Champions League semi-finals: what to look for in Real Madrid vs Manchester City and AC Milan vs Inter Milan

Champions League trophy
Who will go to Istanbul to fight for the Champions League trophy?

The Champions League semi-finals kick off this week, with Manchester City taking on European king Real Madrid and Inter Milan taking on AC Milan in the derby.

They were seconds away from the final back-to-back, but Madrid scored twice in the last minute before scoring for the extra-time winner.

But City now have Erling Haaland.

In the second match, Inter will face Milan, with both feet on the shared San Siro pitch.

This has already happened twice in the Champions League when Milan beat Inter in the semi-finals of 2003 and the quarter-finals of 2005.

So what else should we pay attention to?

Is it finally the year of the City?

Manchester City celebration
Manchester City easily defeated Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals

Manchester City have been arguably the most consistent team in Europe over the last decade not to win the Champions League.

City are closing in on their fifth Premier League title in six years and their seventh since the 2011-12 season.

They have reached the semi-finals for the last three years – including losing the final to Chelsea in 2021 – having reached the last eight three years earlier.

But City have yet to win the European crown.

By contrast, since 2011-12, Chelsea and Liverpool have won as many Champions Leagues as they have Premier League titles – two and one respectively.

Pep Guardiola’s side also made their progress at the perfect time, with 20 matches unbeaten, bringing them closer to the first treble won by an English team since 1999.

Guardiola is hoping it will go better than Liverpool’s quadruple effort last year which saw them lose the Champions League final and lose the Premier League title.

Haaland’s 51 goals in 46 games helped too, with Dixie Dean scoring 63 goals for Everton in 1927-28 – the all-time record for goalscoring in a single season in England – is still within reach.

Football journalist Guillem Balague told BBC Radio 5 Live: “His arrival had a tsunami effect on the rest of the team.

“He’s a force when they take the ball from distance, he scores goals in important games. He’s a man for big moments and that affects the way Manchester City play.”

Julien Laurens said: “They have found solidity. This team has a bit more and is a bit unique compared to last year.

“It seems to be City’s year, they’re going for Treble. There just seems to be something going on.”

Can Real do it again?

Real Madrid is celebrating
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid were far too good for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea in the last round

There seems to be something going on with Real Madrid in Europe – they just come to life.

They have won five of the last nine Champions Leagues – despite having only won the Spanish league three times in that period.

In two of those triumphant campaigns, they finished only third in La Liga.

That means you can’t read much into their ill-fated domestic campaign, where they again sit third, 14 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.

And they have so much experience against English teams.

This will be their sixth knockout round in a row against Premier League sides, facing Liverpool, Chelsea and City this and last season.

They’ve done just that in the last five – beating Jürgen Klopp’s team in last year’s final.

Time for Leao to shine?

Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao
Olivier Giroud has admitted how special Rafael Leao’s assist against Napoli was for him

Most expected Victor Osimhen to be the striker deciding the quarter-final between Napoli and Milan, but the moment of the draw belonged to Rafael Leao.

The 23-year-old Milan striker picked up the ball just outside his penalty area and ran almost the entire pitch before setting Olivier Giroud on goal to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

He was also one of their most lively players in the first game. Not to mention the two goals he scored against the reigning champions in a 4-0 Serie A win in early April.

Portugal international Leao has been a real eye-catcher in recent weeks and despite a relatively modest 13 goals this season, he has also netted 10 goals.

“There are few players like him in world football,” Laurens said.

Leao’s contract expires at the end of next season and Chelsea is one of his reported suitors.

Italian football journalist James Horncastle said: “I think the hierarchy at AC Milan believes you can still have a competitive team when players have half of that [salary budget].

“But they recognize that Leao is an exceptional talent and Leao has said he wants to stay. This is the deal they have to make.”

Balague added: “If he leaves for Chelsea or Manchester United, what will happen to him? I see a player who can develop with the ball. It seems unstoppable, and in a more even game with a higher pace, I don’t know if it will be as impressive.”

Leao is also a rapper who goes by the name Way 45 and plans to release a second album this year. One of his songs has over a million views on YouTube.

“Zlatan Ibrahimovic laughed about it. He laughed about it and told me to focus on football instead,” Leao said Rolling Stone UKexternal link in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, Ibrahimovic is set to end his career without a single Champions League medal. The 41-year-old, who is set to leave Milan this summer, is not registered for their Champions League squad as he was injured while they were out.

Can Lukaku progress?

Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku scored in Inter’s quarter-final win over Benfica

Lukaku’s return to Inter Milan was a disappointment for all involved.

The Belgian striker won Serie A with the club in the 2020-21 season and was voted Serie A Player of the Year before moving to Chelsea where he had a disappointing season.

But his loan to Inter last summer did not restore his form.

He has only scored 10 goals this season, compared to 64 goals in the other two years he spent in Italy.

What a time it would be to start a scoring frenzy – although the BBC Euro Leagues team is not convinced it will happen.

Laurens said: “In the two games against Benfica, he was very important and scored a late penalty. But he wasn’t a starter. So Lukaku may have to watch the game from the bench first and then see if he can make an impact from the bench.

“I’m not overly optimistic.”

Balague said: “He’s aware he’s not the most important thing right now. Not sure about that at the moment. Where his confidence has been tarnished, he has to rebuild it himself, perhaps in the next game at Chelsea.”

Inter’s top scorers this season are Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko, with 23 and 13 goals respectively.

Horncastle added: “Lukaku did not suit Chelsea and the same system is at Inter. He had injuries and a World Cup in the middle and his management didn’t help as they switched between him and Dzeko.”

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