.
Pick: Bayern to cover. I desperately want to go for Lyon. I really do. I’m a sucker for the romantic outcome. But I objectively don’t see anything other than a comfortable Bayern win. Lyon won’t lose this by 1. They’ll either pull off the miracle or lose comfortably. Unfortunately, the latter is looking like good money.