The Champions League Quarter-final draw has just been completed this morning and it looks to be another fantastic round of close encounters. You could argue that all the ties involve one side who will be favourites going into these games, but the previous round showed exactly why you can never be sure when it comes to Europe’s most elite competition. We also know a few possible outcomes for the semi-final stage giving us a slight opportunity to predict who might be participating in this year’s final.
The first name pulled out the pot was that of Dutch giants Ajax. Ajax have been very successful in this competition historically but Dutch football as a whole has somewhat fallen away since their glory years. However, Ajax put in a performance against Real Madrid that suggested they may well be getting back to their best. They defeated the European kings 4-1 at the Bernabeu bringing their three year reign as Champions League Champions to an end. We are now fully aware of the numerous young prospects Ajax currently possess, including the likes of de Ligt and de Jong, players who have already displayed they are more than ready to play at the very top level of world football. This could be their best opportunity of achieving European glory in a very long time, potentially, for years to come. We already know de Jong is leaving for Barcelona at the end of the season and there’s a reasonable chance that de Ligt will be departing as well given how much interest he’s been attracting. Even still possessing their best players, coming up against Juventus in the Quarter-finals is going to be extremely difficult. Juventus displayed that their loss in the away leg to Atletico Madrid was something of a blip. They overturned a 2-0 deficit, greatly thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick. Keeping the Portuguese legend quiet is a huge ask for any side. Ajax are evidently capable of progressing having already beaten giants of Euopean football in the previous round, but surely Juventus will go into this one as favourites.
The next tie to be drawn was that of Liverpool Vs Porto. Liverpool put in a wonderful display during their trip to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich. The tie was level following the first leg at Anfield, neither side managing to score. You may have thought this would make Bayern Munich slight favouites with their home leg still to play. On paper this makes sense, but this game was built up as one which really could go either way. Bayern Munich were forced into making quite a significant change. Their attack minded right back, Joshua Kimmich, was suspended for this encounter leaving Kovac with no choice but to call on the experienced Rafinha. This changed ended up being a costly one as the Brazilian struggled to cope with the power of Sadio Mane. This directly contributed to Liverpool’s opening goals putting them in prime position to progress. Bayern did put up a fight but left themselves with too much to do. Liverpool progressed as 1-3 winners and now appear to have an easier tie on their hands in the Quarter-finals. Porto displayed their attacking prowess when they came up against Roma, a fixture which went right down to the wire and required extra-time to produce the decisive goal. Despite doing enough to progress, coming up against Liverpool is arguably a much greater ask for the Portuguese side. Bayern Munich are a side Liverpool were somewhat suited to facing. They’re well disciplined and spent a lot of time just trying to stay in the game allowing Liverpool’s front three to pile on the pressure. You would have thought Porto will attempt to create more going forward but Liverpool should have more than enough in attack to capitalise on the weaknesses this may leave at the back. They will certainly fancy their chances going into this Quarter-final.
With 4 Premier League sides still remaining in the competition, there was always a high chance that there would be at least one all English encounter, and this is exactly what we saw. Tottenham host Manchester City in the first lef of this third Quarter-final. Spurs have been struggling domestically in recent times but were by far the better team across their two games against Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16. Tottenham dominated in the second half at Wembley scoring three goals and almost guaranteeing their place in the Quarters with a 3-0 win. Dortmund did look dangerous at the start of the second-leg, however, Lloris being called into action on more than one occasion to save his side. The longer the game went on, the more unlikely it was looking for Dortmund to pull off a comeback; Tottenham looked home and dry when the half-time whistle sounded with the game still goalless. They guaranteed their progression when Harry Kane struck in the second half giving his side a 0-1 win on the night. Unlike Tottenham, City didn’t look entirely comfortable against Schalke, requiring two late goals to secure a 2-3 win against the German side in the first leg. However, they put any dubt to bed in the second as they absolutely outplayed their opponents and won the game 7-0. City were frightening going forward with 6 different goalscorers, a quality which will probably make them favourites when they come up against Tottenham in the next round.
The only two names left in the pot were those of Barcelona and Manchester United. Depite the Spanish side being pulled out first, it is United who will play at home in the first leg. This is because Uefa have prevented the two Manchester sides from playing at home on either the same or consecutive evenings. Putting this small matter aside, Solskjaer’s men might have hoped they’d done enough in their heroic comeback against PSG to warrant a slightly more favourable draw in the Quarter’s, but no. The Manchester side are up against one of the best teams left in the competition. Yes, we’ve already witnessed them overcome French giants PSG but most would probably agree that doing the same against Barcelona is an even bigger ask. Solskjaer will be hoping that his injury concerns won’t be as prominent come the first leg, the Norweigan most definitely needing his strongest side available if he has any hope of seeing his side safely through to the Semi-finals. Barcelona will undoubtedly be favourites to progress, but they may be slightly more vulnerable than a lot of people think. The 5-1 victory against Lyon may somewhat flatter the only Spanish side remaining in the competition. Despite taking an early 2-0 lead, things became quite nervy for Barca when Lyon pulled one back. A second goal for them would have been enough to see them reach the next stage. Yet, Barcelona showed what they can do going forward, surely the greatest concern for United, as they scored three more goals in the remaining minutes. United have arguably already overperfomed in this competition but they would certianly be doing that if they were able to get past Barcelona.
Now that the draw has been made, I assume, like myself, you are even more eagerly anticipating the next round of matches in the Champions League. As already mentioned, each game includes one team who will at least be slight favourites to reach the Semis but, as we know, anything can happen in this competition. No one gave the likes of Ajax and Manchester United any chance going into their second legs, but look what they’ve achieved. Could we possibly see any similar upsets as to what we saw in the Round of 16?