The biggest competition in European football returns this week as Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea try to reach the final four
by Craig Humpage
Football Writer, Sporticos
Published on Tuesday 6 April 2021
Things are heating up in the Champions League as eight of Europe's biggest clubs try to navigate the Quarter Final stage. Last year's winners Bayern Munich remain one of the favourites despite drawing the team that many see as another in PSG. Premier League Champions and 2018/2019 winners Liverpool are up against Real Madrid. Manchester City will hope to take one step closer to finally capturing the crown which has long eluded them when they face a dangerous Borussia Dortmund side. Finally, Chelsea fans will believe they hit the jackpot in drawing Porto but must not underestimate the Portuguese who eliminated Juventus last month. We have repeats of recent finals, former players looking to come back to bite their former teams, so much intrigue, so many narratives, but how will these first leg ties pan out and where can you watch them?
Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund
Tuesday 6 April 2021 - 20:00
BT Sport 3/BT Sport Ultimate
City's latest win at the weekend means they are within four wins of winning the title which quite frankly they had sewn up a long time ago. Their dominance in the league should bring great pleasure to coach Pep Guardiola and his players but you know that they will see this project as a failure deep down if they never win the Champions League. They comfortably dispatched Borussia Monchengladbach in the last round but will be haunted by the fact that they have gone out in the quarter finals the past three seasons in a row. Can Dortmund make it four? With the likes of Erling Haaland (who might possibly be on his way to City soon), Jadon Sancho (previously of City) and Jude Bellingham among others, they have a wealth of exciting young talent to choose from but were less than convincing in their tie against Sevilla, eventually getting over the line 5-4 on aggregate.
For City, Joao Cancelo and Fernandinho miss out due to suspension. The aforementioned Sancho will miss out here due to a thigh problem but is expected to return for the second leg. Axel Witsel is also out for the Germans. On the whole the two sides have lots of fantastic quality to call on and it should be an engrossing encounter. First legs can sometimes be cagey but with the styles of play and with the attacking prowess both possess, I see this one featuring at least a few goals and cautiously expect City to take a slender lead into the second leg.
Prediction: Manchester City 2 -1 Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid vs Liverpool
Tuesday 6 April 2021 - 20:00
BT Sport 2
Real Madrid must never be discounted. They are comfortably the most successful team in the history of the European Cup - 13 time winners, including four wins in the last seven years. That being said, they are a very mixed bag right now, certainly a team in transition. They are off the pace in La Liga, albeit only slightly now thanks to Atletico generously giving up the huge lead they had earlier on. They weren't considered favourites in Europe coming into this season either, on the back of two last 16 exits in the past two seasons against Ajax and Man City. They also had a fairly average showing in the group stage in which they only won three out of six. However, they turned on the style in the previous round and comfortably beat Atalanta 4-1 on aggregate and are picking up speed in the league. They will go into this game in confidence feeling that they are on the right track. Liverpool, on the other hand, are in crisis mode. A slight uptick in form recently can only mask their worries so much. It's been an horrific title defence in the Premier League and they are staring down the barrel of the very real possibiity of missing out on Champions League football next year. Can that spur them on to go and win the thing and qualify that way? Perhaps. They look stronger now Fabinho is back in midfield but they still have a very inexperienced centre half pairing which should surely be tested to the limit by the attacking players of Los Blancos.
In terms of injury news, Madrid have centre back trauma of their own and will be without Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. It's hard to know whether the absence of the latter will be a blessing for coach Zinedine Zidane or a curse. Klopp's Liverpool are still without the indomitable Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez and are likely to continue with Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips. That of course doesn't look good and it hasn't helped them in the league too much this year but nobody should forget the Rocky-esque comeback they staged against Barcelona not too long ago and they were without vital players that night too. They will still have their famed front three to rely on and should cause Madrid serious problems too.
This one is difficult to call, really difficult. Both sides will either play it super safe and we will get a bore fest or hopefully the defensive woes and attacking genius which both sides have in equal measure will cultivate a goal fest. I'm an optimist and I'm going for the latter with Madrid just edging the first leg.
Prediction: Real Madrid 3 - 2 Liverpool
FC Porto vs Chelsea
Wednesday 7 April 2021 - 20:00
BT Sport 2
Of the four Quarter Final ties this seems to be the easiest to call on paper, but as that old cliche goes... you know the rest. Chelsea have been imperious since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel apart from their capitulation at the weekend against West Brom. After losing Thiago Silva to a controversial red card they were hammered 5-2 by a team almost certain to be relegated, not part of the German's plan I'm sure. However, before that they had gone seven games without conceding a goal. Some argue they didn't play anybody good. Well they also comfortably eliminated Atletico de Madrid 3-0 on aggregate in the last 16. Under Tuchel, Chelsea are a very solid outfit and appear very difficult to beat, when they have 11 men.
Nobody should rule out Porto after the heroics of their win over Juventus. They were underdogs when they won the whole thing under Jose Mourinho and they have an equally charasmatic leader now in Sergio Conceicao. They can do this, of course they can. That being said, I truly believe that if Chelsea can keep all 11 men on the pitch and follow the instructions of their coach, they will make the most of this quite favourable draw and move into the Semi Finals. Again, they mustn't take Porto lightly but if they are professional they should come out of this "away" tie (played in Seville due to coronavirus restrictions) with a win and a couple of away goals to protect in the reverse fixture.
Porto's star man Sergio Oliviera - who got a brace in the second leg against Juve - will miss out due to suspension after an accumulation of yellow cards. Mehdi Taremi is also unavailable after being sent off in that game. Iconic defender Pepe will be back and hoping to inspire the Portuguese once again after his fantastic performance in the previous round. Chelsea have no real injury problems. Kante is a doubt but should still travel. Silva's domestic red card won't affect his eligibility here and so he will be in contention.
Games at this stage of the competition are always so difficult to call but I feel that Tuchel's Chelsea will put in a professional, controlled performance and return to London with a good advantage going into the second leg.
Prediction: FC Porto 0 - 2 Chelsea
Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint Germain
Wednesday 7 April 2021 - 20:00
BT Sport 3
Liverpool and Real aren't the only ones replaying a dramatic final from recent history as last year's two finalists Bayern Munich and PSG face off this week. The Bavarians will be looking to vanquish their old foes once again in tomorrow's first leg. If last weekend's domestic results are anything to go by, the Germans will be full of confidence. They all but wrapped up the Bundesliga title once again when they beat their only real competitors RB Leipzig 1-0, much to the chagrin of any neutral fan bored of the monotonous dominance. PSG on the other hand lost 1-0 to Lille who subsequently leapfrogged them in the table setting up a fascinating title race with five points between four teams. Perhaps the end of an era will be coming in France rather than Germany. Bayern will be further inspired by their comfortable 6-2 demolition of Lazio in the last 16.
PSG pulled off a similar feat in dispatching Barcelona by a 5-2 scoreline and as last season's finalists, they will know they are more than capable of beating anyone. Since Mauricio Pochettino took over, Les Parisiens have been somewhat hit and miss as they adjust to a new tactical approach. Their usual domestic dominance seems to be no more but they still have a squad overflowing with quality and are still putting on fantastic performances in Europe. The Argentine knows what it takes to reach the final, doing so with his underdog Spurs side, but he will also have painful memories of Bayern putting 7 past the London side. Anything can happen across two legs in the Champions League but frankly they looked more likely to go all the way under Tuchel and I feel this will be the ultimate test for Pochettino.
One big plot point is of course the injury to Robert Lewandowski on international duty. He will be a huge miss for Bayern. Former PSG striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is likely to replace him. Many laughed at the Cameroonian-German's switch from Stoke to Paris but he has gone on to be a very useful back up striker for two of the world's biggest clubs, popping up in huge moments to score goals. Will he cause the French club's defence quite the same headache as their Polish hero? Perhaps not, we shall see. If he can hold the ball up and create space for the likes of Sane, Muller and Gnabry I'm sure they will still have plenty of chances to score. PSG will be without Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti due to suspension and coronavirus respectively but besides that have pretty much everyone to choose from, including of coruse Neymar and Mbappe.
It's difficult to bet against any side which contains Neymar and Mbappe but that's what I'm going to do. I see Bayern winning both legs despite losing Lewandowski. I think it will be tight, both managers will be very pragmatic given their respective reasons to be cautious, but the game should still be very entertaining with boundless talent all over the pitch. In the end the Germans will go through and there aren't many teams out there that can stop them from making it back-to-back Champions League wins.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 2 - 1 Paris Saint Germain
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