The Uefa Champions League returns this week with quarter final showdowns and one conspicuous detail is that absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at the stage of the competition for the first time since 2005.
This is however the year of the crowned princes vying for the crown of both mega superstars that have shared 11 Balon D’Or titles, enter Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.
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While PSG’s Mbappe was already making waves last season, Haaland has adapted to facing elites like fish to water at Borussia Dortmund but can both players leave the shadows? Or will Neymar Jr. finally leave the shadow? Perhaps this is Manchester City’s year.
Can Haaland ruin Man City’s quadruple plans?
Man City have been in imperial form this season despite a shaky start. Pep Guardiola’s side kicked into gear and went on a 28-match unbeaten run in punctured by Man United. The Cityzens have however made no secret of their thirst for European glory to justify club owner Sheikh Mansour’s humongous investments since 2008. They remain unbeaten in this season’s UCL while conceding just once so far.
Dortmund however have Haaland, the leading UCL scorer with 10 goals who can sniff a chance but a porous defence that shipped four goals against Sevilla will be no match for City’s dynamic attack. Haaland will somehow find a way to make his mark in this tie but unless his teammates can somehow keep their defence tight, expect a whipping from Man City.
Mbappe, Neymar to punish Lewandowski-less Bayern Munich
PSG finally vanquished the ghost of Barcelona in devastating fashion thanks to Mbappe and he will be joined by Neymar Jr. who returns from injury to face the defending champions in a repeat of last season’s final.
It would be a different Bayern who have lost Robert Lewandowski to injury and are suspect in defence. The Bavarians afford opponents space and they rode their luck against RB Leipzig over the weekend without their finisher. PSG is however a bigger hurdle with Mbappe and Neymar who have combined for 11 goals this season and thrive on space.
Unless they can make home advantage count in the first leg in Germany, PSG would overwhelm the champions’ out-of-sorts defence.
Will Liverpool’s rejuvenated attack expose pragmatic Madrid in Ramos’ absence?
This tie promised a proper Sergio Ramos vs Mohamed Salah battle but injury to Ramos who would likely miss both legs would further expose Real’s disjointed defence. Liverpool attack has regained its verve in recent weeks, thanks to the return of Diogo Jota.
The Portuguese winger has scored thrice in the past two games, improves Salah, Saido Mane and Roberto Firmino when on the pitch, and the quartet could tear apart Real’s shaky defence. However, Real Madrid’s greatest asset this season has been adaptation to the opposition and it comes in handy especially against big teams.
Furthermore, this Real Madrid team consists mostly players that won three successive European crowns under Zidane between 2016 and 2018, and while Ramos’ absence would be a huge blow they are best equipped to adapt. Karim Benzema is leading the line expertly and a midfield of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro can dominate a match on their day.
Chelsea to reach first semi final in seven years
Chelsea are solid but not spectacular and Porto, their opponent, are not either. What the Blues however have to their advantage is an improved defence engineered by the highly technical nature of Thomas Tuchel, their German coach, who recognized his team’s strength.
He expertly nullified the threat of Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16, keeping consecutive clean sheets and although his forwards are misfiring, the midfield does rise to the occasion.
Porto, on the other hand, will miss their focal point in attack Mehdi Taremi and midfield lynchpin Sergio Oliveira, making the job even more difficult against the Blues who went 14 matches unbeaten before a red card derailed them against West Brom at the weekend.
Expect Chelsea to take something away from Portugal and finish off Porto at Stamford Bridge in the second leg.
UCL Quarter final first/Second leg fixtures and dates
- Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund – Tuesday 6 March / Wednesday 14 March
- Tuesday 6 March – Real Madrid vs Liverpool – Tuesday 6 March / Wednesday 14 March
- Bayern Munich vs Paris Saint-Germain – Wednesday 7 March/ Tuesday 13 March
- FC Porto vs Chelsea – Wednesday 7 March / Tuesday 13 March