If I had my way; I won’t allow for the amount of time between each round of the World’s biggest and lucrative club competition. Imagine we had to wait two months to taste what the first knock out round had in store for us all; now we have had to wait a few weeks for the Quarter Finals of the Champions League to return to our Television screens and if what the first knock out round is anything to go by; we are in for a thrill; games may be a little more cagey, but it still won’t take away the sheer quality associated with the UEFA Champions League.
This Quarter final draw has somewhat divided the elite teams and the tournament upstarts into two separate categories; on one end you have the creme de la creme of the competition going up against each other; whilst on the other end you have the not so elite clubs seeking to make an impression.
Ties like Bayern Munich v Real Madrid and Juventus v Barcelona would ordinarily grace the Semi Finals or the Finals on any given year; but not this year; two of the four above mentioned teams will make an exit from this stage; meaning the door is open to two other less fancied teams to stake a claim to making the finals. How else do you explain Borussia Dortmund v Monaco and Atletico Madrid v Leicester City been drawn together with only one previous Champions League winner in the German side. Just imagine Monaco and Leicester shocking the whole of Europe by making it to the Semi Finals; I do not think we have had something of this kind happen since Monaco and Porto went all the way to the finals in 2004 after eliminating European heavyweights like Real Madrid and Manchester United. So with all the divisive tendencies reviewed and potential conspiracy highlighted; here’s my preview of the four games:
Juventus v Barcelona
Two years ago; both teams met in the finals with Barcelona winning their fifth UEFA Champions League trophy, it wasn’t as easy as the 3-1 scoreline may have shown. If there is a team that can capitalize on the weaknesses the Catalans have shown this season; it is Juventus. The Old Lady from Turin would have learnt a whole lot from that final from two years ago; both teams haven’t changed much; Barcelona’s lethal MSN still remain, the Turin Club have however added Gonzalo Higuain to bolster their attack and now have former Barcelona defender; Dani Alves.
Juventus under Allegri have demonstrated a high level of adaptability of its players and to systems; they have gone from three at the back to playing a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mario Mandzuki playing wide on the left of the three. Surprisingly the Croat has shown never before seen industry, hunger and adaptability; putting up top notch performances week in week out. For Barcelona; lately there’s been a switch to Three at the back with Messi getting a free role in the hole behind the ”makeshift” front three; especially leading to their miraculous comeback against PSG. Over the weekend; the Catalans surprisingly lost to Malaga; not ideal preparation for their trip to Turin.
Potential tactical and selection headaches for both managers as Barcelona have Busquets suspended; so who fills his boots? Will Juventus switch to three at the back to mirror Barcelona if they also adopt the same approach? I think Juventus will go in with what has been working; no point changing it because no matter the formation, Barcelona will play the same way; keep possession with a little more directness; but I do feel if Barcelona approach this game with the same approach as against PSG; Juventus will hurt them with the pace of their wide players and full backs. The gaps potentially left by Neymar and Sergio Roberto on either flank can be capitalized upon with the pace of Cuadrado and Alves on the right as well as Mandzuki and Sandro on the left or with Dybala drifting left to provide support as the Big Croat joins Higuain up top in the middle of the attack as Juventus, transition from defense to attack. As we have always known; Barcelona are not the strongest side defensively and this is masked by the amount of possession they enjoy especially in midfield, where Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic would have their work cut out to keep Andreas Iniesta quiet and Lionel Messi, when he decides to be active in the hole.
What Barcelona have going for them and why they may be considered favorites is due to their strong record against Italian teams; unfortunately they face a team that are unbeaten in twenty-one European games at home leading back to April 2013; so this for me gives the Old Lady the edge.
Verdict: Juventus to win (Betting Option : Over 1.5 goals)
Borussia Dortmund v Monaco
The game for the free spirits; pits two teams who are known for their explosiveness in attack and a sprinkle of the brightest footballing prospects in Europe. Monaco have had a high scoring season, playing with a freedom and fluidity that can be compared to the Monaco side of the mid 1990s that had Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Victor Ikpeba; quick, fast and lethal in front of goal.
Borussia Dortmund have had a Jekyll and Hyde season; expected to push Bayern Munich close domestically, but flattering to deceive with each passing week, moving even further away from the Bavarians. The Champions League has however provided a welcome distraction and a better hunting ground with the Ruhr side; top scorers in the group stage, so its safe to say we will have goals in both legs of this tie.
A few big injury and suspension misses on both sides with Bakayoko, Mendy and Sidibe missing for Monaco; Dortmund have the likes of Gotze, Kagawa, Reus and Schurrle all missing. These absentees would not dampen the intensity of the spectacle we look forward to tonight; but teams are suspect defensively and both recently conceded four goals to their big rivals in recent matches. The Signal Iduna Park is a fortress of some sort as Dortmund have only failed to win four times this season. Monaco’s less than enviable record away from home continues to be a problem with failures in their last three away attempts. Expect a conventional 4-4-2 formation from Leonardo Jardim with Joao Moutinho and Bernando Silva expected to run things in the midfield to provide the ammunition for Falcao and Youngster Mbappe upfront.
Dortmund have flirted with a back three at times this season; but after the weekend’s drubbing I expect them to make a switch to a back four; probably to a 4-2-3-1 formation with the pace of Dembele and Aubameyang integral to their success this season. The outcome of this game will be determined by the more clinical of both teams as I had earlier highlighted that both teams are defensively suspect.
Verdict: Dortmund to win (Betting option: Over 2.5 goal or Both Teams to Score)
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
The man responsible for the long drawn quest of landing La Decima faces his former charges and pupil; Carlo Ancelotti delivered Real Madrid the much obsessed 10th Champions League trophy, but was kicked out the following year for failing to land any trophy despite breaking various record en-route to been crowned world club champions. This time, the Italian sits in the dug out of another European power house; who have designs of consistent European domination as the domestic game has become a little boring of late.
Real Madrid arrive at the Allianz arena on the back of their derby draw with Atletico Madrid; still top of La Liga, but we all know this is the main trophy that tickles the fancy at the Bernabeu; so making it a 12th title would be quite welcome. Zinedine Zidane goes head to head with his former boss; looking to get the better of him in their first head to head clash. Will Ancelotti’s experience and know-how get the better Zidane or will Zidane have a greater interpretation or insight into Ancelotti’s play book? Whatever; the outcome it promises to be another European classic; the last time both teams met; Real took Bayern to the cleaners with their electric counter attacking football.
Bayern Munich go into this game with major injuries going into the game with the likes of Matt Hummels, Thomas Mueller, Douglas Costa and Manuel Neuer likely to miss out. Real Madrid’s injury worries are mainly in defense with Raphael Varane and Pepe also expected to miss out from this clash of Europe’s heavyweights. I expect both teams to have identical set ups and formations; opting for a 4-3-3 formation.
Real Madrid have the better recent record in the Champions League; remember the 4-nil drubbing at the Allianz Arena as they marched to winning La Decima; Zidane would love to call on the spirits of the game and see Real Madrid come out victorious again; but it won’t be easy.
Verdict: Bayern Win (Betting Option: Over 2.5 goals)
Atletico Madrid v Leicester City
The Leicester City Cinderella story makes it to the Quarter finals of the Champions League, it would be hard to bet against them not making it to the Semi Finals; on the strength of their form in Europe and since the departure of Claudio Ranieri with only one defeat from six matches as Craig Shakespeare wove his magic to revive the sleeping English Champions.
Atletico Madrid have become seasoned campaigners in Europe’s main show piece club competition with two finals appearances in three years, losing to city Rivals on both occassion. It has been a bit of a strange season for the Madrid side with increased speculation surrounding their manager and the team not gelling together as expected by everyone.
The Madrid giants cannot take Leicester City for granted, they should take a cue from Sevilla and their exit at the first knockout round; but if there’s any consolation its Atleti’s impressive clean sheet record in the Champions League with 17 clean sheets in 21 games. Leicester will go in with nothing to lose and hoping they can nick an away goal to take with them to Midlands. Shakespeare rested some players for the game against Everton with one eye on this game; you cannot begrudge him for that decision; this is Leicester’s first appearance in this competition, they want to make history.
Verdict: Atletico Madrid Win ( Betting Option: Over 1.5 Goals)