A Special UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals
The quarterfinals of the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League competition are now set. Spanish giants Barcelona are pitted against the weakest team in the draw, Roma. Sevilla were unlucky to draw Bayern Munich, while Real Madrid will once again square off against Italian champions Juventus, repeating the 2017 finals clash. Finally, Manchester City and Liverpool were drawn together ensuring only one Premier League team makes it to the semifinals.
Barcelona should have no problem with Roma who needed an away-goal ruling to advance over Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukranians, who won 2-1 at home but lost 0-1 to the Italians in Rome, played with 10 men the last 16 minutes of the latter game. It should also be noted that Barca are clicking on all cylinders including the recently healthy Ousmane Dembele, who has been on fire the past several matches.
Lionel Messi, who will enter the World Cup with the same trepidation as the past three, will seek to cement his legacy, ahead of any potential debacle this summer, with another UEFA Champions League crown. Similarly, Barca coach, Ernesto Valverde, would love to take his team to a potential treble to establish himself among the recent winners to have coached the Catalans. Should Barca have to do this by going through powerhouse Bayern, archrivals Real, or against Barca legend Pep, all the sweeter.
Sevilla, who are having a good but not great Spanish La Liga season, sitting in fifth place, eleven points adrift the fourth and final automatic Champions League berth, will be hard put to keep up with a Bayern Munich who are peaking at the moment. The Spaniard’s hard fought and well-earned away win over Manchester United notwithstanding, the Germans seem a bit too strong and Sevilla would need some good fortune to pull off the upset.
Meanwhile Bayern, the backbone of Die Mannschaft (translation—The Team—or the German National Football Team), will be looking to provide the world with a tweak ahead of a World Cup most think the Germans will win handily. Would it not have near universal bragging rights should they win both tournaments, mostly with the same players, in the same year. If you add what they achieved at their 2017 Russian Confederations Cup cake walk with second stringers, they have clearly staked their claim. Asked why he had decided to base the German World Cup camp in Moscow despite playing group games away from that location, coach Joachim Low said, “Because once you start playing the knock out round most games are centered around Moscow.” Oh, ok, the group win is a given, then. All competitors beware.
Real Madrid are in the driver’s seat against a team they have owned the past several times they have met. Juve, though, may be ready to make that final push this year as Gigi Buffon is contemplating retirement and winning the one trophy missing from his case at home might just be the inspiration this aging team needs. Those who look back to prior Real-Juve clashes, though, might do well to remember there are key players missing on the Italian side and while they might have the experience and the emotional inspiration, Real are floundering at home and only have the Champions League to left to provide redemption this season.
The Spaniards are slowly getting back to their world-beating selves and not a second to soon. If Cristiano Ronaldo wants to ensure his legacy ahead of a World Cup in which most do not see Portugal as a protagonist, this is his only shot. The rest of the maligned BBC will also be joining in that redemption boat as Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will not be in Russia this summer. So, look for the Spaniards to tee off against the defensive minded Italians in preparation for what will be more formidable and balanced competition ahead.
Manchester City, the runaway leaders of the Premiership, will have a very motivated Liverpool to contend with in this competition. The Reds might be fourth on the table, 21 points adrift the leaders, but these teams have split their last three match-ups going back to March of 2017 (1-1, 5-0 Man City, 4-3 Liverpool). Their overall, all-time head-to-head stands at 54-52 to Man City, not a large advantage. But, truth be told, City are playing much better than the Reds and it will take a super performance from Jurgen Klopp’s boys to pull this off. The odds makers and most pundits believe the Reds should be considered the underdogs to Pep Guardiola’s team.
Man City’s coach will be looking to make history himself, catching up to those two coaches who have won three Champions League titles (Bob Paisley, Liverpool, 1977, 1978, 1981, and Carlo Ancelotti, AC Milan 2003, and Real Madrid 2007, 2014), while besting his nemesis, Jose Mourinho, with whom he is tied at two UCL wins apiece.
Should the expected four reach the semifinals, we will be treated to one of the better Champions League exhibitions in recent memory as all four would be coming in on a roll and each will be hungry to move on for their own very personal and motivating reasons. Furthermore, with a potential 70 players on their combined rosters almost certainly bound for the 2018 World Cup, there will be no lack of quality on display nor of motivation for them to play themselves onto starring summer roles. Buckle up fans, this will be a UCL to remember.