Following the most entertaining last 16 in Champions League history, the quarter-final draw threw up some enthralling ties.
Carlo Ancelotti returns to the Bernabeu as his Bayern Munich side lock horns with holders Real Madrid; Manchester City’s conquerors Monaco face-off with Borussia Dortmund; Italian champions Juventus will battle Spanish giants Barcelona; and English champions Leicester face last year’s finalists Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona currently sit as the bookies favourites, with Bayern and Real Madrid not too far behind. Free-scoring Monaco and Dortmund would cause issues for anyone they come up against, and nobody is looking forward to the prospect of facing spirited Leicester.
Here are my predictions:
Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid – Madrid to win on away goals.
Bayern’s key player:
Thiago Alcantara. The Spaniard appeared in the gap between the midfield and defence against Arsenal, and he absolutely ran the show. Taking advantage of a Madrid side that has shown defensive frailties is vital to Bayern.
Madrid’s key player:
Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portugal superstar hasn’t had his best season this year, but he’s still arguably the best player in the world. If he has a good day in front of goal, it’s hard to see Madrid losing the tie.
Bayern dispatched of Arsenal in the last 16 by an embarrassing 10-2 scoreline, but they’ll not find it anywhere near as easy against Zinedine Zidane’s side. Real are in pole position to win La Liga after a formidable end to 2016, and are keen to become the first side to retain their Champions League trophy. Their attacking prowess will prove too much for the Bundesliga leaders. The likes of Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata, Gareth Bale and Ronaldo are irresistible when on top form, and when they’re being fed by the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it’s pretty hard to contain them. Captain fantastic Sergio Ramos is also chipping in with solid defensive performances and crucially timed goals to drive his side forward. Ancelotti’s side quality is undoubted, but whether the defensive line of Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels can contain Madrid’s superb attack is questionable. The midfield power of Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso will be crucial to their chances. Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller are clinical finishers who will need to take their chances to progress.
Borussia Dortmund vs Monaco – Dortmund to win on aggregate.
Dortmund’s key player:
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon international has been scoring for fun this season, bagging a hat-trick against Benfica to power the Germans into the last eight. Whether he can take advantage of a weak Monaco defence will likely be the difference between the sides.
Monaco’s key player:
Kylian Mbappe. The 18-year-old superstar earned his first France call-up after his goalscoring heroics dumped Manchester City out of the competition. His pace and dribbling will be a firm test of a shaky Dortmund defence.
Dortmund’s achilles heel in the Bundesliga has been some shoddy defensive work that has cost them a number of points in the title race. After the departure of Hummels to Bayern, Thomas Tuchel never brought in a world-class replacement and he’s paid the price, with his side looking very open at the back. Monaco share this quality, with Leonardo Jardim’s side conceding six times over the two games against Pep Guardiola’s City side, but still progressing into the quarter-finals. Both sides are far more comfortable going forward so expect plenty of goals in these games. Dortmund’s pacey front-men Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic have scored bundles of goals this season, equalling the all-time record for goals in the group stage. Monaco’s side is full of young and exciting talent, combined with experienced veterans. Mbappe is joined by Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Tiemoue Bakayoko in providing scintillating football for all football fans to revel in.
Juventus vs Barcelona – Juve to win on aggregate.
Juventus’ key player:
Giorgio Chiellini. The Old Lady’s solid defence will be pivotal to blocking Barca’s rampant attack. Chiellini is the stalwart of an incredibly sturdy defensive line that has seen Massimilaino Allegri’s side dominate Serie ‘A’.
Barcelona’s key player:
Lionel Messi. The Argentinian’s scintillating form has seen Barca return to something like their best of late. His goal-scoring exploits will be crucial to unlocking an incredibly rigid defence.
Juventus have conceded just two goals in their Champions League campaign, an incredible defensive return. However, Barcelona’s attack has churned out 26 strikes in their eight games, the most free-scoring side in the competition. The notorious front-line of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar will test the resolve of the best defence in Europe. The midfield battle will be crucial, as Barca’s was overrun in the humiliating defeat at PSG. Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic are crucial to outperforming a Juve midfield that has lost Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal in recent years. However, Claudio Marchisio, Miralem Pjanic and Sami Khedira have stepped up to the plate to stabilise the midfield of the Old Lady. Superstar forwards Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala will be challenging the somewhat shaky Barcelona defence, which seems alarmingly short of a good right-back.
Leicester vs Atletico Madrid: Atleti to win on aggregate.
Leicester’s key player:
Wes Morgan. A stern defensive performance will be absolutely pivotal in deciding whether Leicester’s fairy-tale will continue.
Atletico’s key player:
Koke. Sitting in midfield alongside skipper Gabi, Koke is charged with unlocking the Foxes’ defence to feed balls through to the phenomenal strikers Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro.
Leicester’s fairy-tale story of winning the Premier League might only be topped by winning the Champions League. They didn’t get the glamorous tie against Barcelona or Real Madrid, instead facing a side with a stern defence and a fluid attack. Griezmann and Gameiro are world-class strikers with creative players behind them like Saul and Gabi making Atletico a force to be reckoned with. The defence of Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez and Filipe Luis has served Diego Simeone well for over three years now and is very difficult to break down, with one of the world’s best keepers behind them in Jan Oblak. Leicester’s players have been lambasted for the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, and rightly so, but they seem inspired under former assistant Craig Shakespeare with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez becoming superstars in the incredible defeat of Sevilla. Atletico’s superior quality should prove to be enough to end the Foxes’ dream.
A semi-final lineup of Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid sets up an incredible climax to club football’s most prestigious tournament.