Spurs vs. Ajax, Tuesday 30th April, 20:00
It is somewhat of a surprise semi-final clash with neither side really fancied to make it quite this far. Spurs’ challenge almost ended in the group stages following two defeats from their opening three winless encounters, but thanks to a little fortune, they advanced behind Barcelona to the knockouts.
Since then though, they’ve been mightily impressive in thumping Dortmund in the last 16, before taking down Pep Guardiola’s tournament favourites on away goals in the quarters.
Ajax also qualified from their pool in second place, winning three of six unbeaten outings as they settled for stalemates in both their encounters with Bayern.
However, neither Benfica nor AEK Athens made much of an impression on them, though they did go on to eliminate European heavyweights Real Madrid and Juventus to get to this point, all while playing some outstanding, free-flowing football.
Mauricio Pochettino rested Jan Vertonghen at the weekend against West Ham, but that didn’t quite go to plan at all as they were defeated 1-0 at their new stadium for the first time.
In fact, that is the only goal they’ve conceded from five matches at their new home, as four of those games saw fewer than three strikes (the exception against a dismal Huddersfield), including a 1-0 first-leg victory over the Citizens.
Erik ten Hag’s men are on a commanding run of 13 wins from 15 matches in all competitions, though they did go down away at fourth-placed AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie by a goal to nil, whilst their last road trip saw them grind out a victory against mid-table outfit Groningen by that same scoreline.
Moreover, they can count themselves a little fortunate that in both their trips to Real and Juve, their opponents were without influential defenders Sergio Ramos and Giorgio Chiellini respectively, so we don’t expect them to open up this resolute Spurs defence quite as easily.
This is the biggest game for both clubs in a generation, though Dutch sides have a terrible W2-D6-L19 record away against English sides in Europe since 2003/04 (with qualifiers), including six defeats in eight winless trips since 2008/09 in the Champions League alone.
However, this is the most competitive Dutch team for many a year and the hosts are without both key attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane.
With that in mind, Under 2.5 Goals appeals, with this likely to be a cagey affair as opening legs often are. 18 of the 28 semi-final first legs in this competition since 2004/05 have seen two strikes or fewer, with 13 featuring no more than one.
Barcelona vs. Liverpool, Wednesday 1st May, 20:00
Liverpool left themselves with a lot to do in the final round of the group stages as anything but victory hosting Napoli would see them enter into the Europa League as Group C’s third-placed side.
However, they got the job done there as they have in each of their most recent 10 outings across all competitions, including victories at both Bayern and Porto in their last-16 and quarter-final ties respectively.
Meanwhile, Barcelona cruised through their group of Spurs, Inter and PSV, winning four of six unbeaten matches as their stalemate hosting Mauricio Pochettino’s men in the final group game came without the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who were rested having already qualified in top spot.
They have since eased past both Lyon (5-1) and Man Utd (4-0) on aggregate in their knockout matches and they look to be the deserved favourites to lift their sixth Champions League title.
The Catalan giants have won an astonishing 28 of their 31 unbeaten matches in this competition since 2013/14 at the Camp Nou, netting at least three times on 20 occasions and winning by a minimum three-goal margin in 15.
Couple that with English teams’ terrible record when travelling to Spain in the Champions League knockouts, losing 11 of 15 winless games since 2009/10, including seven of eight since 2014/15, then the hosts begin to look tempting at the prices.
Not to mention, Barca account for seven of those wins from their eight such matches over that entire period and so Jurgen Klopp looks to have his work cut out.
However, the German will know that his side doesn’t have to win the first leg to still have a great chance of making it to the final. For all their success, the Catalonians have been fortunate in that they’ve been at home in the second leg for the majority of their knockout ties in recent years.
Indeed, since 2010/11, they’ve partaken in 22 Champions League knockout ties and they’ve been home first on just five occasions. Although they won four of five such unbeaten matches, they qualified over the two legs on just two occasions.
One of those was after a 5-1 thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg, but they famously threw away a 4-1 advantage against Roma last year, while Atletico Madrid were able to turn around a 2-1 deficit in 2014/15.
Therefore, the Reds main target will be to remain in the tie and a narrow defeat would be a good result to take back to Anfield, which only leans us towards Barca even further in this opening leg.
*all odds are subject to change