EXCLUSIVE: Data analyst believes Real and PSG favourites for Champions League semis


EXCLUSIVE: Data analyst believes Real and PSG favourites for Champions League semis

An interesting project is growing at PSG, according to analyst Mark Kabat.
An interesting project is growing at PSG, according to analyst Mark Kabat.Profimedia
Will Real Madrid write the next big story or will their chances of winning a 15th Champions League title be snuffed out by Bayern under the dictatorship of Thomas Tuchel (50)? And what chance does Borussia Dortmund have against a resurgent PSG without Lionel Messi (36)?

Data analyst and StatsBomb consultant Marek Kabat analyses the Champions League semi-finals in an interview with Flashscore News, giving us the lowdown on all of the action from midweek

How are you enjoying the current Champions League playoffs? 

"Probably like every year. It's top teams facing each other with high European quality. There are not such differences between them and the quarter-final matches were very attractive for the spectators.

"I was impressed that in more cases than not, the pragmatic approach prevailed. And now I am not only thinking of Real Madrid, but also Bayern Munich, for example. On the one hand there was the Guardiola school, where the focus was on expression and control, while on the other there was the more flexible approach of Ancelotti or Tuchel.

"The second option is far more suitable for cup games and it paid off for them."

Why do you think none of the three Italian teams made it into this stage? 

"I wouldn't say they are not competitive, but Inter, for example, surprised me by not getting further. They're a very underrated team, they've dominated Serie A this season - I believed they would succeed in the Champions League, but once again it's shown that different influences play a big role in the knockout stages."

I suppose the most memorable game was between Real Madrid and Manchester City. Do you agree?

"For me it was an early final. The first match was a celebration of football, the second was already influenced by Real's pragmatic approach."

Match stats
Match statsOpta by StatsPerform

Did Real progress by design or were City very unlucky?

"To solve their two games in terms of data is unfortunate because it should always be a larger sample. However, it is clear that Manchester had the upper hand and deserved to progress. But within one match, the margin of chance is really big.

"Real needed a large amount of luck, but on the other hand they managed to succeed against City even with a low block. During the season, there have been opinions that Real have problems with their defence, but in this match they showed that they can defend a top attacking team, maybe one of the best in the world."

Let's try to put it more in an analyst's perspective

"We saw two different games. It's extremely interesting to see how flexible Real can be and to what extent its players can vary their playing style and can adapt to tactics.

"Ancelotti has been one of the best coaches at this for a long time, he knows how to maximise his strengths, exploit the weaknesses of the opponent and adapt to the style of the opponent. So we can see Real playing maximally offensively, controlling the game, but not making it difficult for them to go into a low block against City and defend."

Yet this is not a team built for that kind of play at all. What's your explanation for that?

"It's the strength of the team and the coach that they can play in different ways. Ancelotti has always been strong in this. He knows how to assess his options. We can see it in the inclusion of Jude Bellingham in the line-up - they found the ideal position for him, they adjusted the formation because of that."

The star of the match was goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. What does the data say about him?

"He has very good numbers in the league. If we compare him with Kepa, he is much better at shotstopping and crosses. In the Champions League he has slightly worse numbers, but that's a smaller sample size so that skews it.

"However, the data confirms that he is a very classy number two and is a great foil for the injured Thibaut Courtois. The weakness I see may be in his footwork. I'm not entirely sure he's a goalkeeper who can play the ball perfectly and fits into a team that wants to keep the ball. That's where I have question marks."

Real can rely on Lunin

What will the Real vs Bayern semi-final be like?

"Real will be the more active team in both games. It will be significantly different from Manchester City. Tuchel is a more pragmatic and defensive coach than Ancelotti. Ironically, he knocked out Arsenal with what he has been accused of all season, which is less attractive football and more focus on defence."

But it paid off.

"Yes, Arsenal failed to assert themselves at all. They racked up an xG of 1.4 for both games, which is not a great amount. Tuchel is the ideal coach for cup games despite the strong criticism. From this point of view, Real will face a completely different opponent."

Which way is the road to success for both teams?

"If Real play more offensively and in a higher position, Bayern can threaten from offensive transitions. In Bayern's case, I think it's a question of how they will cope with Real, because in my eyes they are inferior, even on an individual level. They will have to help themselves with tactics and team performance.

"On the other hand, I don't want to put Bayern down because their points average in the Bundesliga would have been enough to win the title in each of the last five seasons. Leverkusen have had an exceptional season under Xabi Alonso, which will be hard to repeat."

Match stats
Match statsOpta by StatsPerform

Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund will face each other in the other semi-final. What do you expect from this duel?

"PSG are the clear favourite. Dortmund have not had to knock out any top team in the Champions League so far. They did advance from a difficult group, but they were worse in both games against PSG.

"In the knockouts they have faced PSV Eindhoven and Atletico Madrid, who I don't think are among the absolute top teams. In the Bundesliga they have big problems with their defence. They have the worst xG in years.

"The key for PSG is to control the game and not get into a shootout with Borussia like Atletico did. If they can do that, the individual quality they have is at a level to manage both games and advance to the final."

What does the current PSG look like without Lionel Messi and Neymar?

"Quite different, they have really changed their game. It's more contemporary modern football and they're more direct. They have the ability to go into transition quickly, they don't just rely on a progressive attack.

"The biggest difference is defensively. You can see a shift to a more aggressive approach in terms of pressuring the opponent and the height of the defensive line, which wasn't possible with Messi and Neymar. Although both are brilliant footballers, they limited the team significantly when playing without the ball."

PSG average positions against Barcelona
PSG average positions against BarcelonaOpta by StatsPerform

Does coach Luis Enrique fit the team?

"You can see there is an undeniable difference in the play, but it was inevitable because Messi and Neymar left and Kylian Mbappe is leaving in the summer. Suddenly it looks like PSG could finally be building a team with a long-term strategy that focuses on the right player profiles, the breadth of the squad and not just the fame of individual players."

In other words, it's starting to make sense after all these years?

"Definitely. Replacing Mbappe will be difficult, maybe impossible, and PSG will certainly try to bring someone in for him, but there are still some very interesting names in that squad with great potential."

Which ones are they?

"A very amusing arrival was Ousmane Dembele, who is key in terms of how they play and is very dominant in the final third. Bradley Barcola is also an interesting one and Randal Kolo Muani or Goncalo Ramos can make an impact from the bench. In midfield, Vitinha stands out - he is having an excellent season. Then there is Warren Zaire-Emery, who is an extreme talent at just 18 years of age."

Who do you think will clash in the final at Wembley Stadium? And what could decide the final?

"My favourites are Real and PSG. I've already talked about the latter and in the case of Real, the point is that if history has taught us anything, it's that it's very stupid not to favour Real in the Champions League.

"The biggest challenge for Paris would be to match the experience that Real's squad has. Even though his squad has changed over time with different players coming in, the key axis led by Toni Kroos and Luka Modric is still there.

"Moreover, Ancelotti is proving that he can achieve success in the Champions League with other players as well. PSG would have to find tactics to maximise the strengths of their offensive players in the final third. We don't need to talk about Mbappe, but it's about the other players."


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