UCL quarter finals: two final repeats and one all English encounter
Last Friday, the UEFA Champions League quarter final matchups were drawn. The results were two replications of former Champions League finals. An all English encounter and a matchup that has the potential for a possible upset.
FC Barcelona-Manchester United
Five time Champions League winners FC Barcelona will meet three time Europa Cup one winners Manchester United. A repeat of the finals of 2009 and 2011, both won by the Catalans. Barça have a fairly nice season so far. A top position in LaLiga and an easy going campaign in the Champions League. After ending up first in a group with Tottenham Hotspur, PSV Eindhoven and Internazionale, Blaugrana dealt with Olympique Lyonnais in the second round.
Manchester United, on the other hand, are having a much more difficult season. Although, after the arrival of former top striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager, the results are heading upwards. Currently, the Mancunians are placed fifth in the Premier League (eighteen points behind leader Liverpool). In the Champions League, they ended behind Juventus in a group, that also contained Valencia and Young Boys. By beating Paris SG in the second round, however, United showed Europe that they are not to underestimated.
The answer to the question of who will go through to the semifinals, will lie in the hands of one man: Lionel Messi. It goes without saying that with the Argentinian magician and the form that he is displaying this season (39 goals and 27 assists in 37 matches), Barça will be the favourite for this clash. If, however, the English giant is able to defuse la Pulga, they could repeat the stunt they pulled in Paris.
Next up, is a reprise of the Champions League finals of 1973 and 1996: Ajax-Juventus. Four time Champions League winners Ajax reached the quarter finals for the first time since 2003. Ending in second place in group E, followed by a glorious defeat of Real Madrid. After a 1-2 loss in the first leg in Amsterdam, the Godenzonen stunned the world by defeating Real at Bernabeu with 1-4.
Juventus ended first in a group with Manchester United, Valencia and Young Boys and had to go to the extreme to beat Atlético Madrid. After a 2-0 loss in the first leg in Madrid, Cristiano Ronald came to the rescue in Turin. With an astonishing hattrick, the Portuguese superstar helped La Vecchia Signora to reach the quarter finals.
At first glimpse, you would say that this will probably be an easy victory for Juve. But if the second round of the Champions League have showed us one thing (or actually two things), is that Juventus has some weak spots. Ajax is eminently a team that can make the most of these weak spots. The performance of the talented Dutch squad at Bernabeu, has to be a warning for Juventus.
Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester City
The third matchup is an encounter between the current third and second placed teams in the Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Even though the difference is only one spot, the gap between the two is no less than thirteen points. Also, City have won the last three encounters with the North-Londeners, including the confrontation at White Hart Lane this season (0-1).
So, do Spurs have no chance at all? Well, as impressive as the Citizens are performing the recent years, they haven’t reached the Champions League final once yet. Last year, Liverpool withheld them from the final and in 2017 AS Monaco stood in their way to even reach the quarter finals. It seems that City have a hard time maintaining their great form throughout the whole season. And considering the fact that Pep Guardiola’s side is currently still in the race in four (!) competitions, it raises the question whether they can sustain their winning way this time. Tottenham, however, are already eliminated from the FA Cup and League Cup, which give them some more breathing space. Spurs have an amazing squad, and are most certainly able to beat Manchester City, if they aren’t able to perform at one-hundred percent.
The last fixture is between five time Champions League winners Liverpool and two time holders FC Porto. An interesting matchup, between a team that is having an allround impressive season and a squad that seems very rigid. It’s also a repeat of the second round matchup of last year, which was easily won by the Reds (5-0 on aggregate). This, and the fact that Liverpool not only are top of the league in England, but also beat Bayern Munchen in their second round fixture, show that they are the top favourites for this clash.
The one thing that could give the Portuguese side hope, is that Liverpool have lost all there three group games away from home, wheras FC Porto have won all their games in this year’s Champions League, apart from the first leg of the second round against AS Roma. Especially at their own Estádio do Dragão, the Portuguese champions are looking very solid. If they can retain their excellent Champions League form against Liverpool, this fixture has the potential to create a big upset.