A mouthwatering Champions League draw took place last week which sees the powerhouses of European football go head to head. The 1/4 Finals is where the the competition gets interesting. With teams no longer ranked the open draw didn’t disappoint. So let’s look forward and see who will progress to the Semi Finals.
Manchester City v Dortmund
Manchester City have had seven clean sheets in their campaign matching records previously set. Dortmund despite losing their opening match to Lazio went on to finish top of the group. With both teams being comfortable on the front foot and scoring not being an issue you would expect to see plenty of goals in this tie. I’m edging towards City in this fixture however as they are far more accomplished in defence. Dortmund, with Erling Haaland in superb form and if they have any chance to cause an upset him to continue his scoring prowess.
It is interesting to note that Dortmund have been playing with Emre Can in central defence recently with Manuel Ajanji out injured. Looking forward to this tie they will expect Akanji to be fit and this is welcome news for the Germans. Manchester city have no such issues with their squad. The Sky blues have been fortunate with injuries this season and manager Perp Guardiola has had a full deck to deal for much of the season.
This game will be won and lost with the balance that both sides can provide in transition. City have rediscovered that tigerish attitude towards retrieving the ball after losing possession which is a trademark of Guardiola. It is all well and good having players like Mahrez and Foden in your squad that are incredible going forward but to see them track back with such ferocity is they key to success. Dortmund lack this trait as seen when they took a barnstorming 2-0 lead over Bayern. Only to see it stripped away as their attack minded players went missing when it mattered most.
Verdict: I cannot see either team blowing the other out of the water. Dortmund are capable of being brave in attack even away from home and have proved that in Europe. This tie however will come down though to the best defence. City have come across a really good partnership with Stones and Diaz and although they will have their hands full i expect that to see them through. City to progress by winning both legs.
Porto v Chelsea
After their victory over Juventus, most teams would have asked for Porto in their last 16 tie. A little unfair maybe considering they overturned the Turin giants with 10 men. Chelsea must be licking their lips for this game. When you consider how well they dealt with Athletico Madrid this tie will suit them.
While i still consider Thomas Tuchel doesn’t really know his best Chelsea 11 i am sure that he is getting there. He has gotten good reactions from his full squad and going forward they are gathering momentum. Players like Kante/Christensen and Alonso have all reacted positively to their new manager. He is even getting a tune out of Kai Havertz which must come as more of a relief than anything.
Porto are almost synonymous with the Champions League. Due to the Portuguese League being usually a two horse race with them and Sporting. Interestingly this season they are already 10 points behind their rivals. Porto had Taremi sent off against Juventus which left the accolades to midfielder Sergio Olivera. His penalty in regular time was followed by the dubious free kick that sent Juve out of the competition. Porto are a stubborn outfit which is demonstrated by the display of ex-Madrid player Pepe who continues to defy age.
Verdict: There is no room for sentiment in football let alone the Champions League. Much as it warmed the heart to see Porto celebrate their progression to the last 16 time will set on this campaign. Chelsea will come into this tie knowing that two professional performances will ease their way to the semi finals. Barring a sending off or something out of the ordinary Chelsea will win this comfortably.
Bayern v PSG
The champagne tie of the round is a cracker. Last seasons finalists will do battle over 2 legs to see who can triumph. The Final wasn’t a great spectacle as they often are but this should be different. Bayern have added UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup to their bulging cabinet since that win. The Germans have been putting teams away with relative ease and this will surely be their biggest test.
PSG have a different dynamic under Mauricio Pochettino this season. Which was underlined in their emphatic victory over Barcelona in the last round. Killian Mbappe is in superb form right now. Regardless if played out wide or as a center forward he seems to be delivering. Neymar has been out injured for much of this campaign but it has not stopped the men from Paris topping the league. PSG will have to find a way past this Bayern team and you look towards their mentality rather than their talents. They surely possess enough natural talent to do damage to the Germans but do they have the mental strength to win over 2 games?
The German juggernaut just doesn’t stop progressing. It is a huge benefit that they have a stranglehold over the league they play in. If you contrast how the Germans do business compared to the the top teams in England it shows why they are so powerful. Every year they analyse the top talent in the Bundesliga and simply acquire the best stars available. they also never seem to pay over the odds for these players. The English Premier League would rather sell abroad or at an inflated price than to one of their rivals.
Verdict: PSG are basically 2/1 odds to qualify in this tie. That tells you that most people believe that the Germans will triumph. I am not saying i’d bet against Bayern but i certainly think they will find it tougher to win this season than last. If that is the case then i expect PSG to run them closer than anyone so far in the competition. IF PSG can manage to get a positive result in the 1st leg then i think they can overturn the Munich men. They will need to score at least one or two goals. If they cannot do this then i would be confident the Germans will prevail.
Real Madrid v Liverpool
An intriguing tie lies ahead for these teams. They have not met since the ill fated Champions League Final for all the wrong reasons in Liverpool. Mo Salah’s injury started off a bad night then Loris Karius went down in folklore for handing the game to Madrid. The good news is this has brought a little bit of fire to this game.
Although sprinkled with some new faces this Madrid team has been around for what seems like ages. Modric and Kroos are no spring chickens but both have serious quality in the middle of the park. Sergio Ramos is a controversial figure and although Liverpool supporters will want revenge of some kind. They might also be disappointed to hear he might not make the squad with recent injuries. But it is the relentless Karem Benzema that is the crown jewel of this team as he looks for his 5th Champions League medal.
Liverpool have had their issues off the field this year as well missing some key players for this battle. Virgil Van Dijk of course is the most high profile but Jordan Henderson is a huge miss for the Merseysiders. Liverpool have definitely lacked the leadership of this duo on the field this season. But the Champions League is a place of fortitude for them. Here they have managed to string together multiple high intensity performances in huge contrast to their league form. for that reason perhaps alone, they have hope.
Verdict: This is a game of “ifs” and “buts” for me. Madrid are definitely an aging team. Will this be exposed by Liverpool going forward? I think Liverpool will definitely ask questions of the Madrid defence and midfield. At the other end will the trio of Benzema, Asensio and Vinicius Jnr be too hot for Liverpool’s new defence to handle? Liverpool will need a huge effort to overcome their recent mental issues that have arose from suddenly losing consecutive games. There is unfinished business between these clubs. I’ll lean towards Liverpool to have the fire in the belly for this one and nick it with a good away performance to set them up for the home leg.