Fight or Flight in the Final 8: Champs League Preview
Liverpool, Real, Bayern & Barça have one foot in the semis of this year's Champions League, but can any of their opponents hope to stage a comeback?
Manchester City vs. Liverpool (Tuesday 10 April, 7.45 pm)
The results at the weekend didn’t reflect what Liverpool or City are truly capable of, with both teams looking to prioritise their Champions League tie. Liverpool only need one goal to force City into scoring five to try and seal their place in the next round. And it’s not unlikely. Liverpool have already conceded five against City this season, with a 5-0 rout at the Etihad back in September. But this feels like a different Liverpool and a different City.
City’s defence is leaky, having haemorrhaged six goals in just two games
After the previous game both teams have something to prove. City’s defence is leaky, having haemorrhaged six goals in just two games, which comes in stark contrast to their March run of games where the Sky Blues only conceded one in four. Many question City’s ability to handle stronger opponents, especially when that opponent is prepared to run at them.
Similarly Liverpool don’t seem like the same team. The departure of their star player Philippe Coutinho in the January transfer market placed question marks over their ability to compete as a top team. But if anything it has galvanised them as an attacking force, with front three Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah finding form and strong bond in the wake of this departure. Can this trio perform at the very top level?
With question marks surrounding this match, this is perhaps the most tense of all ties, just as it was last week. Liverpool showed they are at least capable of shutting the game down, with their second half display commendable in denying City an opportunity to fight back. But beware – if City can overcome the deficit it will take them to another level. Domestic and European opponents will fear them, as they will demonstrate they are capable of much more than before. Right now they are a wounded animal that has to fight for its life – a far cry from the care-free prancing we have seen over lesser opponents for much of the Premier League season.
Roma vs. Barcelona (Tuesday 10 April, 7.45 pm)
Barcelona will go into this tie feeling confident against a weaker opponent, but is it deserved? They advanced to the semi-finals of the competition six years in a row between 2008 and 2013 but have stumbled in recent years. In contrast, Roma haven’t reached the last four since 1984.
The previous game’s scoreline at the Camp Nou probably didn’t come as a shock, with many expecting to see a result befitting a Barcelona team brimming with talent and experience. Barcelona were by far as impressive as one might have expected, the difference being made largely because of two unfortunate own goals on the part of Roma.
Barcelona were unconvincing for large swathes of the match
In reality, Roma had 13 shots to Barcelona’s 19 – a statistic that would be the envy of many visitors to the Catalonian cauldron. Barcelona were unconvincing for large swathes of the match with Roma manager Eusebio di Francesco dubbing the result “unfair”.
The weekend’s results saw Barça back on track with star man Lionel Messi bagging a hat-trick to see off less than impressive Leganes. It wasn’t much of a challenge for the Catalonians but they will seek to strengthen their resolve. Roma on the other hand were defeated at the hands of a Fiorentina side that has been reborn after the death of talisman Davide Astori, sealing a sixth straight win. Similarly Roma struggled to find the target with an eye watering 25 shots on goal to the Tuscan side’s three, the match ending 0-2 to Fiorentina.
To overcome Barcelona and the deficit ahead of them, Roma will need to capitalise on their away goal lifeline. They’ll also need to convert those shots on goal and Edin Dzeko will have to be on fire if they are to prevail. Roma face an uphill struggle to secure passage to the semis. They’ll be relying on their key men and their feisty home support if they are to stand a chance.
Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (Wednesday 11 April, 7.45 pm)
Bayern will be riding high after sealing their sixth consecutive Bundesliga win away to Augsburg at the weekend. But the champagne will remain on ice until after their second leg tie against Sevilla.
In contrast Sevilla crashed away to Celta Vigo at the weekend at the hands of Iago Aspas, who certainly got his revenge against his former club. As they go into their Champions League tie against Bayern, this kind of form reflects the mixed season that Vincenzo Montella has had since taking over at the end of 2017. Sevilla have progressed in cup competitions but have been underwhelming in La Liga.
The goal they take with them to the Allianz Arena will provide a lifeline for the Andalucians, as they hope to make history and progress to the semis for the first time ever. With midfield maestro Éver Banega back in action after his suspension for the first leg, Sevilla will have something extra to cling to as they make their way to Munich.
Bayern don’t just want to advance, they want to send a message – a message to say they should be taken seriously
There is something foreboding about the Bavarians in this year’s competition. They have once again asserted their dominance over their domestic sphere, but definitely have something to prove on the European stage. The strength and experience of their squad is huge, and over the last few years they have been in the shadow of the big Spanish clubs. Bayern don’t just want to advance, they want to send a message – a message to say they should be taken seriously, that they are serious contenders.
Real Madrid vs. Juventus (Wednesday 11 April, 7.45 pm)
- 13 Sept 2017: Real Madrid 3-0 APOEL
- 17 Oct 2017: Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
- 6 Dec 2017: Real Madrid 3-2 Borussia Dortmund
- 14 Feb 2018: Real Madrid 3-1 PSG
Across the alps there is a similar feeling. Juventus also look poised to continue their domestic dominance, soon hoping to complete a seventh successive domestic title. But the Italians find themselves in a much different position than their German neighbours. They hold a 3-0 deficit to the two-time holders of the competition, with arguably the world’s greatest player in full form.
All instances show how truly lethal the Portuguese has become
That contender for the world’s greatest player, Ronaldo, is in fighting form. His last three goals (all against top competition) have been one-hit strikes. His outstretched punt in Turin last week and his astonishingly athletic overhead was met by rapturous applause from an Italian crowd that is more often than not known for its hostility. Then there was his cooly effective volley in a cagey 1-1 draw against cross-town rivals Athletic on Sunday before being subbed. All instances show how truly lethal the Portuguese has become, and despite Madrid’s array of talent, he has often proved to be the difference.
The talk of the town is (quite rightly) about Real with their star power and reputation preceding them, altogether cemented after a comprehensive battering of the Bianconeri in Turin last week. But Juve have bags of attacking talent at their disposal as well. Unfortunately with Paolo Dybala unavailable after his sending off in the previous leg, danger men Douglas Costa, Juan Cuadrado and Gonzalo Higuain will have to be on top form to pull this one off.
Juventus will have to dig even deeper than they did last year in the final to overcome the task that stands ahead of them. Los Blancos are currently undefeated in 18 Champions League games at home and Juve will have to be perfectly in sync, with every aspect of the team working in tandem to beat the Spaniards. Juventus will likely choose fight over flight, but they’ll have everything coming back at them the other way.