For once, the UEFA Champions League draw seemed to deliver a balanced quarter-final that still has potential for fireworks.
After all, the two best remaining teams from the group stage that went unbeaten (Liverpool and Bayern Munich) ended up with what most would call the easiest draw for the coming round. Still, they can both be caught looking ahead to the other in a ravishing semi-final that is sure to entertain.
Meanwhile, both last year’s finalists Manchester City and Chelsea face tougher matchups with the Madrid behemoths, who are both eager to see their chances of getting ahead of their English foes after overcoming tough round-of-16 matchups .
So how do the remaining eight clubs compare? We’ve ranked the quarter-final field in view of which teams have the clearest path to lifting the trophy in Paris on May 28:
While it’s difficult to determine which team has the clearest advantage from the Champions League quarter-finals, it’s certain that one part of the bracket has a more direct path than the other. Liverpool and Bayern seem destined for a huge game in the semi-finals after Benfica and Villarreal respectively. It’s not to say the two underdogs can’t do something spectacular, it’s just that they drew the wrong teams to attempt this.
Liverpool have won 16 of their last 17 games in all competitions (the only loss came in the round of 16 against Inter Milan), have cleared 10 times in the last 13 and push Man City for the Premier League title . Sandwiched between the two quarter-finals is a trip to City on Sunday, but a strong show in Portugal on Tuesday would go a long way in easing some of the pressure. And given Liverpool’s form of late and his depth, that should be the expectation.
2. Bayern Munich
The only reason Bayern are in second place and not first is that Villarreal appears to be a slightly more difficult draw than Benfica, with whom Bayern shared their group. Bayern are posting four consecutive Bundesliga goals and have their sights set on a tenth consecutive league title, given their nine-point lead in the league table with eight games to go.
After the shocking 3-0 victory over Juventus in the round of 16, Villarreal has brought the continent on notice and Bayern will not be one to take their foe lightly. It would be easy to get caught up in a possible clash with Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the semi-finals, but this Bayern team is too experienced and balanced, especially in its high-octane attack. Led by a hat-trick from Robert Lewandowski, German giants crushed RB Salzburg in the round of 16 in the second leg, 7-1, as part of their run of 22 goals in the last seven games.
3. Manchester City
The next part of the bracket is where things get really interesting. Man City appear to be the most complete team in the league on paper, but Pep Guardiola tends to crumple that paper in big games. When asked on Monday whether he tends to contemplate big games, Guardiola gave an ironic answer: “We will play 12 tomorrow.” And if there’s one coach and team you don’t want to think about, it’s Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid.
Still, Man City have lost just two games (a 29-game period) since the end of October, and there’s a reason for that. City rode to a 5-0 win in the first leg of the round of 16 against Sporting after surviving a difficult group with PSG. And after losing the final to Chelsea last season, there is an increased appetite for this team looking for its first Champions League title. The journey is difficult with Atlético possibly followed by a semi-final against Real Madrid or Chelsea. And if it gets past them, Liverpool and Bayern can wait in the final. In addition, there is a fight in the Premier League with Liverpool. But if there’s a team that can take on such a challenge, it’s this side of Manchester City – as long as it isn’t tinkered with too much.
Chelsea are still the reigning European champions and should be feared as such, but they seem to have the hardest road to lifting Ol’ Big Ears on May 28. First up is the quarter-final against Real Madrid that turned the tables on PSG in the final half hour of the draw. If Chelsea eliminate Real for the second year in a row, the winner of Man City-Atlético, who both knocked Chelsea out last season, awaits in the semi-final. And as we know, Liverpool and Bayern are preferred to reach the final.
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But let’s start with the real matchup. Last season in the semi-finals, Chelsea used the return leg at home to their advantage with a 2-0 (3-1 win). This time, Chelsea will receive Real first at home after passing French champions Lille in the round of 16. Funnily enough, Sergio Ramos is the only absent of the 22 players who started the last meeting of the clubs almost a year ago. A 4-1 league defeat over the weekend to Brentford should cause some concern for the Blues. But under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea were impeccable in the Champions League, with ten clean sheets in fifteen games. Look for defense to win again.
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5. Real Madrid
Real Madrid, and in particular Karim Benzema, made the most noise in the round of 16 as they came back from a 2-0 aggregate deficit in the final 30 minutes of the draw vs. PSG. Benzema’s 17-minute hat-trick showed that no lead is safe from Real’s experience and tenacity, as well as proving that no team wants to face Real Madrid when faced with a Champions League elimination.
However, Real Madrid have never beaten Chelsea in European competition, including last season’s two semi-finals. While Real seem to have a solid lead at the La Liga table, the recent 4-0 defeat to Barcelona has raised many concerns about their defensive lineup. And in a tie that should be very close (and very entertaining), a lockdown defense is usually what makes all the difference.
6. Atletico Madrid
The good thing for Simeone is that he is comfortable, if not excited, about the fact that his bigger/stronger/faster opponent is the one who has everything to lose. Somehow, Atlético always seems to play with house money, and that always seems to go well for him. And after guiding Atlético to its second La Liga title, Simeone is sure to be aiming to beat the giants of the European stage in pursuit of the club’s first Champions League title.
However, winning the title could be one of the greatest achievements in Champions League history. After a nail-biting last-16 draw with Manchester United, Atletico must now head to the more formidable Manchester in Guardiola’s City, where it can’t possibly look forward to Chelsea/Real in the semi-finals and then possibly Liverpool or Bayern Munich. But isn’t it the case? Never, not with El Cholo at the helm.
There has been much to celebrate about the Yellow Submarine over the past year, starting with their stunning penalty kick win in the Europa League final last season. Without that win over Manchester United, Villarreal would never have made it to the Champions League this season, let alone the quarter-finals after upset Juventus. His trip to Turin last month was more than just a shock – it was a stunning display of power.
Wednesday’s home game against Bayern will be manager Unai Emery’s first Champions League quarter-final of his career, and the club’s first since 2009. All Villarreal is going for is a raucous home crowd from the start, and an early goal would disappear. a long way on several fronts. Can it? Maybe, but probably not. Try not to say that to this resilient side.
Unfortunately for Benfica, the Portuguese side was the club that wanted everyone to equalize in the quarter-finals. Benfica squeezed past Ajax in an entertaining round of 16, surviving a group with Bayern (despite being annihilated twice by the German giants). And while it would have preferred to see Villarreal or perhaps even Atletico, Benfica will face one of the most in-form teams in the world.
Historically, Liverpool have been a relatively well-known opponent for Benfica, as the two have met eight times in European competition. Liverpool have lost each of their last three games against Benfica, although 12 years have passed since the most recent instance. Benfica must hope Liverpool are looking forward to Sunday’s Premier League clash against Man City if it wants to stun the 2019 winners in the opening game. And even then, Liverpool have a second leg at Anfield to look forward to as a failsafe.
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