Champions League: Liverpool out for reconciliation against Real Madrid, Manchester City hope to end quarter-final jinx
Real Madrid vs Liverpool, Man City vs Dortmund, Bayern vs PSG, Porto vs Chelsea; there are the matches we'll witness play out over Tuesday and Wednesday, with signature capriciousness of the traditional Champions league quarter-finals.
Before you thought winter would never get over, summer's here. And now summer can't get over soon enough. Champions League football, the quarter-final stage of the competition has taken its sweet time to get here.
Tonight, the dense web of ennui breaks again for the European football fan.
Real Madrid vs Liverpool, Man City vs Dortmund, Bayern vs PSG, Porto vs Chelsea; there are the matches we'll witness play out over Tuesday and Wednesday, with signature capriciousness of the traditional Champions league quarter-finals. Thereby instilling a sense of continuity.
With or without the fans we expect a certain range of conviction of players to remind and inform us of ours, in these strange, isolated lockdown days.
Real Madrid vs Liverpool (Tuesday)
Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, said his team is not out for revenge for their Champions league final loss in 2018. But he and his team are certainly out for reconciliation.
Klopp said in the pre-match press conference: “It was a strange night for us, but it’s long ago and I cannot get that feeling, that anger, back so I don’t even try. What I try is to prepare my team for tomorrow to show how good we are. In a strange and difficult season for us we want to show how good we are and if we are better than Real Madrid or score more goals then we go to the next round and if not then it is Real Madrid. It is pretty easy.”
A much more naive team faced a battle-canny Real Madrid that night. Sergio Ramos pulled down Mohamed Salah by the arm, and it was curtains there and then. The collective Liverpool vertebrae fell like a pack of dominoes.
It was a difficult teething period, but when they finally bared their teeth, they won almost every competition they sunk them into. Now, seventh in the Premier League, this Liverpool team plays like an alpha elephant with a toothache. None more so apparent than through the form of Sadio Mane.
3 goals from 36 shots since late November, with a 10% conversion rate, is a direct metaphor to Liverpool's ails. Mane was touted as the Ballon D'or contender to finally stop the Ronaldo - Messi axis of power. Liverpool were touted to win back-to-back Premier League titles, and establish a dynasty. Both were top form at Christmas, and by Easter not even a part of a conversation for prizes.
Klopp said: “I gave an interview after the Leipzig game to Lothar Matthäus in Germany and I honestly thought it doesn’t look really likely there is any chance for us to qualify for the Champions League through the league.” And now after an emphatic win vs Arsenal, they are within two points of the qualification spot.
Real Madrid, though look and have the feel of tottering giants, have won their last three league encounters, and are third in the LaLiga table. They however will be without an injured Ramos. In previous two iterations of knockout games, Real Madrid, without their captain, have been sent packing.
All tactical eyes ought to be on how the defensive midfielders - Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Liverpool’s Fabinho - boss the midfield. That could decide that pattern of the match.
Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund (Tuesday)
Manchester City and quarter-finals is a bad romance. Three straight exits in the last three seasons, despite a wealth of riches and resources, means an added impetus that Pep Guardiola will be putting on his team.
Despite winning 26 games out of 27 in the league, everyone associated with the club is fully aware of where the priorities lay. The Champions League win is the Golden Goose, they as the nouveau riche, need to throw their hat on the table of the European legacy clubs. Standing in their way is one of them, one with the reputation of giant-killers, Borussia Dortmund.
Guardiola has tried to play down the pressure in his pre-match press conference: “I want to be honest with you. I've prepared this game like I prepared the previous one, and the one before that, and all the games in the last two to four months.”
Why fix what isn't broken, sure, but Pep should be mindful of what happened in Lyon last season. Like Lyon, this Dortmund team is hurting. A defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt over the weekend, has left them further adrift of their bread and butter Champions League spot. RB Leipzig and Wolfsburg are above Dortmund with Bayern Munich leading - as usual.
Dortmund will be without the injured Jadon Sancho, therefore stifling an already out-of-step supply line.
But when you look at their teamsheet and perhaps see the names of Marco Reus, Erling Haaland, Thorgan Hazard, you'll realise that the Dortmund team is lined up with players who put the hammer down especially when the odds are steep. Their coach, Erin Terzic, will be banking on that very spirit of Deutsche disruption.
Bayern Munich vs Paris St Germain (Wednesday)
This should be delectable. Last year’s Champions League final participants on your screen at this year's quarter-final stage, sans the effervescent, injured Robert Lewandowski. While on the PSG side of things, they are looking to welcome Neymar back into the fold.
The prospect of revenge should be tantalising for PSG, but an informed viewer would expect Hans-Dieter Flick’s Bayern to set up for the counter-attack, with a defense-first approach against an attack-heavy PSG side.
PSG cannot be sucked into this obvious trap especially without the injured Marco Verratti. Ander Herrera will have to do the bulk of the midfield control work, fending off the ankle bruising tackles of Bayern’s Leon Goretzka. This Saturday’s embarrassing loss against Lille sees them second in the league table, and should be on the back of their minds, but not occupy the front of it. Discipline is the keyword.
Try too hard though without good judgement, the forward line of Leroy Sané, Thomas Müller, Kingsley Coman; Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting could slice PSG up.
Porto vs Chelsea (Wednesday)
Mehdi Taremi and Sérgio Oliveira will be key absentees for Porto. But having seen off powerhouse Juventus, they will be hosting Chelsea with confidence-and-a-half.
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel is more than aware of Porto’s stripes: “Porto deserved to beat Juventus – they made a statement with those two games. They have a good mix between deep defending and high pressing. They scored and created a lot of chances against Juventus and, I mean, it's Porto. They have a history of winning knockout games. You cannot underestimate this value. At the same time, we feel confident that we can overcome Porto."
Chelsea have every cause to worry as Porto's strength lies exactly where Chelsea ails. Balls fed in behind the back line was a play West Brom used to inflict an astounding 5-2 loss on Chelsea. Porto could repeat that tactic rather well.
Champions League: Bayern Munich are 'better team' and will beat Paris Saint-Germain, says Joshua Kimmich
"I believe that we will progress, because we're the better team," Kimmich told the club's website. Bayern need to overturn a 3-2 defeat from last week's first leg in Munich.
Bayern had their 19-match unbeaten run in the Champions League ended in a repeat of last year's final, as the German giants suffered their first European defeat since March 2019.
Of the 103 goals Bayern have scored either in the Bundesliga or Champions League this season, Lewandowski has contributed to 46 of them with either a goal or an assist.