Champions League soccer returns with quarterfinals
Barcelona to face Atletico Madrid in tight clash
March was truly filled with madness in sports. NFL free agency opened up and teams raced to sign the best free agents in the market. NCAA basketball fans witnessed some incredible upsets and millions were forced to shred their brackets. European soccer saw some magnificent matches and events. Chelsea’s 6-0 demolition against Arsenal, Barcelona’s 4-3 win and Messi’s historic hat-trick against Real Madrid in the el Clasico, and Bayern Munich’s clinching of the Bundesliga title with still a good amount of games remaining in the German league are just some examples of what European soccer produced in March. Apart from the leagues, Champions League soccer continued and the round of 16 came to an end. Thus, only eight teams now remain on the quest to be Europe’s best. Let’s take a look at the match-ups.
Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid
This draw is extremely hard to determine which way it will go. Despite a minor setback in February, Atletico Madrid have been absolutely phenomenal this year. The fact that they sit in first place in the La Liga this late in the season is evidence enough for the feat that they have accomplished this far in the year. They beat Milan in the previous round of the Champions League 5-1 on aggregate. They are in winning form to say the least and they are playing great soccer.
Barcelona managed to beat Manchester City in a difficult draw in the previous round and are currently in second place in the league. They recently beat Real Madrid 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid thanks to Messi’s historic hat-trick in a memorable el Clasico. However, criticism of their head coach, Gerardo “Tata” Martino has failed to die down. The critics are right to a certain extent as Barcelona has had a slight fall from their old form and have not been performing at the standard we’ve come to expect of them consistently. This does not mean that Barcelona are still not a force to be reckoned with.
Thus, the phenomenal Atletico Madrid will be facing the powerful Barcelona in what is to be a Spanish derby. These teams have faced each other three times so far this season: twice in the Spanish Supercup and once in the league. Each match so far has produced a draw as these teams seem equally matched. In their most recent match in the league, Atletico Madrid seemed to be the better side as they managed to pressure Barcelona and stop their passing game. They came close to scoring, but failed to convert their chances. If they can repeat a similar performance for the two upcoming matches, then Atletico Madrid could very well be the team to advance. However, the safest bet seems to be that the two in-form teams will decide things in a penalty shootout.
Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United
On paper, this draw looks fairly straightforward. Coming into the quarterfinals, David Moyes’ Manchester United seemed to be the weakest link and reigning champions Bayern Munich were stronger than ever. Manchester United threw the towel in for the race for the championship in the English Premier League a long time ago and right now it seems that they will fail to finish in the top four as well. They recently lost 3-0 to Manchester City to add to a series of lackluster performances. Their Champions League performance is not that thrilling as well. In the previous round, they initially lost 2-0 to Olympiacos. Despite facing the threat of elimination, they managed to turn things around in the second match by winning 3-0. This does not change the fact that there is a great difference between the Manchester United we’ve watched in the previous years and this year’s Manchester United under the guidance of David Moyes.
There is not much to say about Bayern Munich, other than the fact that they have nothing to worry about except the Champions League. With 7 weeks left in the German Bundesliga, they earned the title with a record of 25 wins and two draws in 27 matches. When they earned the title, they were 25 points ahead of their closest opponents, Borussia Dortmund. They beat Arsenal 3-1 on aggregate in the previous round and are more than ready for their next English opponent. With the Champions League the only thing they have to focus on right now and their all-conquering display of soccer, Bayern Munich are definite favorites against a struggling Manchester United.
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid will face off against Borussia Dortmund in what is to be a rematch of last year’s semifinals in which Robert Lewandowski pulled the plug on Real Madrid with his four goals in the match in Germany. However, coming into this match, Real Madrid seem to be the definite favorites. Real Madrid did face a 4-3 loss to Barcelona and a 2-1 loss to Sevilla in the La Liga and now sit in third place behind Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. However, they are still playing great soccer and tend to dominate the matches they play. They beat Schalke 04 9-2 on aggregate in the previous round in an utter display of dominance. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have been on fire recently and will definitely put on a show for the fans in this match-up.
Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, haven’t been playing in the consistency we’ve come to expect of them. This is evident by all the points they lost in the Bundesliga, thus allowing Bayern Munich an early championship title in the league. On the bright side, this means that all they have to focus on right now is the Champions League. Nevertheless, their Champions League performances haven’t been all that consistent. They beat Zenit 4-2 in St. Petersburg, but then lost to them 2-1 in Dortmund. Zenit was one of the weakest links of the previous round as they had only six points coming out of the group stage, so losing to them at home is not a good sign for Dortmund.
Although it is not possible to write off Dortmund right now, Real Madrid seems to be the closer side to the semifinals as they have a more consistent display of dominant soccer.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
This is another extremely difficult draw to decide. Paris Saint-Germain are currently in first place in the French Ligue 1 and have a comfortable lead over second place AS Monaco. They’ve managed to dominate in the Champions League as well by beating Bayer Leverkusen 6-1 on aggregate. However, their recent match against Nice, which resulted in a 1-0 win for the Paris side, did show that they still have some problems going into the match against Chelsea. As their manager, Laurent Blanc puts it, they are struggling to play efficiently on offense. The team does not seem in tune with each other despite the star-studded offensive line. Nevertheless, it is hard for players to concentrate in league matches when there already is a comfortable lead in the standings, so this far from perfect display may be explainable. Champions League soccer has another mindset, so the players may be fit to play in the matches against Chelsea and give it their all.
Chelsea under Jose Mourinho’s guidance have been terrific. They’ve gotten some astounding results such as their recent 6-0 win over Arsenal. If it’s one thing that Mourinho has Chelsea do the best, it is definitely applying pressure on their opponents and preventing them from even starting an organized offensive movement. The way they apply pressure allows Chelsea to get the goals they want and dominate the game. They have a talented squad filled with great strikers and creative midfielders. Despite all these positive features of the team, they’ve recorded two surprising losses in the past couple of weeks. They first lost to Aston Villa and then faced defeat against Crystal Palace. Thus, like Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, too, can sometimes display far from perfect soccer.
All that being said, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea seem to have a slight advantage simply because Jose Mourinho’s team can bring the pressure when it has to.
The Champions League quarterfinals will showcase a set of closely contested matches and some great displays of soccer. The first matches of the draws will be on April 1 and 2, while the second matches will be on April 8 and 9. Mark your calendars!