While Americans claim to have the biggest annual sporting event in the world, last year’s UEFA Champions League final attracted 50 per cent more viewers than Super Bowl 50.
While the Barclays Premier League is known as the most competitive soccer league worldwide, teams from Spain, Germany and France have the most success in the recent continental competitions. In the past four years, the Premier League teams failed twice to qualify for the quarter-final round. With the elimination of Chelsea and Arsenal in the round of 16, Manchester City is the only English team qualified for the quarter-finals.
On Friday March 18, UEFA announced the match-ups for the quarter-final. Here is a preview of the match-ups that will be played from April 5 to April 13.
Bayern Munich (GER) vs SL Benfica (POR)
While Benfica typically does not go far after the group stage, every year Munich aspires to the title.
Munich qualified on an overtime decision over the 2015 runner-up, Juventus. Bayern played their last Champions League game with a weakened defensive line. Central backs Holger Badstuber, Jérôme Boateng and Javi Martínez were ruled out due to injuries. Although Badstuber’s recovery is expected to require a few months, Boateng and Martínez should be back in action before the first game against Benfica.
Coming in this match-up, Munich has averaged a competition-high 71 per cent of possession and has scored a competition-high 25 goals. After playing eight games, Munich’s scoring leaders Robert Lewandowski (8) and Thomas Müller (7) combined more goals than Barcelona’s scoring leaders Lionel Messi (6) and Luis Suárez (6).
Bayern, the favourite in this match-up, will rely on their possession and offensive touch to cruise through Benfica. With Pep Guardiola as manager, Munich was exclusively eliminated by Spanish giants
Real Madrid and Barcelona. Therefore, they should eliminate Benfica without any trouble.
After eliminating an opponent of their size in Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica prepares to face the powerful Bayern Munich. The challenge is big, but the players believe in their capacity to cause a major surprise.
Nicolás Gaitán qualified Benfica with a goal and two assists on all three goals against Zenit. In the second leg game, both teams were tied with less than 10 minutes to play when Gaitán scored to qualify his team in the quarter-final round.
In order to win against Germany’s iconic team, the Portuguese team must capitalize on every touch of the ball. The possession rate will be low against Bayern, Jonas, their best goal scorer this season, must be able to capitalize more than once for Benfica.
FC Barcelona (ESP) vs Atlético Madrid (ESP)
This matchup features La Liga’s leader, Barcelona, and the runner-up, Atlético. Two years ago, these two teams met in the quarter-final stage and Atlético won 2-1 over Barcelona. This year, in La Liga games, Barcelona won over Atlético in the two games by identical scores of 2-1.
After eliminating Arsenal, Champions League title-holder Barcelona needs no introduction. Arguably Barcelona is the club with the most visibility worldwide with four Champions League titles in the past decade only. They are the only team with multiple titles over the last 12 years.
This season, Barcelona is undefeated in their last 39 games. Their last loss dates from October 4 against Sevilla FC.
In the Champions League, Barcelona scored 14 of their 20 goals at home. As the first game will be played at Camp Nou, Messi, Suárez, and Neymar must capitalize on a few chances right away in the first game. They must score at home in the first leg because Atlético has arguably the most effective defense as they blanked their opponents six times out of eight in Champions League games.
After eliminating PSV Eindhoven on penalty kicks, Atlético Madrid is confident in its ability to pull an upset against Barcelona. With their third appearance in a row in the quarter-final stage, Atlético lost only to Real Madrid in the past two competitions.
Along with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, Atlético allowed the fewest goals since the group stage with three goals allowed. On the down side, their attack is a one-man show. Antoine Griezmann is their main goal scorer. Their attack is weak, from the eight teams remaining, Atlético has scored the fewest goals.
Atlético can win over Barcelona if their defense keeps up their excellent work and if Greizmann receives scoring support by his teammates. The challenge is big, but it is within Atlético’s reach.
Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) vs Manchester City (ENG)
This matchup is interesting because the two teams have a similar history in the past decade. Paris, in 2011, and Manchester City, in 2008, were bought by Middle Eastern investors. Prior to those transactions, both were mid-table teams. Since then, both sets of owners averaged over a hundred million Euros per year to purchase talented players.
In order to qualify for the quarter-final stage, Paris won both games against Chelsea by a 2-1 score. Zlatan Ibrahimović scored once per game to lead his team against another English team.
With a 9-0 win over Troyes on March 13, Paris secured the Ligue 1 title in a 30-game record time. That means that Laurent Blanc, Paris’ manager, will have the luxury to rest his starters during league competition.
With one of the most dangerous offense, Paris’ Ibrahimović, Ángel Di María, Edinson Cavani, and Lucas can score at any time in the game. Their defense is also solid as they allowed only three goals; impressive considering that they played half of their games against Real Madrid and Chelsea.
The Citizens qualification for the quarter-final was a formality as they won over the Ukrainian team Dynamo Kyiv.
Manchester City has been a force in the Premier League in recent years, but failed to transfer its success in European competition.
City’s secret offensive weapon against Paris is Raheem Sterling. Since his £55 million transfer from Liverpool last summer, Sterling has struggled to meet City’s expectations. On the bright side, he is their best goal-scorer in the Champions League this year. He can provide a fourth scoring option after Sergio Agüero, David Silva, and Wilfried Bony.
VfL Wolfsburg (GER) vs Real Madrid (ESP)
The three teams that won a game against Real Madrid in the Champions League in the past three years are Borussia Dortmund (2014), Schalke 04 (2015), and Juventus (2015). Every year, Madrid lost a game to a German team other than Bayern Munich. Wolfsburg could be the next team to win a game against Real Madrid.
After winning against the Belgium K.A.A. Gent, Wolfsburg will face a much stronger opponent. Despite this year’s struggle in the Bundesliga, the Wolfes had their own share of success in the Champions League as they eliminated Manchester United and CSKA Moscow in the group stage.
In order to advance to the next round, Julian Draxler needs to step up to Real Madrid. The task is huge for Wolfsburg, but not impossible.
Following their win over AS Roma, Real Madrid knows that Wolfsburg can pull the upset if Los Blancos put their guard down.
In La Liga, Real Madrid is not where it wants to be. Sitting third behind rivals Barcelona and Atlético, Real Madrid’s new manager, Zinédine Zidane, hopes to bring championships back to Madrid.
Zidane can count on Cristiano Ronaldo who is dominating the Champions League with 13 goals, five more than the runner-up Lewandowski. With a CR7 healthy and hungry, not many teams can stop Real Madrid.
The first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final will be played on April 5 and 6 during the afternoon, and is aligned with Brock’s reading days.