The UEFA Champions League semi-finals are set: Man. United v. Arsenal and Barcelona v. Chelsea. The winners will play the final in Rome on May 27th. There's a chance we will see a rematch of last year's Chelsea-ManU final, although I don't think that's the way it's going to go down. This is no symbolic tournament about national honor -- this year's winner could take home nearly $60MM in prize and TV money.
Once again, there are three English Premiership sides in the final four. It's the third year in a row that we have a chance for an all-England final -- Sepp Blatter's head must be exploding. Not only does it reinforce Blatter's rants about the excessive strength of the Premiership, but it also increases the English clubs' claims on the $300MM in Champions League TV revenue, giving these top clubs an even larger war-chest with which to acquire the foreign players that Blatter has been trying to limit.
There was some great drama in the quarter-finals, at least in two of the ties. In the two that weren't particularly competitive, Arsenal dismantled Villareal 4-1 on aggregate, and Barcelona absolutely shelled Bayern Munich 5-1 on aggregate. Barcelona's 4-0 win at home was particularly eye-opening; they dominated Bayern so completely, and looked so dangerous in attack, that match could have been 8-0.
The Man. United-Porto tie was surprisingly competitive. Porto came to Old Trafford and toughed out a 2-2 draw, grabbing two crucial away goals. That put United in position to have to win on the road in Portugal. Which they did, but only 0-1 on an early goal from Christiano Ronaldo. If Porto had managed a late goal and a 1-1 draw, the Portuguese side would have gone through on away goals.
But the most enjoyable tie was certainly Chelsea-Liverpool. Chelsea was on the road in the first match and punked Liverpool 1-3, setting a seemingly impossible bar with three away goals. Liverpool had to win 0-3 on the road to win the tie. They opened the match at Stamford Bridge with two first-half goals and Chelsea was clearly sweating bullets down 0-2 at the break. Chelsea roared back in the second half and went in front 3-2 with 10 minutes to go. But then Liverpool scored twice, making it 3-4, pulling to within a goal on aggregate, and, with 4 away goals, seizing the tie-breaker advantage. It was down to the wire until Lampard scored in the last minute to clinch it for Chelsea, 4-4, 7-5 on aggregate. Classic.
Predictions? I think Arsenal can beat United (they beat them 2-1 in their league match back in November), but I just don't think it's in the cards this year. I pick United to go through to the final again by a slim margin on aggregate. Barcelona v. Chelsea will be highly competitive, but this year the Spaniards are just too strong to bet against. They've scored 87 goals in 30 matches in La Liga, an average of almost 3 per match, and have an astonishing +63 goal differential. They are just humiliating teams this year. I think they go all the way.