The UEFA Champions League returns this week with the eight remaining teams all in action. Here’s a preview of the first leg ties.
Tuesday 11th April
Borussia Dortmund v AS Monaco
Borussia Dortmund welcome dark horses AS Monaco to the Westfalenstadionn tomorrow night in what is certain to be a thrilling tie. Both sides produced comebacks in their home legs in the Last 16 defeating Benfica and Manchester City respectively. The sides are both filled with exciting young prospects that are set to grow into superstars in the coming years.
Dortmund have been impressive throughout this seasons Champions League campaign with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the line. His eye for goal will be crucial in this tie but so too will be the Dortmund defence. Marc Bartra will have to be at his best tomorrow night as he will face the tough task of marking Kylian Mbappe. The German side will look to bounce back from Saturday’s 4-1 league defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.
AS Monaco showed steely determination to knock Pep Guardiola’s Man City out of the competition. The Ligue 1 side boast a talented side with Mbappe leading the line. Their midfield is full of creativity especially in the form of Bernardo Silva and Fabinho. They will be boosted by the return of Radamel Falcao who scored the winner in their narrow victory over Angers at the weekend.
Verdict: On paper Dortmund should just about edge this first leg but Monaco are an exciting squad and certainly shouldn’t be discounted.
Juventus v FC Barcelona
Italian champions Juventus welcome FC Barcelona to the Juventus Stadium tomorrow night. This tie has all the ingredients for an Champions League classic. The sides last met in the 2015 showpiece with the Catalan side running out 3-1 winners. Juventus eased through to the last 16 with a comfortable win 3-0 aggregate win over FC Porto. Barcelona’s path to the last eight wasn’t as simple. A 4-0 first leg defeat away to PSG left the Blaugrana with a seemingly impossible mountain to climb. Somehow the La Liga side managed a 6-1 win at the Camp Nou to qualify 6-5 on aggregate.
Juventus are once again miles ahead of the chasing pack in the Serie A and as such have prioritised the Champions League. They won at the weekend comfortably seeing off Chievo Verona with Gonzalo Higuain scoring a brace. He will be crucial to the Old Lady’s hopes tomorrow night as will fellow Argentine Paulo Dybala. Juventus have plenty of talent going forward but this tie could swing in their favour thanks to their defence. Gianluigi Buffon is as good as ever between the sticks and the back trio of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli is one of the finest in world football.
Barcelona have had a mixed season. They missed an opportunity to pile pressure on Real Madrid in the title race on Saturday when they lost 2-0 away to Malaga with Neymar picking up two yellow cards. The comeback against PSG will no doubt give Barca confidence heading into this tie. There is no doubt that this Barcelona side is capable of attacking with lethal precision thanks to the talents of the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez but they look porous at the back. They will be without the suspended Sergio Busquets who plays an integral role in the Catalan’s style of play.
Verdict: Juventus will have to make life difficult for Barcelona tomorrow night and certainly possess a defence capable of keeping Messi and co. quiet. Counter attacks are Juve’s best option and will hope Higuain and Dybala have their shooting boots on.
Wednesday 12th April
Atletico Madrid v Leicester City
Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid welcome this years surprise package Leicester to the Spanish capital on Wednesday night. The sides qualified for this round in quite different manners. Atletico thumped Bayern Leverkusen 4-2 on aggregate with all the goals coming in the first leg in Germany. Leicester came from behind to defeat Sevilla 3-2 on aggregate scoring twice at the King Power Stadium to progress.
Atletico Madrid seem to have placed emphasis on the Champions League this year due to their poor form in La Liga. With his side out of the title race and almost certain to finish in the top four Simeone has seen his team flourish in Europe. Players such as Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Koke have all been influential in the sides progress as has goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Griezmann scored an 85th minute equaliser against Real Madrid on Saturday to see the Madrid derby end level.
Leicester have seen an upturn inform since their controversial decision to sack manager Claudio Ranieri. Since taking over Craig Shakespeare has seen player such as Jamie Vardy, Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez all return to from. They travel to Spain off the back of Sunday’s 4-2 loss away to Everton.
Verdict: Atletico Madrid should have the class to put this tie to bed at home. Leicester’s European dream will surely end in the Vicente Calderon.
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
Two powerhouses of European football go head to head on Wednesday night in what will be an enthralling tie. Bayern will look to reap revenge for the 5-0 aggregate semi-final loss inflicted on them by their visitors in 2014. Bayern inflicted a humiliating 10-2 aggregate defeat to Arsenal in the Last 16 while Real were too strong for Napoli running out 6-2 winners over the two legs.
Bayern are once again certain to win the Bundesliga and can focus attention towards these two games. They saw off Dortmund 4-1 on Saturday but have a number of injury concerns heading into this game with both Manuel Neuer and Mats Hummels expected to miss out through injury. Despite these losses Bayern still boast an impressive side with striker Robert Lewandowski in sensational form. Arjen Robben, Thiago and Douglas Costa also pose a threat going forward. Bayern’s solid defence could be crucial in deciding this tie. The presence of Jerome Boating and Philip Lahm at the heart of defence will be a major boost for Bayern.
Real Madrid will hope Zinedine Zidane can get the better of the Carlo Ancelotti, the man who give him his first role in management when the Italian coached Madrid. Real are in the driving seat when it come to La Liga thanks to Barcelona’s failure to capitalise on Madrid’s errors. The Spanish side have plenty of attacking talent but look shaky at the back. Sergio Ramos’ goal scoring prowess has disguised his poor form in defence. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas hasn’t covered himself in glory this year and faces a tough test on Wednesday. Madrid will hope the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are on song in Munich as an away goal could be crucial.
Verdict: This game is nearly too close to call. Madrid are strongest in attack but if Bayern can exploit the Spaniards’ defensive frailties the tie could swing in the German’s favour.