Football Features

The four best UCL semi-final players – and four worst

By William Eldridge

Published: 17:09, 9 May 2019

Have you caught your breath yet?

That has to go down as one of the most exhilarating sets of semi-final matches in recent history, full of shocks, turnarounds and unbelievable quality.

Liverpool overcame a 3-0 deficit to defeat Barcelona 4-3 across both legs, with fellow Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur squeezing past Ajax 3-3 on away goals thanks to a second-half Lucas Moura hattrick.

We saw some individual performances that will surely go down in Champions League folklore. We also saw some players provide little to no valued contribution across the ties, unable to perform to the standards needed and expected.

With that being said, here are the four best Uefa Champions League semi-final players and four of the worst.

Best – Frenkie De Jong

Two matches from De Jong which showcased two things; he is an incredible talent and despite his age, he is ready to make that step up to Barcelona this summer.

The midfielder was a rock at the heart of the Ajax line-up in the first leg, with an incredible pass accuracy of 86.2%, consistently calm under pressure from Spurs.

He also had more touches (87) than any other player on the field in the match on English soil and incredibly, his passing improved in the second leg, finishing the 90 minutes with a 90% pass accuracy amidst the Ajax panic.

It has been fantastic watching the midfielder develop into one of the most anticipated footballer’s of his generation this season, with Barcelona surely looking forward to adding his name into their ranks as they look to overcome their own European disappointments.

Worst – Kieran Trippier 

England’s World Cup right-back has struggled for form throughout this season and his performances in both semi-final matches against Ajax will have not convinced Spurs fans of his ability when the going gets tough.

From the off, it was clear to see that the former Burnley man couldn’t pick out a teammate from the wing, with his first leg crossing success ending with one accurate cross out of five attempts.

Of the 14 players to appear in the first leg, Trippier had the second-worst passing accuracy of just 60.4%, playing 10 long balls with just three of those finding a teammate.

Ajax’s two goals in the second leg should have seen the right-back do better, allowing De Ligt space to head home from a corner, followed by a weak attempt at defending on the halfway line.

He made zero clearances, produced just three accurate long balls out of seven and in truth, looked half the player of Danny Rose who was operating down the left channel.

Best – Trent Alexander-Arnold

From one right-back to another, Trippier should really be worrying about his place in the England squad around about now.

No-one will forget the moment that the talented right-back thought quicker than any person on the planet to take a quick corner to set up teammate Divock Origi, who tucked away the eventual winner.

The constant energy Alexander-Arnold provided down the right side epitomised his successful season, constantly causing Jordi Alba to think twice.

He didn’t even play a part in Liverpool’s 3-0 demise in Spain but his 90-minute spell at Anfield allowed the Merseyside faithful to witness a player well beyond his years.

Worst – Sergi Roberto

The experienced Spanish left-back is a class act on his day but across the two legs, he didn’t provide Barcelona with the discipline and strength needed to progress to next month’s final.

In truth, his first leg performance wasn’t too bad although he was under constant pressure from the Liverpool attack, struggling to cope with the movement and urgency.

The second leg started horrifically for Sergi Roberto and company, conceding in the opening minutes when their experienced heads should have kept them calm in the early stages of the match.

He clearly wasn’t the best choice at full-back to face a rapid Liverpool side, with substitute Nelson Semedo surely a better choice for Barcelona.

Best – Lucas Moura

We simply had to mention Tottenham’s saviour who expertly struck three times in 45 second-half minutes to ensure his club reached their first ever Champions League final.

In truth, Moura hadn’t played spectacularly prior to his goals but it is impossible to leave him out. The Brazilian had three shots on target and scored three goals. Deadly.

He became just the fifth player to score a Champions League semi-final hattrick, completing four dribbles in the process. Adding to that, he made two key passes and won four aerial duels (only Llorente won more).

Who needs two full games to produce the goods? Lucas needed just 45 special minutes to strike thrice and turn Tottenham’s evening into a frenzy.

Worst – Kasper Dolberg

David Neres – who starred in Ajax’s first leg victory – picked up an injury in his warm-up, forcing Ajax boss Erik ten Hag to field the Danish striker.

Leading the line in front of his home fans, Dolberg failed to impact the game, regularly beaten to the ball by Ajax alumni Jan Vertonghan and Toby Alderweireld.

His presence also hampered top-goalscorer Dusan Tadic who was pushed out wide and ended up struggling with the pace of Danny Rose.

Dolberg played just 66 minutes before he was dragged off, failing to muster a single shot on target.

Best – Lionel Messi

There is no escaping Barcelona’s terrible performance at Anfield, a match which saw Messi produce one of his extremely rare poor performances, unable to influence the match in any way.

However, there is also no escaping the Argentine’s influence in the first leg, a performance which had everyone praising the forward once again as the greatest player of all-time.

The 31-year-old scored twice for Barcelona in their 3-0 triumph at the Camp Nou, pouncing on a shot that hit the crossbar to tuck away his first of the evening.

His second was a world-class free-kick that flew into the top corner past Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, seemingly putting the tie beyond any doubt.

Of course, we now know that simply wasn’t the case but Barca’s frailties at the back should dampen the performance Messi gave for his side to put them in the best position to qualify.

Worst – Philippe Coutinho

Two Brazilian’s mentioned on this list but this one simply failed to deliver. Lining up against his old club for the first time since his mega-money switch to Barcelona, Coutinho will not have endeared himself to the Catalan faithful.

He did fairly poorly in the first leg – completing zero dribbles and had a pass accuracy of just 75% – substituted after 59 minutes. His reappearance at Anfield was simply diabolical.

He made zero key passes, had just one shot, and aside from Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, had the lowest pass accuracy out of the entire starting eleven (78.3%).

He produced just three crosses – all of which were inaccurate – and was eventually saved from embarrassment in the 59th minute yet again, substituted for Nelson Semedo.

His future at the club looks like it is already coming to an end. He has obvious talents but he hasn’t performed for the Catalan club this season and with the weighty price tag around his neck, it looks like Coutinho may opt for a swift-exit this summer.

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