UEFA: Key Performers and X-Factors

With the UEFA Champions League nearing its apex, the tournament has been whittled down to four teams. We have seen some surprises as Barcelona lost after having a seemingly insurmountable lead, Manchester City lost to a familiar foe, and Juventus nearly pulled off a monumental upset. We have gotten to this point with stellar play from key and underrated performers. Without further ado, here are the key performers for each team along with one X-Factor for each semifinals match:

Liverpool-AS Roma

Liverpool has been the most explosive team in the tournament as they have scored three or more goals on six separate occasions. They lead the tournament in goals with 33 total and it all starts with their attack of course. Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Philippe Coutinho are viable options on offense, but we all know it starts and ends with Mohamed Salah.

Salah is the key performer for the Reds not only because he is their best weapon, but because he used to play for Roma. It will be interesting to see where he is emotionally, and which side has the advantage in terms of familiarity as Salah might know cracks and crevices to exploit against his former team. He is the one who can make wine out of water. He is the one who can produce magic in the bleakest of moments. The Egyptian has eight goals this tournament with 43 in all games and his passing is noteworthy with 11 assists.

Meanwhile for Roma, they have made it this far with inconsistent offensive performances. However, the two constants have been the play of the defense and their key performer Edin Dzeko. At 6’4, he is not considered the speed burner Salah is, but he is agile. He can make defenders look foolish with his trickery with the ball. He has scored six goals in the tournament with 22 on the year. Dzeko is dangerous on set plays with his headers and ability to shoot with either foot.

The X-Factor for this two-game series will be Roma’s goalkeeper Alisson. Roma has made it this far with stellar play defensively as they have allowed the fewest among the remaining four teams with 15 goals. Alisson leads the tournament with 36 saves and is second with five clean sheets. He did a good job handling the Lionel Messi-led blitz from Barcelona and has drawn the interest of Liverpool and Real Madrid in a potential transfer down the road. Salah talked about his former teammates.

Salah told CNN International, “They’ve all said, ‘We don’t want to play against Liverpool.”

There should be goosebumps and fireworks for both teams as they get ready to collide with a spot in the UEFA final on the line. Liverpool has not been to the final since 2007 while Roma has not been since 1984.

Bayern Munich-Real Madrid

Bayern are facing a familiar foe in Madrid but are missing a few of their bread winners. Manuel Neuer could return in the second leg against Madrid as he is coming back from a serious foot injury. David Alaba’s presence for the first game is up in the air and Corentin Tolisso will miss the game altogether. Jerome Boateng is not worried as he is just focused on competing against Madrid who have won the tournament the last two years.

He said, “But if you want to reach the final, you have to beat everyone, including the defending champion.”

This is certainly true, but without any resistance it will be tough for Bayern to beat Madrid. Nevertheless, they can take a page out of Juventus’s book and keep the Spanish powerhouse on their heels. The key performer for a star-studded Bayern team will be Thomas Mueller. Yes, Robert Lewandowski has 40 total goals on the year, but it will be up to the captain to keep his team poised. Also, he has the touch needed to set guys up as well as deliver goals. During the year, Muller has scored 17 goals and 17 assists.

For Madrid, it is not about the offensive onslaught led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco, or any other player. It is about their last line of defense in Keylor Navas who was absolutely torched against Juventus. He only has 18 saves for the tournament and could be under a microscope by the Madrid aficionados. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure applied by Lewandowski, Muller, Arjen Robben, and familiar foe James Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is the X-Factor of the semis between Bayern and Madrid. He has six goals and 12 assists since joining his newfound home on a loan from Madrid. Rodriguez seems to be playing with energy, flare, and without lingering injuries that derailed him in Madrid. He has already been outspoken saying his new team can beat his former team. Bayern is looking to go to the final for the first time since 2012 while Madrid is hoping to go for a three peat.

With the key performers and X-Factors in place, there is nothing left to talk about. No more pregame chatter to help rally the guys in the locker room. It is time to lace up, tighten their shin guards, and leave it all on the field.

Liverpool will take on Roma on April 24th while Bayern Munich will face Real Madrid on April 25th.

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