After the drama we saw at the Etihad in the second leg of the quarter-final between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, how can the semi-finals possibly hope to live up? There may not be as many goals, but the draw has offered up two very intriguing ties.
One sees two teams who have featured at this level often in recent years, while the other pits together two sides who haven’t reached the last four of Europe’s top competition in a generation or more.
From 2003/04 onward – when the Champions League adopted its current format – Barcelona have featured in the most semi-finals. This will be their ninth tie at this level in this period, and while it’s only Liverpool’s fifth, Barca have only made it through to one more final than the Reds have.
Liverpool’s record is also remarkable considering they’ve only made the knock-out stages seven times in the last 16 seasons. They may not have featured regularly in the competition in the last couple of decades, but they often go deep into it when they do.
Ajax stunned Juventus in the last eight to reach their first Champions League semi-final since 1997. However, that’s nothing compared to Tottenham, who last graced this stage with their presence in 1962.
Spanish league leaders Barca have therefore amassed more semi-finals than the other three sides put together have in recent times, but will their experience count for anything this year?
UK bookmakers certainly think so. Ernesto Valverde’s side are 20/29 with Bethard to reach the final, with Liverpool available at 6/5.
Tottenham vs Ajax Betting Odds
The other semi-final looks harder to call, as Tottenham are priced at 20/21 while Ajax are 20/23. Combine the two favourites from each tie and you’ll get 37/20 for a Barcelona vs Tottenham final.
It makes sense that the higher placed team in UEFA’s rankings is the favourite in each tie, but there could be more to it than that.
While the outcome of the first leg itself obviously has a huge bearing on which side gets through, across the last 15 seasons the teams who play at home first lead 19-11 in terms of reaching the final.
Of the 11 sides who played away first and got through, only two lost the opening match of the tie. It occurred in both semi-finals in 2007, where AC Milan and Liverpool recovered from defeats at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
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⚽️ We're going for this 80/1 correct score double on the first legs of the #ChampionsLeague semi-finals. #THFC have a weakened squad and may keep their cards close to their chest against Ajax. Meanwhile in-form #LFC would do well to restrict Barca to a one-goal lead. Good luck! 🤞 #UCL #Tips #Ajax #Barca #FCBarca #Football #Betting
Sixteen of the 19 teams who played at home first and qualified won, with three draws. In other words, it has been 12 years since a side lost the first leg and reached the final, so keep that in mind before placing your second leg bets.
Karamba have Tottenham as 5/4 favourites to win the first leg at their new stadium, and Barca are just 5/7 to put Liverpool to the sword at Camp Nou.
I wouldn’t rule the Reds out of pulling off a shock just yet though. They have the best Champions League expected goal difference of the four semi-finalists, while Barcelona have only conceded six goals from chances collectively valued at around 11.
Can their defensive fortune hold out Liverpool’s front three? As the market outsiders, Jürgen Klopp’s team could provide the best value.
What Champions League Bets To Avoid
One market where there isn’t a sensible value pick is the top goal scorer market. Lionel Messi is 1/100 with Redbet to take the honour, as he is four goals clear of every other player still in the competition.
It’s both unlikely that Liverpool can keep him score-less across 180 minutes, or that Dusan Tadic – next in the market at 40/1 – can make up the shortfall.
The latter would be unlikely anyway, but history shows goals are usually scarce at this level (particularly in the first match of the tie), so don’t expect many goals and bet accordingly.
The semi-final first legs from the last decade have averaged 2.3 goals per game, with almost a sixth of the total coming in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma last season.
Both teams may have scored in both semi-final first legs in 2017/18, but it has only happened in six of the 20 matches over the last decade. Barcelona haven’t conceded in any of their last three first leg semi-final games on home turf, with matches against Manchester United (2008) and Chelsea (2009) both ending goalless.
Barca’s pedigree at this level means they are worthy favourites to lift the trophy in Madrid on June 1st. But while you can get 6/4 with Sportnation that they win the tournament, the same company will give you 8/5 that a Spanish team wins it.
Bear that in mind if you fancy a flutter on the La Liga leaders.