The critics say this must be the year Manchester City win the Champions League. The predictor says it’s the most likely outcome with Liverpool not far behind. But the two Spanish teams they’ll face have just eliminated the last two European champions in Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
Global ranking: 1
Chances of advancing: 74%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 43%
One more number: 7.6
As you know, there were at a time 32 teams in this competition. Twenty-eight have been eliminated. Only eight have played 10 games. Manchester City are one of them. Sixteen of them only played six games. Yet Manchester City still have the lowest overall xG against (7.6) in the entire competition. Next best among the semi-finalists is Liverpool at 10.98 (17th).
And City have done it most impressively when the stakes have been higher – in the knockout stages – with very little in the way of chances allowed around the six-yard box:
City haven’t conceded in the competition since the group-stage finale on 7 December, and they’ve been a different defensive team since group play. In group, they conceded 5.84 xG in six matches with seven goals against coming from rather close range:
It should be said their group contained an attacking-mad RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain, but the recent form is nonetheless encouraging. And they’ve committed just one error in the competition that’s led to a shot, which is lowest among the remaining clubs.
First legs in particular have been barren for opponents. Neither Sporting nor Atlético Madrid put a shot on target in their first legs against Manchester City. Granted, Real have more going forward, including the player with the most non-penalty goals in the competition (Karim Benzema with 11) and the player with the most touches in the opposition box (Vinícius Júnior’s 84), but they haven’t played a side like City in this competition. Pep Guardiola’s side have allowed 24 shots on target in the entire competition. Real Madrid are more than twice that (49), but there’s been a trade-off at the other end…
Global ranking: 4
Chances of advancing: 26%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 14%
One more number: 3
Real Madrid have scored a goal from a high turnover in three straight games. To put this in context, the three other remaining teams have combined to score four goals from high turnovers in the entire competition.
After going without a shot-ending high turnover in their first match of the competition all the way back in September, they’ve managed 20 in nine matches. That’s five more than Liverpool, who have pressed 40 more sequences than Real. Los Blancos are selective with which matches to press in, and this seems unlikely to be one away to City. So how do Real fare when then elect not to press? They’ve had six or fewer high turnovers three times in the Champions League this season. They’ve had 10 or more in the remaining seven. Those three matches in which they either elected not to press or didn’t press successfully were a 2-0 win over Inter, a 1-0 loss at PSG and a 3-1 win at Chelsea. Not bad, but the next team tends to get results from a bit more stylistic consistency…
Global ranking: 3
Chances of advancing: 85%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 39%
One more number: 0.16
Yeah, City have the highest chance of winning the competition, but let’s not undersell the value of just taking the next step and reaching the final before worrying too much about title likelihoods. One step at a time, and the Reds are at 85% to be playing at the Stade de France on 28 May.
If they get there, it may be because of quality chance creation. Liverpool have averaged 0.16 xG per shot in their last three matches without getting a boost in that from the penalty spot:
But Villarreal just showed against Bayern Munich they aren’t in the business of conceding such quality of chances. Unai Emery’s side held Bayern to 0.07 xG per shot over 180 minutes, while Julian Nagelsmann’s side settled for plenty of low-quality opportunities:
As for that 0.16 xG per shot of Liverpool’s in the last three matches, only one club have bettered that across the competition: their next opponent, Villarreal (0.17)…
Global ranking: 19
Chances of advancing: 15%
Chances of winning the Champions League: 4%
One more number: 12
Villarreal seem to know what they’re doing at this stage of knockout tournaments. They had one shot on target against Bayern in the second leg, but it was the best opportunity of the game for either side as measured by xG. It was also the best scoring opportunity in the tie.
To no one’s surprise, Villarreal haven’t played with the ball much in the competition (44.6% possession). They’ve had 19 direct attacks to Liverpool’s 16, and they’ve scored off two of them. City, Real and Liverpool have combined for three.
What that seems to be doing is giving their attackers some space on the occasion that they are attacking. Arnaut Danjuma’s 12 shot-ending carries are tied with Riyad Mahrez for the lead among remaining players, so look for him to try to get in behind Trent Alexander-Arnold a few times on Wednesday:
As a team, Villarreal’s 29 shot-ending carries are right up there with Liverpool (34), City (34) and Real (27), despite lagging well behind on overall shots. Attacking in space is their thing. Their opponents shouldn’t expect the same.