UEFA Showpions League

What a week for European football ! This 2018-2019 Champions League is just crazy, probably the most umpredictable one with so many surprises. Speaking of surprises, the 2 matchs from Tuesday and Wednesday are perfect examples : after the first leg how many people could imagine a 100 % English final between Liverpool and Tottenham ?

On this article, based on data collected through WhoScored.com, I will plot expected goals (xG) curve to illustrate those two Champions League semi final matches. Expected goals curve represents the number of goals a team is expected to score according to the time. You can find more informations on expected goals on my article of the 1st of November 2018 : Exp(G)loring the Premier League.

Liverpool – Barcelona

After the thought loss on the first leg (0 – 3 at the Camp Nou), it seemed almost impossible for Liverpool to reach the final : Barcelona was really focused on the Champions League title and must have learned after the Romatada last season. So far if there was a team capable to achieve this exploit it is Liverpool. We have all in mind the 2004-2005 final between Milan and Liverpool with the comeback of the Reds during second half or the 2016 Europa League quarter final comeback against Dortmund. Moreover, Liverpool could count on a flamboyant Anfield to push them.

Klopp had to compose his team without Firmino and Mohammed Salah injured replaced by Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri. After quite deceiving performance during first leg, Joe Gomez and Georginio Wijnaldum were replaced by Trent Alexander Arnold and Jordan Henderson. Liverpool played its usual 4-3-3 with Henderson playing quite high on the pitch : he is at the beginning of the first goal at the 7th minute when his shot was saved by Marc-André Ter Stegen and Origi could take the rebound to put Liverpool ahead.

As for Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde came up with exactly the same team as the first leg. Barcelona played in its usual 4-4-2.

After Liverpool early goal, Barcelona had some opportunities to equalize but they had to deal with a good performance from the English defense and goalkeeper (Allison save against Coutinho at 18′ for example). Andrew Robertson made Barcelona right side suffering a lot : both Arturo Vidal and Sergi Roberto were in troubles at some moment. But unfortunately he got injured and replaced by Wijnaldum at the begining of second half : Milner went left back and Wijnaldum played left midfielder. Barcelona tried to block Liverpool offensive with a low block but the second goal came up only 10 minutes later. At the 54′ Alexander Arnold crossed the ball into the box and Wijnaldum shooted on Ter Stegen who kinda missed the ball : 2-0 for the Reds ! The Catalan nightmare came only 2 minutes later : Shaqiri found isolated Wijnaldum with a beautiful cross, the Dutch score with the header.

Valverde tried some changes with Philippe Coutinho replaced by Nelson Semedo and Artur going into the pitch for Vidal substitution : Barcelona played with Sergi Roberto in the midfield. Messi had the opportunity to score at the 68′ but Allison deflected the last shot from the Spanish team. From the 70′ to the end of the match, Barcelona didn’t shoot once, even with Malcolm entrance at 80′.Liverpool finishing happened at the 79′ with a genius corner from Alexander Arnold and Origi. The English left back availed the lack of concentration of the Spanish players to cross the ball for Origi who found the top left corner of the nets ! 4-0 for Liverpool !

Barcelona undergoes one more time a remontada : the Redsmontada…

Some statistics :

On the expected goals curve we can observe the Liverpool domination (2.34 – 1.2). Notice that Liverpool xG is quite far from 4 which means this team was really efficient.

  • 7 shots on target and 4 goals
  • In second half, with Wijnaldum coming into the pitch : 4 shots, all on target, 3 goals
  • Divock Origi had 2 shots, both on target and both ended with a goal

On the other side, Barcelona was expected to score one goal but they fell against a good defense and an awesome performance from the goalkeeper.

  • 9 interceptions and 13 clearances from Liverpool’s defense
  • Alisson made 5 saves, his 84th in Champions League since 2017-2018 season which ranked him first. (@Opta)

Ajax – Tottenham

After a deserved victory (1 – 0 in London) during the first leg, Ajax had to complete the job in Amsterdam in order to play its 7th Champions League final. At the opposite, Tottenham can still do it if they play as well as the previous round against Manchester City. For the first time, Ajax have to endure a favorite status not as against Real Madrid or Juventus were they were underdogs.

Ajax played with its usual 4-3-3 turned in a 4-2-3-1 with Donny Van de Beek playing behind Tadic and as high as Ziyech and Dolberg who replaced Neres injured during warm-up. Noussair Mazraoui regained his place in the starting XI as right back.

Mauricio Pochettino could not count on Harry Kane still injured but Heung-Min Son came back from suspension. Tottenham played a 4-4-2 shape with Dele Alli playing 10.

The match quickly ignited with an early goal for Ajax : at the 5′ Lasse Schöne cross found isolated Matthijs De Ligt after a diagonal run who scored with the header. The first half were quite hard for the Spurs, they were not so dangerous except some few opportunities stopped by Andre Onana. At the 35′, Dusan Tadic located on the left of the 18 yard box sent a pass to Hakim Ziyech who fired his shot on the right of the nets, 2-0 for Ajax !

After this 2 goals lead for the Dutchs, Pochettino had to make tactical changes to hope for a miracle : Fernando Llorente came up for Victor Wanyama substitution. As you can see on the xG plot, the second half was much better for the Spurs with a first good opportunity at 52′ with Dele Alli receiving a beautiful pass from Eriksen but his shot is deflected once more by Onana. Tottenham has been rewarded some minutes later : at 55′ Lucas scored with an accurate shot. Only 4 minutes later, at the 59′ and with a mess in Ajax box Lucas scores an other important goal for his team.

It looked like Ajax started to panic after having conceded those 2 goals but they were still qualified (3 – 2 overall). Both of the teams had great opportunities to score : Ziyech hitting the post at 80′, Jan Vertonghen with the header on the bar at 87′.

We are at the 96th minute, the whole Johan Cruyff Arena singing when Dele Alli finds a good pass for Lucas who shoots on the right to score a hat-trick ! Tottenham reverses this match by winning 3-2 after being led 2-0 after the first leg. The Spurs advance to the final thanks to their 3 away goals.

Some statistics :

If you look at the xG curve, during the first half both teams are even in terms of xG (1 – 0.8) which means Ajax did a really efficient job with their 2 goals lead.

  • 3 shots on target for Ajax in 1st half and 2 goals.

While for the second half we can observe the impact of Pochettino choice (mainly Llorente coming into the pitch) with a rocket of the xG value of Tottenham from 0.8 at 45′ to 2.5 at 65′.

  • Tottenham went from 4 key passes in 1st half to 13 key passes in 2nd half.
  • 5 shots on target and 3 goals in 2nd half for the Spurs.
  • Tottenham shoted three times more in 2nd half with 18 shots (only 2 located outside the box).

At the end, Lucas scored his hat trick for an xG value of 3.37 for Tottenham while Ajaw had 2.32. The outcome of the match is in agreement with the xG curves.