Quarter-finals: Key battles and predictions
Who will make it through the four ties pulled out of the hat in the Champions League quarter-final? And will the key battles be?
- Champions League power rankings
- Vote: Who will win the Champions League?
- Jenson: Why Leicester have landed worst possible draw
Atletico Madrid v Leicester City
Leicester were denied a meeting against one of Europe’s true giants and in Atleti they face a formidable barrier to their amazing story continuing after defeating Sevilla in the last-16. Diego Simeone’s side are struggling for form in La Liga this season but have reached two of the past three Champions League finals; furthermore, their style is exactly the opposite of what Leicester excel against.
Jamie Vardy likes space to run into and Leicester punish teams on the counter, but Atleti themselves are lethal counter-attackers and have one of the best drilled defences in Europe; Simeone won’t make the same mistake as Pep Guardiola, who defended high against Leicester in December and allowed Vardy to score a hat-trick.
Leicester playing Atletico Madrid is a bit like when Arsenal play Barcelona: an English side up against a far improved version of themselves, and we know how that works out.
Key battle: Diego Godin v Jamie Vardy
Leicester City's forward Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match Sevilla FC vs Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on February 22, 2017.AFP
The England striker is coming back into form after helping to knock out Sevilla but in Godin he faces one of the most accomplished and consistent defenders operating at the top level. If the Uruguayan can shut Vardy down then Leicester will lose their most dangerous asset and most productive out-ball.
Reaction: Craig Shakespeare
" Facing a team who have reached the final in two of the last three seasons is a massive challenge but it’s just the kind of tie you expect in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are a very good team with some fantastic individuals with experience in the competition, but we’ll be ready to give everything to progress. It will be a brilliant occasion for our supporters and for everyone at the Club but, before the players can begin to think about these games, we have Premier League matches to come that are of huge significance to our season. They will be our sole focus."
Head-to-head record: Atletico Madrid 3, Draw 1, Leicester 0.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid
Borussia Dortmund v Monaco
Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates a goal.Reuters
Goals are guaranteed in a meeting of two of Europe’s most impressive attacking teams – a tie which is almost impossible to predict. Dortmund’s league form is unimpressive this season under Thomas Tuchel – a stark contrast to Monaco, who are top of Ligue 1 – but they have the greater European pedigree and set a club record with 24 goals in their eight games in Europe this season.
If Dortmund and Monaco are not regarded with the same awe as some of the other teams in this competition, that could change in the coming seasons as both possess some extremely talented young players, most notably the two French teenagers picked out in the key battle below. This tie could be a glimpse into Europe’s future at the elite level.
Key battle: Ousmane Dembele v Kylian Mbappe
Dembele is only 19 and Mbappe just 18, but both were in the France squad named this week by Didier Deschamps and could come to dominate their international team for the next decade. Both play as wide forwards; Dembele is more of a technical, creative trickster while Mbappe is more direct and pacy; both are extremely, extremely talented. They won’t come up against each other much in terms of positioning, but they hold the key to this tie.
Reaction: Thomas Tuchel
" A very exciting, difficult draw. Monaco have conquered favourites Manchester City in two spectacular games. It is a very homogenous team with great individual class and an outstanding coach. We need to have our absolute best performance twice to eliminate these opponents."
Head-to-head record: First meeting
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) celebrates with team mates Marcelo (C) and Francisco "Isco" Alarconafter scoring a goal.Reuters
The big one. These two have 16 European Cups and 58 league titles between them and currently top their respective league tables. Bayern peaked at a good time with their 10-2 destruction of Arsenal in the last-16 and while Real Madrid have gone off the boil a touch, they have won the Champions League in two of the past three seasons.
The immediate subplot which leaps out is the clash of the two managers: Carlo Ancelotti, who delivered La Decima for Real Madrid three years ago, and Zinedine Zidane, who was his assistant. "Before the final in Lisbon he said to me 'I hope you get to experience this some day as coach',” said Zidane, shortly before he did exactly that in Milan last summer. Now the master faces the apprentice.
Bayern are the more highly-functioning team on their day, even if their machine-like synchronicity has levelled off after Ancelotti replaced Guardiola, while Madrid are more a collection of stars. But that has never held them back before – notably when they demolished Bayern 4-0 in Munich in the semi-finals in 2014. Whatever happens, it will be the grandest of occasions.
Key battle: Marcelo v Arjen Robben
Thiago Alcantara, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller celebrateAFP
So many to choose from here, with Casemiro’s ability to shut down Thiago Alcantara and Philipp Lahm’s duel with Cristiano Ronaldo also potentially decisive, but we’ll go with the influence a former Madrid man could have on the match. Robben showed against Arsenal that there’s still no one better at cutting in off that right flank to shoot at goal, and in Marcelo he faces one of Madrid’s most consistent players of the past 10 years. It will be a stern test for both men.
Reaction: Carlo Ancelotti
" Matches against Real are obviously special for me. It’ll be exciting for me to go back to Madrid. By the quarter-final stage all the teams are well-known, there are no secrets anymore. Real have a fantastic team, fantastic players and a fantastic coach. It’ll be a difficult game but we’re confident and we have a chance to go through. Little things can be the difference."
Head-to-head: Bayern Munich 11, Draw 2, Real Madrid 9
Prediction: Bayern Munich
Juventus v Barcelona
Gonzalo Higuain (L) celebrates with teamate Paulo Dybala after scoring against Sassuolo.Reuters
Barca's 2015 triumph was the culmination of the first season which featured the MSN all working together and Neymar’s strike deep into injury time was the 122nd shared between the Brazilian, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. If anything, Barca have grown even more reliant on the trident as their midfield has waned, with Sergio Busquets in a notable rut.
Juventus are a more rounded team with a wider range of strategies and approaches, but without Barca’s star quality. Their best asset is their defence, which conceded just two goals in eight games, the best of any team, although the electric performances of Paulo Dybala in attack, in conjunction with Gonzalo Higuain’s prolificacy, make them formidable at both ends.
Key battle: Gianluigi Buffon v Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi’s bizarre ‘angry phone call’ celebration for BarcelonaReuters
Two of the all-time greats in their respective positions do battle again. Buffon managed to stop Messi scoring in Berlin two years ago and remains at the top of the game despite being 40 next year. Messi’s game has evolved into more of a playmaker but he still scores at a ridiculous rate, with 38 goals in 39 games in all competitions this season.
Reaction: Andres Iniesta
" It will be a passionate, difficult and beautiful tie. We will face a great team with many good players. We will have to play two great matches to get to the next round. Juventus have been in very good shape in recent years, they have a great manager who is doing things very well for a long time, they are comfortable leaders in their league and are doing well in the Champions League."