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Strengths, Weaknesses & Key Men: Analysing CL’s Last Four

With the Champions League’s last four decided we analysed each of the teams vying for European glory this season.

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Liverpool

How They Got Here:

Liverpool did excellently to negotiate a difficult group containing PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade. The Reds finished second, just ahead of the Italian side on goals scored.

They won three games, beating each team at home but losing to each of them away.

In the last 16, they defeated Bayern Munich 3-1 in the second leg after a scoreless draw in the first. They got the luck of the draw as they met Porto in the quarter-finals winning 6-1 on aggregate including an impressive 1-4 away win in Portugal.

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Strengths:

Their front three is one of European football’s most feared with Salah, Mane and Firmino having a combined 65 goals between them in all competitions this campaign.

Liverpool’s full-backs have also proven to be a massive attacking asset with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold both capable of causing Barcelona serious problems.

Messi and Suarez are capable of making even the finest defenders look average but in Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool have a real dominant force at the back.

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Weaknesses:

Joel Matip is a strong defender but he could be identified as a weakling in the back four by Barcelona, should Joe Gomez not be fit to start, and given the form he is in this season Lionel Messi may feel he can make a Jerome Boateng out of the big defender.

Alisson has been solid this season but still looks as though he may have a mistake in him, something the Spanish giants will be keen to exploit.

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Key-Man: Virgil Van Dijk

If Liverpool are to progress to the final for the second year in a row, stopping the attack of Barcelona will be crucial.

Van Dijk has been talismanic this season at the heart of the Liverpool defence and his arrival has coincided with the Reds stepping up a level on the European scene.

He’ll likely have his work cut out for him, but he could be Klopp’s main man in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Prediction:

It’ll be a tight tie but Barcelona should just have enough to see off Liverpool in the semi-finals

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Barcelona

How They Got Here:

Barcelona dominated their difficult group which included fellow semi-finalists Tottenham, as well as Inter Milan and PSV, winning four games and drawing two on the way to the top spot.

Spurs held them at the Nou Camp while they drew with Inter at the San Siro.

They drew their opening game in the last 16 against French side Lyon but blew their opponents away in the second leg with a 5-1 win.

In the quarter-finals, they comfortably overcame Manchester United by 4-0 on aggregate.

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Strengths:

Their major strength is that they have the greatest footballer who ever lived and with 10 goals in the Champions League, Messi is in scintillating form.

Barcelona have also found a nice balance in the midfield three with Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Artur while Phillipe Coutinho will no doubt have a point to prove against his old club, Liverpool.

They also have so many players with experience in the later stages of Europe which could prove crucial.

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Weaknesses:

The one thing that can be said about Barcelona is that they will give their opponents opportunities. Against Manchester United, they gave up a number of chances and looked vulnerable despite Solskjaer’s side’s inability to punish them.

You’d imagine Liverpool’s front three will not be as kind.

Barca’s starting XI is strong but outside of that they lack real strength in depth, the likes of Malcom and Dembele both struggling for form this season

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Key-Man: Lionel Messi

He may be 31 now, but Messi is continuing to play some of the finest football of his career as he looks to fire Barca to their first Champions League trophy since 2015.

46 goals and 22 assists in 45 games this season is an absurd return even by Messi’s standards and against Manchester United, he continued his knack of scoring against English sides.

He has been operating at a different level to all in this season’s competition.

Prediction:

Should they see off the tricky test of Liverpool then it’s difficult to imagine anything other than Barcelona lifting the Champions League trophy.

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Tottenham

How They Got Here:

In the ‘group of death’ as it was coined, alongside Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV, Spurs narrowly finished second ahead of the Italian side.

They won two games, drew two and lost two, with a late Lucas Moura goal at the Nou Camp ensuring their trip to the last 16.

Against an in-form Borussia Dortmund, Spurs showed their European pedigree defeating them comfortably by 4-0 over two legs.

In the quarter-finals with the help of VAR, they dramatically overcame Manchester City on the away goals rule.

Strengths:

Spurs have exceeded expectations in Europe this season and like their opponents, Ajax will be full of confidence heading into the last four.

They have a solid and balanced squad and especially at home will be a difficult side to beat.

Despite the lack of goals from Kane and Son, they have done well this season to supplement them, with the likes of Eriksen and Moura capable of stepping up.

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Weaknesses:

Although they have shown they can sometimes play better without Harry Kane, missing their captain is still a huge blow. As is operating without Heung-Min Son for the first leg which will be tricky

Hugo Lloris has also been prone to error this season and may be identified as a point of weakness by Ajax.

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Key-Man: Heung Min Son

The South Korean will miss the first leg of the Ajax game which will no doubt be a blow but his form this season and ability to step up in Kane’s absence has made him a crucial part of this Spurs side.

His energy and goal-scoring prowess as been key to Pochettino’s charges making the last four of the Champions League and they may need him to come up trumps in the second leg, just like he did against Man City in the last eight.

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Prediction:

The game with Ajax will likely be another tight affair but Spurs should join the long list of teams the Dutch side have left in their wake this season.

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Ajax

How They Got Here:

Ajax had a much longer path than the other three sides in the semi-finals with the Dutch outfit having to play three games before the group stages even began.

They defeated Sturm Graz, Standard Liege and Dynamo Kiev in the three qualifying rounds before advancing through a group containing Bayern Munich, Benfica and AEK Athens in second place, winning three and drawing three.

In the last 16, they astonishingly overcame the reigning and defending three-in-a-row champions Real Madrid, by 5-3 on aggregate.

They then met the equally difficult task of Juventus in the last eight but again they overcame the odds to reach the semi-finals.

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Strengths:

Ajax have a vibrant young and hungry squad whose freshness and youthful exuberance is a major factor in their success.

The murderer’s row of teams they have already knocked out will also give them all the confidence in the world as they prepare to take on Spurs.

Dusan Tadic could also be an X-factor with the ex-Southampton man in incredible form this season scoring 34 goals and laying on 21 assists in 51 games.

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Weaknesses:

It’s difficult to pinpoint weaknesses in this Ajax squad given the level of performances we’ve seen from them in Europe this season.

One could look to their inexperience at this level but conversely Spurs their semi-final opponents are in a very similar situation.

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Key-Man: Frenkie De Jong

He won’t be a part of Ajax’s side for much longer, but holding midfielder Frenkie De Jong has been one of this season’s finest young talents.

The metronome that keeps this team ticking over De Jong was arguably the best player on the pitch in the first leg against Juventus and looked comfortable and calm in the highly pressurised second leg.

The likes of Tadic and Neres may get the plaudits for their goals, but should they reach the final the future Barca star will be a key man.

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Prediction:

Ajax will overcome Spurs in what will be a close affair, but Barcelona or Liverpool should have just too much for the young Dutch conquerors.

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About Oisin McQueirns

Oisin McQueirns is a digital journalist at Pundit Arena. Massive fan of Leeds United, Ric Flair and Trusting The Process. Contact him here oisin@punditarena.com