UEFA’s final four: A Grudge Match and a Derby
An English superteam, a Spanish powerhouse, and two dark horses from Milan. Who will prevail?
With only four teams left in the 2022-23 Union of European Football Associations Champions League campaign, there are many captivating storylines to discuss. One side of the bracket sees the dominant Real Madrid squaring off with powerhouse Manchester City in a rematch of last year’s iconic semifinal. The other side features two teams from Milan fighting for the pride of the city on top of a spot in the final.
The quarterfinal eliminated some gigantic names from the pool. Perhaps the biggest of these was Bayern Munich — one of the favorites to win the whole tournament. They were wiped out in the first leg 3-0 at the hands of Manchester City. It showcased some of the world's best talent with evenly matched teams, but the English side broke away in the second half to make a potential second leg comeback insurmountable. The second leg in Munich was not as intense as the first, considering Bayern had it all to play for. The most riveting headline of that match was the dominant Erling Haaland skying a penalty, but he inevitably made up for it by scoring later in a 1-1 draw, giving him an inconceivable 48 goals across all competitions in his first season with the Blues.
Speaking of inevitability, Real Madrid is still in the mix. 14-time European champions and current holders of the trophy, the Spanish giants were always destined to make it back to the final four. They easily handled Chelsea, who did not have the same fate as their English counterparts in Manchester. The first leg in Madrid was a 2-0 cruise, with Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell receiving a red card for taking down Rodrygo as the last man back. Chelsea still had hope entering the second leg, but Los Blancos cruised again with two second half goals capping off a 4-0 aggregate win. Chelsea continues its nightmarish season, confirming it will not win a trophy or be back in the Champions League next season.
The other side of the bracket had less coverage, but still had great storylines. It was a tale of underdogs compared to the first side of the bracket with three Italian teams and one Portuguese. In Lisbon, Italian giants Inter Milan took a commanding 2-0 aggregate lead. Back in Milan for the second leg, Inter failed to win at home for the fourth consecutive match, drawing 3-3 in a thriller. However, this was enough to push them through, 5-3 in aggregate.
AC Milan versus Napoli was the most enticing, evenly matched affair in the quarterfinals. Two massive Italian clubs with a historic rivalry, Napoli was favored to pull through. They have been dominant in the Italian Serie A league this season, currently sitting 17 points clear at the summit, while Milan fights for a top four spot and a place in next season’s Champions League. Napoli also cruised through their round of 16 with a resounding 5-0 aggregate win over Eintracht Frankfurt, whilst AC Milan narrowly squeaked past a broken Tottenham Hotspur team 1-0. However, Milan has had Napoli’s number this season, highlighted by a 4-0 away victory three weeks ago. Historically, they are the second most successful team in the competition — winning the coveted trophy seven times. Milan scraped past Napoli 1-0 in the home first leg, with it all to play for in the second. The second was an instant classic, with a missed penalty kick on both sides. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for Milan before Victor Osimhen equalized in the dying moments. This was not enough, as Milan pulled out an unlikely aggregate victory, setting up a battle for the ages, between two sides that split a city and a stadium, accompanied by an undying hatred for one another.
And then there were four. The favorites are on one side, between Manchester City and Real Madrid. Man City is widely regarded as the best team in the world at the moment. They have the world’s best goalscorer in Norwegian robot Erling Haaland, the best midfielder in Belgian magician Kevin de Bruyne, and the best manager in Pep Guardiola. Real Madrid are the kings of this competition and seemingly win trophies for fun. Though they are not quite as bolstered as the blues, they can always get the job done. They are in for a grudge match of last season, when heavily favored Man City choked away a two goal advantage in the dying moments of the second leg. They had led 5-3 on aggregate in the 90th minute, when substitute Rodrygo scored twice to equalize, setting up a Real Madrid extra time winner. Manchester City will seek revenge en route to its first Champions League title.
Now to Milan. Italy’s richest city with a population of 1.35 million people, Milan is home to an abundance of history, but is also known for its intense soccer culture. Particularly, it is home to the iconic San Siro Stadium, which houses both Inter and AC Milan, and is planned to be replaced by a new arena. This has split the million people that reside in the city, and caused everlasting tension between the two fanbases. Inter most recently won the Champions League in 2009-10, three years after AC Milan did. Both sides have come a long way since then, through a down period over the past decade to get back to this point. This is the biggest Milan derby in recent memory and not a matchup to be missed.
So far it has been a riveting UEFA Champions League season that almost seems scripted. Manchester City may be the favorites, but you can never count out Real Madrid. The Milan sides are riding a Cinderella story and will hope to cap off the tournament in glory. No matter what happens, it will be a semifinal to remember. We’ll see what the script writers have up their sleeves for this one.