The entertainment and drama provided by the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes once again lend credence to the belief that the continental club competition ranks as the premier football spectacle in the world.
Bayern Munich’s rout of a hapless Arsenal and Barcelona’s nerve-wracking, record-setting comeback win against Paris Saint-Germain were the highlights of the round. Sportstar on what to expect from the quarterfinal clashes.
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
Carlo Ancelotti’s return to the Santiago Bernabeu after being sacked in 2015 has a sub-plot — his Bayern Munich side will take on a Real Madrid team managed by his student, Zinedine Zidane. Ancelotti was in charge of Real when the two teams met three years ago, with Zidane his assistant. The duo guided the La Liga giant to a staggering 5-0 victory in the Champions League semifinals in 2014.
This time round, Bayern scored an incredible 10 goals against Arsenal in the Round of 16, handing Arsene Wenger’s side a 10-2 aggregate drubbing, the worst for an English side in the Champions League. With striker Robert Lewandowski enjoying another superb campaign, Bayern also benefited from the telepathic understanding between its central midfield trio of Thiago Alcântara, Arturo Vidal and former Real midfielder Xabi Alonso. A classic midfield battle is on the cards, with the troika locking horns with Real’s Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro.
Real, which downed Napoli 6-2 (on aggregate), despite coming under increasing pressure from the Italian side in both ties, will depend on the services of its famed BBC — Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo — in a 4-3-3 formation to safely negotiate the tie.
Barcelona v Juventus
In a repeat of the 2015 Champions League final, the all-Italian, three-man Juventus backline — Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli — will have its task cut out while dealing with arguably the world’s best front-three of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Barca was the 3-1 winner then and Luis Enrique’s wards will look to continue the good run after completing a near-impossible comeback win against PSG at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona overturned a 4-0 first leg deficit to win 6-1 (6-5 on aggregate) at home. A 95th minute strike from La Masia graduate Sergio Roberto sent its fans into a tizzy. The game, however, was marred by a few controversial refereeing decisions, including two dubious penalty awards to the home side.
By contrast, Juve comfortably defeated Porto, securing a 3-0 aggregate victory. Massimiliano Allegri’s side controlled the tempo over both legs and was hardly challenged by Porto. No team has conceded fewer goals — two in eight matches — than Juventus in this Champions League season. With Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala scoring freely at the other end, the Italian side will fancy its chances of breaching the leaky Barcelona defence.
Leicester City v Atletico Madrid
The contest between two of Europe’s biggest over-achievers promises to be an exciting one. Atletico had shocked the La Liga giants to win the league title in 2013-2014, while Leicester City defied all odds to win the Premier League last season. Both teams play a similar 4-4-2 formation, but Atletico — with its experience in European football — will go in to the game as the favourite. Leicester, sizzling under the new stewardship of Craig Shakespeare, will be buoyed by its herculean effort in the game against another Spanish side, Sevilla.
The Foxes overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit, with Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton scoring in a home win after Sevilla midfielder Samir Nasri was ejected for a head butt on Jamie Vardy.
Atletico Madrid sealed its place in the last eight, riding on a professional second-leg display against Bayer Leverkusen. Leading 4-2 from the first leg, the Spanish side retained its composure to hold the German team to a goal-less draw at the Vicente Calderon.
Goalkeeper Jan Oblak was the star for Atletico as he produced a string of world-class saves in quick succession to deny Bayer’s Julian Brandt and Kevin Volland.
Borussia Dortmund v Monaco
Dortmund’s clash with Monaco will give the world a chance to truly mark the potential of a few tremendously talented young individuals.
Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco has impressed in this season’s Ligue 1 and outplayed Manchester City to reach the quarters. Pep Guardiola’s City was left wondering as 22-year-old Tiemoue Bakayoko headed home the all-important goal at the Stade Louis II to help the side from southern France to overcome a 5-3 first-leg score. The 3-1 win tied the aggregate score, but Monaco advanced on the away goal rule.
Striker Kylian Mbappe, midfielder Bakayoko, left-back Benjamin Mendy have impressed with their dynamism, but they will be up against Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund, which is spearheaded by Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The likes of Ousmane Dembele, Marco Reus, Christian Pulisic, Andre Schurrle and Gonzalo Castro add more guile to the German giant, which benefitted from a Aubameyang hat-trick to thrash Benfica 4-1 (on aggregate) in the Round of 16 clash.
The games, which will see a clash between the two most astute young managers, are expected to be high scoring with complex tactical systems coming into play, as Tuchel and Jardim battle to outdo the other.
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