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UCL Q/Final: Can Leicseter upset Atletico?

Posted by on Apr 10th, 2017 and filed under Foreign Sports, Sports, Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

…as Barca, Juve, Bayern, Real, set for showdown

By Toyin Saheed

The eagerly awaited Champions League quarterfinal fixtures returns this week Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, after Europe’s top competition was whittled down to just eight teams.

The round of 16 was one of the best the game has ever witnessed. In just 16 games, we saw whopping 62 goals – an average of 3.88 goals per game. We saw some superb goals including a rocket from Casemiro and a wonderfully executed chip by Radamel Falcao as well as some of the best games in the competition’s history.

Eight teams remain, but only four can go through to the semi-finals. Below are my predictions for the quarterfinal fixtures.

Monaco, slayer of Manchester City and leader of the French league, face Borussia Dortmund, while Leicester City face another Spanish side as it takes on Atletico Madrid.

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid

Real Madrid has been in each of the past six Champions League semifinals, and Bayern Munich in each of the last five, but this season something has to give.

Each sits atop its respective domestic league, yet there is a strange sense that neither is quite at its best. Real Madrid, the defending European champion, has already lost more games this year than it did in all of 2016 and had fallen behind in five of its last six games (although it has ended up winning four and drawing and one of them).

There are issues with the balance of the midfield (and with Gareth Bale’s ankle) and few reasons to feel confident of it defensively. Sergio Ramos’s main gift these days, and it is a considerable one, seems to be his ability to meet Toni Kroos deliveries with powerful headers in key situations.

The accusation directed most often at Bayern Munich is that it is not playing with the same level of intensity as it did under Pep Guardiola–although it may be that that is an advantage. Carlo Ancelotti, a former Real Madrid manager, has a remarkable record in the Champions League, and, as he looks for a record fourth title, can be said to have mastered the art of getting his sides to peak at the right time.

The side met in the second group stage in 1999-2000 when Bayern won 4-2 and 4-1, and they’ve played each other in 10 two-legged ties, each progressing five times. Their most recent meeting came in the semifinal in 2014 when Ancelotti’s Real Madrid won 1-0 at home before eviscerating Guardiola’s Bayern 4-0 on the break at the Allianz Arena en route to capturing la decima–with current Real boss Zinedine Zidane as his assistant.

Juventus v Barcelona

Barcelona was a comfortable 3-1 winner over Juventus in the 2015 Champions League final, but since then Barcelona has weakened and Juventus has improved.

The comeback in the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain was stunning, but it can’t be forgotten that the only reason it was necessary was that Barcelona had been hammered 4-0 in the first leg, when its lack of energy and the tendency of the front three to become isolated was clear.

A change of shape to 3-4-3 has eliminated the problems at fullback by, well, eliminating the fullbacks, but it’s not a shape that seems to get the best out of Lionel Messi.

Dramatic as those three goals in seven minutes were, they have not resolved the long-term structural problems. Sergio Busquets will be suspended for the first leg.

Juventus, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength, unbeaten at home all season and the only side not to concede a goal in the last 16.

The question of how battle-hardened it is given the relative ease with which it is winning Serie A is a fair one, but this is an experienced squad with plenty of depth, probably the best Juventus side in over a decade.

Before the 2015 final, the sides had met only twice before in the Champions League: Barcelona came out on top in 1985-86, while Juventus won in 2002-03 (both victorious teams went on to draw the final 0-0 and lose on penalties).

Atletico v Leicester

This is only the fourth knockout tie Leicester City has ever played in Europe, but this is the third time it has met Atletico Madrid.

The kindest way to look at past history is to say that Leicester is due for a result. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Cup-Winners Cup first-round clash in 1961, Atletico Madrid won 2-0 at the Vicente Calderon, while Atletico won both legs in the UEFA Cup first round in 1997, 2-1 in Madrid and 2-0 at Filbert Street in a game disfigured by the bizarre sending off of Garry Parker, who collected a second yellow card for taking a free kick too quickly.

Atletico has not been at its best domestically this season, reserving its best form for Europe. It conceded just two goals in coming out on top of a tough group featuring Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven and Rostov, before beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 over two legs in the last 16.

Although it trails Sevilla, the side Leicester beat in the last round, in La Liga, the sense is that it is coming into form while Sevilla was on the downturn.

Leicester, though, is playing far better now than at any previous point of the season, winning three games out of three under Craig Shakespeare after the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri. The feeling is, though, that the club’s improbable run in Europe will come to an end.

Dortmund v Monaco

Monaco has been sensational this season, leading Ligue 1 by three points having scored a barely believable 84 goals in 29 games, but already there is a sense that if it is to make a serious mark in Europe, it has to be this season.

The “superclubs” are hovering, looking at 18-year-old center forward Kylian Mbappe; powerful fullbacks, Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe; and the two holding midfielders, Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Bakayoko, scorer of the decisive goal in the round of 16 against Manchester City, will be suspended for the first leg of the quarterfinal.

The issue of predators picking off a club’s best players is one that’s very familiar to Borussia Dortmund. It’s back near the beginning of the cycle of development, with a number of promising players–the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Julian Weigl–who haven’t quite yet gotten to the level that would see them being pilfered by the very elite.

An injury crisis ruined the start of this season, which is why Dortmund sits third in the Bundesliga, 16 points behind leader Bayern Munich, but Thomas Tuchel’s side was still the top-scoring team in the group stage. With neither side convincing defensively, this is likely to be another goalfest.

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