UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finals preview

UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Preview

The draw for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals took place on March 17th. With some of the best teams in the world entering the draw, the quarter-finals look set to be highly competitive. Let’s take a look at what we can expect in the next round of the competition.

Champions League Quarter-Final Draw

The teams that are in the hat for the quarter-final draw were:

  • Atletico Madrid (Spain)
  • Barcelona (Spain)
  • Real Madrid (Spain)
  • Bayern Munich (Germany)
  • Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
  • Leicester City (England)
  • Monaco (France)
  • Juventus (Italy)

Here is the fixture list for the quarter-final:

  • Atletico Madrid (Spain) v Leicester City (England)
  • Borussia Dortmund (Germany) v Monaco (France)
  • Bayern Munich (Germany) v Real Madrid (Spain)
  • Juventus (Italy) v Barcelona (Spain)

With such strong teams making it through to the latter stages of the competition, there is no such thing as an easy draw. Atletico, however, has the closest thing to an easy matchup against Premier League Champions, Leicester.

Atletico Madrid v Leicester City – Champions League Quarter-Finals #1

Champions League Quarter Final Leicester v Atletico

Image courtesy of twitter.com

Leicester is the team that constantly defies expectations. From surviving relegation in 2015 to winning the Premier League in 2016. They are now trying to defy people even further, by trying to win the UCL. This will not be easy, however, as they are the only team that is outside of the top four in their respective leagues. Standing in their way, however, is a strong and organized Atletico Madrid side.

Under Diego Simone, Atletico has been to two finals in the last three years. They are currently sitting in fourth position in La Liga, and with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, they should have more than enough class to overcome Leicester.

Borussia Dortmund v Monaco – Champions League Quarter Finals #2

Image courtesy of twitter.com

Monaco is coming into the quarter-finals off the back of an amazing 6-6 game with Manchester City in the last round. They are looking strong domestically and currently sit atop Ligue 1, with Falcao finding the form that moved him to the UK. Monaco hope that they can continue their strong push in the tournament.

Dortmund had a slight scare in the first leg of their round of 16 tie against Benfica. They did, however, manage to bounce back and win the second leg 4-0. Combine this with decent league form and four wins in their last five games. Dortmund hope they have what it takes to reach the semi-finals.

Bayern Munich v Real Madrid – Champions League Quarter Finals #3

Champions League Quarter Final Bayern v Munich

Image courtesy of twitter.com

Well, this is the game that most people would have been happy to see in the final. Instead, we are treated to this game in the Champion League quarter-finals. This is the opportunity for current Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti, to go up against his former employers. Bayern is coming into the quarter-finals following the 10-2 demolition of Arsenal. The winner of this game will surely make the final, and should possibly be considered the favorites for the title.

Real are one of the best teams in the world. They are currently two points clear at the top of La Liga, with a game in hand. After defeating Napoli 6-2 on aggregate, Real should be full of confidence heading into the quarter-finals, and look to show once again why many consider them the best side in the world.

Juventus v Barcelona – Champions League Quarter-Finals #4

Champions League Quarter-Finals Juventus v Barceclona

Image courtesy of twitter.com

The quarter-final between Juve and Barca may turn out to be the one to watch, as the best defense faces off against the best attack. Juve comes into the quarter-final having only conceded two goals throughout the competition. Juve is dominating domestically and is likely to take home the Serie A title. They hope that with a strong defense, they can frustrate Barca who looked vulnerable in the last round.

The round of 16 was a time to forget for Barca. Losing 4-0 to PSG in the first leg was something that should never have happened. They managed to turn it around with an emphatic performance at home, but things will not be so easy against Juve. Barca is currently the leading goalscorers in the competition with 26 in total. They hope that the MSN trio can carve Juve open, as they have done with so many other teams this year.

Who do you think will make it through to the next round? Let us know in the comments below.

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Is Wenger’s Arsenal Exit Imminent?

Turbulent 2017

At the beginning of the season, it seemed very difficult to believe that Arsenal fans would be calling for manager Arsene Wenger’s head this season. Following a lackluster start start to 2017, the Frenchman’s future at the club is very much in question.

Following a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool on the weekend, the Gunners were thrashed again by Bayern Munich 5-1 knocking them out of the Champions League. Before Tuesday’s match vs Bayern, fans brought signs to the Emirates stadium which read “Wenger out”. After all of the success he has had at the club, could Arsene Wenger really be sacked?

Bayern Munich embarrassed Arsenal 10-2 on aggregate in their Champions League tie.

Well yes, but its very unlikely. Wenger’s contract expires at the end of the season and there are already rumors of him leaving in the summer. It wouldn’t make sense for Arsenal to sack him mid-season as it would shake the club up even more. Arsenal are out of the title race and European competition. With not much to play for, a sacking of a club legend surely wouldn’t be worth the media backlash.

Wait Until Summer?

Another factor at play is Wenger’s influence on Arsenal’s top players. A respected manager, Wenger helped draw Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to Arsenal despite both players enjoying massive success at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.

Wenger leaving would almost certainly mean the end of Sanchez’s time with the Gunners. The Chilean winger has been rumored to be unsettled and linked with clubs such as Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain. Ozil could also be tempted by a move as he has been somewhat of a scapegoat at Arsenal this season.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez could potentially follow their manager out of Arsenal this summer.

While the current results are not acceptable for a club like Arsenal, would a change necessarily improve thing? Wenger is arguably the greatest figure in club history and his departure would be comparable to Sir Alex Ferguson leaving Manchester United in 2013.

Four years later and United are still not the same side they were. It definitely heeds a warning to Arsenal who would almost certainly lose Sanchez and/or Ozil if Wenger leaves in the summer.

It is a difficult decision that may become clearer at the end of the season. However, at the moment, Arsenal are not performing up to standard. But a managerial change would start a rebuilding process they may not want to endure.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Can Guardiola Make the Difference for Manchester City?

Building on Last Year

Manchester City’s run in the Champions League last year was halted by Cristiano Ronaldo & Real Madrid.

 As Manchester City prepare for another run in the knockout stages of the Champions League, the burning question is whether or not the addition of decorated manager Pep Guardiola can push City over the top and into the winner’s circle. Last season, Manuel Pellegrini led City to the semifinals, the furthest they have ever gone in the competition. Guardiola, who won the tournament twice while managing Barcelona in addition to several deep runs in the tournament, knows how to organize his players on the main stage.

While very talented, Manchester City do not have the quality of European giants such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Striker Sergio Aguero and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne are world class and City have very talented youth. However, if the Champions League trophy makes it’s way to Manchester this season, it will be a result of Guardiola’s tactical genius and his ability to outsmart opposing managers.

No Easy Path

 

Monaco has scored more goals than any other club in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

City’s first test starts this week against French Ligue 1 leaders Monaco. Monaco boast an amazing 76 goals in 26 league games this season and have reignited the career of former Chelsea and Man Utd striker Radamel Falcao. The club from the south coast of France also fields several young talents, many of whom have been linked to major European clubs. Midfielders Thomas Lemar and Fabinho both feature on WhoScored.com’s Ligue XI of the year.

The key for Guardiola and Co. against Monaco is to control the tempo and not get bitten on the counter attack. Monaco don’t play possession, instead the strike quickly and decisively once they gain possession. Manchester City’s questionable defense will be tested and young John Stones will need to step up against the quick strike ability of Monaco. Yaya Toure is another player to watch as he needs to be careful not to get caught creeping to far forward in the midfield.

If Manchester City are precise with the ball and avoid mistakes, they should have enough control of the tempo to get by Monaco, but it isn’t easy to stay mistake free for ninety minutes, and Monaco will certainly put them to the test.

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Can Arsenal Break Round of 16 Curse?

As the match-ups for the Round of 16 were announced in December, Arsenal fans saw a picture that is all too familiar for them. Six consecutive seasons and six consecutive exits in the Round of 16 have shown Arsenal’s consistency, but also their underwhelming tendencies on the big stage.

The opponent this season is Bayern Munich. The Bavarian giants have twice been responsible for the Gunners’ early exits in recent years. This season, it will once again be a tall task to get by. Arsene Wenger will return to the touchline for Wednesday’s first leg and Munich and that is some rare good news for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger will hope to end a run of six consecutive Round of 16 exits for the Gunners.

Midfielder Mesut Ozil will need to be in top form if Arsenal are going to keep up with Bayern’s scoring prowess. Ozil is one of the few players on Wenger’s squad who’s talent is equal to his Bayern opponents. It will be paramount for Ozil and Prem top scorer Alexis Sanchez to show up. Defensively, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi are a quality centre back pairing, but they don’t face strikers the quality of Robert Lewandowski week in and week out in England. For Wenger and Co. it will be important to keep themselves in the tie on Wednesday so they have a shot when these two sides meet again at the Emirates in March.

Bayern are yet to recapture the magic they had in 2013, winning the tournament over arch rivals Borussia Dortmund. Carlo Ancelotti’s first season with the club has seen the look underwhelming at times in the Bundesliga. Nevertheless, the former Madrid manager has Bayern seven points atop the table and his European successes make him a dangerous opponent in this tournament.

Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski will be a handful for the Arsenal defense.

Lewandowski has as strong a case as any for world’s best striker. With him and an attack that also includes Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Douglas Costa among others, Bayern are always a threat to put up goals. And defensively, Sanchez and Co. will have their hands full on the attack against arguably the best back four in the tournament, and the world’s best goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. Many would say Bayern have the most complete side in the world and that is why they are among the favorites to lift the trophy in Cardiff this spring.

If Bayern avoid mistakes and play to the level we have accustomed them to playing, it will take something pretty special from Arsenal to advance. A good result on Wednesday could shift momentum in the Gunners’ favor, but they are clearly over-matched here. Arsenal do not have the talent at fullback and on the wing to compete with Bayern’s outside talent and that will turn out to be the Gunners downfall in a seventh consecutive Round of 16 exit.

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Champions League Prospects for City, Arsenal, Leicester

 

The Premier League has the world wide reputation for being the “best league in the world”. It is by far the most widely covered and pulls in the highest television and media revenue. But year in and your out in the past five years, Premier League teams have consistently disappointed on the big stage of European football. This year, the usual four English teams have already been cut to three after Tottenham failed to qualify for the knockout round. This leaves Manchester City, Arsenal and reigning Premier League Champs Leicester City as the three remaining hopes among English clubs.

Manchester City: Rd of 16 match-up vs Monaco

Sergio Aguero will look to lead Manchester City on a deep run in the Champions League

The Good:

City have been wildly inconsistent in all competitions in its first year under Pep Guardiola. However, they have shown they can beat anyone when playing well. They took down Barcelona 3-1 in the group stages. Guardiola is one of the most highly regarded managers in the world. It is difficult to imagine a Guardiola led side exiting Champions League in the Round of 16. City also have supreme talent on the pitch. Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero are two of the premier players on the planet. Raheem Sterling has had a bit of a resurgence under Guardiola.

The Bad:

The inconsistencies previously mentioned that have plagued City this season could very well be their downfall in the Champions League. One bad game and they could be in a hole that they cannot escape. Another concern for City is injuries. Particularly at the back where Captain Vincent Kompany is regularly injured and they have lost Ilkay Gundogan for the season. Monaco leads Ligue 1 in scoring by a large margin and will exploit any City holes at the back.

Arsenal: Rd of 16 match-up vs Bayern Munich

 

Mesut Ozil and Co. face a tough opponent in Bayern Munich.

The Good:

The Gunners have no shortage of talent. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are good enough to play anywhere. Petr Cech is still a top goalkeeper and Laurent Koscielny heads a strong back line. Like City, Arsenal clearly have upside and can have runs of brilliant play. In a brutally difficult Round of 16 match-up vs Bayern, they will need to be near perfect. But if Sanchez is finishing well and Ozil is given the ball in space, Arsenal could surprise.

The Bad:

Most of the bad for Arsenal comes from their opponent. For all of their talent, they are still severely outmatched by Bayern. It will very difficult for Arsenal to gain possession against the midfield prowess of Xabi Alonso, Arturo Vidal and Thiago. Arsenal will likely have to resort to striking off the counter attack. This is not something that possession minded manager Arsene Wenger likes to deal with. Wenger also does not have a great track record in knockout stages of the Champions League. Arsenal have been eliminated in the Round of 16 every year since 2010.

Leicester City: Rd of 16 match-up vs Sevilla

 

Riyad Mahrez will play a critical role in Leicester’s Champions League exploits.

The Good:

Well, the tale of two Leicester’s in this hangover season for the Foxes continues into the Champions League Round of 16. Claudio Ranieri’s side has looked anemic at times in its quest to defend its Premier League crown. However, in its first Champions League appearance ever, Leicester won their group to qualify for the knockout stage. Riyad Mahrez has looked significantly better in European competition and is the type of player who can single-handedly win you a game. Strikers Jamie Vardy and Islam Slimani also looked impressive in group stages. Leicester are also fortunate to not have drawn a tougher opponent in the Round of 16.

The Bad:

Quick, decisive counter attacking is the trademark style which the Foxes used to stun the world in 2016. However, in European competitions against top opponents, it can be difficult to win using such tactics. Sevilla is a very possession oriented side which will undoubtedly control the matches against Leicester. Can the Foxes find a way to strike swiftly when given a chance? It won’t be easy at this stage in the tournament.

 

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One Signing Each Premier League Contender Should Make in January

 

We are just past the halfway point in this Premier League season. As it stands, six teams are within ten points of the top. January is the final chance for these sides to polish their team as the final dash for the title is in sight.

Chelsea: Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco

Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko could help stabilize Chelsea’s midfield.

The Blues have been tearing through the league this season. New manager Antonio Conte has instilled his 3-4-3 formation into the side and Chelsea has rocketed to the top of the league. The brilliant play of summer signing N’Golo Kante has been a large reason behind Chelsea’s turnaround season. The ability to win the ball in the midfield has allowed the Blues to feed their very talented attacking players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have each enjoyed bounce-back seasons.

If a side is going to run the 3-4-3 effectively, they need excellent defensive midfield play to make up for the one less defender at the back. While Kante and Nemanja Matic have done well thus far, Chelsea is still thin at the position. Bakayoko is just 22 years old and is enjoying a breakout season for Monaco. His dribbling ability through the middle would allow Hazard and Willian to play more wide. From there they can whip in crosses to Costa, one of the best in the air in all of England. Bakayoko’s youth is enticing as Matic is 28 and has been inconsistent at times this season. Although his playing time could be limited initially, Bakayoko will undoubtedly be a big part of the future at Stamford Bridge if Conte is able to acquire his services.

Liverpool: Quincy Promes, Spartak Moscow

Liverpool target Quincy Promes has helped Spartak Moscow to the top of the Russian Premier League

In Jurgen Klopp’s second season at Anfield, Liverpool have arisen as serious title contenders at this point in the season. Their plethora of attacking players, including Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino have been very efficient in the attacking third.

However, Klopp will be without Mane for a large part of the next month. The Senegal international will be participating in the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament comes at a critical time in Liverpool’s season with matches against Manchester United and Chelsea on there horizon. Promes has had a great season at Spartak. He has netted six goals and also has six assists in the Russian Premier League as Spartak have surprised by leading at this point in the season. It may be tough to coax Promes from Spartak, but Klopp should try. Promes will give Liverpool some width while Mane is away. He can play opposite Mane, which will benefit the Reds when Mane returns from international duty.

Tottenham: Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha would bring creativity on the wing to White Hart Lane

Once again, Mauricio Pochettino has put Spurs squarely in the title conversation. Tottenham sit third in the table at the turn of the calendar year. Young players have stepped up this season, including 20-year-old midfielder Dele Alli. Spurs are fighting off Real Madrid for his services.

However, Spurs could use an outside threat to compliment their plethora of middle attacking players. Alli, Harry Kane, and Christian Eriksen have combined to score 25 goals in the league this season. All of those players are under the age of 25. 24-year-old Zaha could add to this “young core” that Pochettino has built at White Hart Lane. Zaha, who plays on the left wing at Crystal Palace, would compliment Kane, Eriksen, and Alli in the middle. Zaha is extremely skilled with the ball at his feet and has a tremendous ability to get crosses in from tough angles. Erik Lamela has been underwhelming again this season and Zaha could fill the void for Spurs.

Manchester City: Holger Badstuber, Bayern Munich

Holger Badstuber’s experience at the back could prove invaluable for Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s highly anticipated first year at the Etihad has been up and down. A victory against Barcelona in the Champions League showed City’s potential under Pep. However, they have been very inconsistent at times domestically. Their inconsistency, especially at the back, is the primary reason why they find themselves seven points adrift at this juncture.

Man City payed quite a bit to sign promising young English center back John Stones from Everton over the summer. Stones, while very talented and promising, is still raw. There has been more than one occasion where he has looked lost this season. Captain Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have continued and it is difficult to rely on him for an extended period of time. Eliaquim Mangala consistently underperforms when given a chance in the starting XI. Badstuber is very experienced at just 27 years of age. He has 119 caps for Bayern and 31 for the German National Team. While a permanent deal is unlikely, Pep could explore a six-month loan deal for Badstuber. This would give City added security and depth at the center back for the remainder of the season while Stones continues to develop.

 

 

 

Arsenal: Ricardo Pereira, Porto (on loan at Nice)

Ricardo Pereira is a perfect solution to Arsenal’s right-back injury crisis.

Arsene Wenger is notorious for not making moves in the January transfer window, even when his team could really use them. Fifth place Arsenal have been by no means bad this season, but there is always room for improvement at the Emirates.

Promising young right back Hector Bellerin will be out for an extended period of time with an injury and his predecessor Mathieu Debuchy is rumored to be at odds with Wenger and on his way out of North London. This leaves the underwhelming Carl Jenkinson as the only right back on the Gunners’ roster. Ricardo, who is on loan at Ligue 1 leaders Nice from Porto has exploded this season. His 7.6 match rating on WhoScored.com has him placed in their Ligue XI team of the season. He provides sound defending and security at the back. Pereira is also a threat going forward, with a goal and three assists this season. He could be a perfect solution in the interim while Bellerin is injured. And his ability going forward could see him utilized as a wing-back or midfielder when the Spaniard returns.

Manchester United: Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann would be an expensive, but worthwhile signing for Manchester United.

After a disastrous start to the season, Jose Mourinho has begun to right the ship at Old Trafford. Despite being ten points back of Chelsea, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Manchester United have played well throughout the season, but have failed to convert the many chances they create. 31 goals in the League is significantly less than the other five “contenders”.

Griezmann is widely considered one of the best players in the world and would not come cheap. However is precision in the final third is exactly what United need. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a pure striker who doesn’t create, and while Paul Pogba is one of the most creative midfielders in the world, he is limited going forward to do the teams reliance on him from a defensive standpoint. Griezmann would fit right into Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 as an attacking midfielder. He played this role brilliantly for France in this summer’s European Championships where he scored a tournament-high six goals. It also doesn’t hurt that Griezmann is close friends with fellow Frenchman Pogba. The two could do lots of damage if they play together under Mourinho.

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Is Higuain Deal A Sign Of Trouble For UEFA?

Juventus just acquired striker Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli for a reported 90 million Euros ($98.9 million). This acquisition takes Juventus into the conversation of Europe’s elite soccer teams giving them an elite goal scorer who found the net 36 times in 35 league appearances from Napoli last season. Even if Paul Pogba is sold to Manchester United as expected, Juventus is still the best team in Italy’s Serie A by far. Juventus has won the last five league trophies.

This presents a problem for European soccer where there are at least two, if not three, of the top leagues where the winner is almost guaranteed before the season starts. The five top European leagues are: England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1. You can essentially say Italy, France and Germany are over before they start due to one team being substantially better than the rest of the league.

Zaltan Ibrahimovic hoisting the Ligue 1 trophy in 2016. Image courtesy of m.ligue1.com

In France, Paris Saint-Germain won the league last year with eight games to go, and has won the last four league trophies. They won the league on March 13 and their last league match was May 14. The only player of importance they lost is Zaltan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United in Engalnd. They have signed four players who can strengthen their midfield and defense, while letting Edinson Cavani return to his natural striking position, rather than playing out wide to allow Ibrahimovic to play striker.

The German Bundesliga is the other league where parity is not an option, with Bayern Munich winning the last four league trophies as well. Bayern has had a tradition of bringing in the best players and doing well in the Champions League where there is an incredible amount of money for teams that do well as Bayern has in the last three years by making the semi-finals and winning it in 2013. Using this money and proven ability to win trophies they have brought in Mats Hummels from their closest domestic rival Borussia Dortmund and Euro 2016 top young player Renato Sanches. This all but guarantees that they will win the league title this season as well.

Bayern Munich during their Bundesliga trophy celebration in 2016. Photo courtesy of thesun.co.uk.

The problem for European soccer is that only two domestic competitions are really worth watching if you are a neutral fan. Spain has three teams who can win the title in Atletico Madrid, Barcalenona and Real Madrid, while England has Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottemham who can all compete without even mentioning the reigning champions Leicester City.

UEFA, the ruling body for European soccer, probably does not care about not having parity since their big money maker, the Champions League, gets huge international ratings from having the same teams make it in every year and go far into the tournament, but it can’t be good for the game as a whole to have 19 teams in a league all fighting for second place. That kills the spirit of competition and makes fans from outside those few top clubs lose interest over the long haul. If fans lose interest in their country’s competition they could decide to pick a team in a more competitive county and only watch them.

Southampton vs. West Ham United, the match that outdrew Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen. Photo courtesy of mirror.co.uk.

This has already happened in the US with more people watching a midtable match in England over the German champions playing a top four team last season. People would rather watch a match that would have no impact on the title race instead of Bayern Munich. Now, even though this is taken from the Bundesliga’s first season being broadcast in the U.S. there should still be a bigger audience. While average match attendance is better in Germany than in England the worldwide TV audience is much higher for England, due many teams having to compete every season. England also has a TV revenue of over four times that of Germany.

UEFA and the rest of the top European soccer nations have to take notice and figure out a way to get their other leagues more competitive before the international fan base forgets that the leagues are there other than the few days a year when a champion is announced.