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Every one of the remaining eight UEFA Champions League teams knows, for the most part, the obstacles that remain between themselves and glory.
The quarter-final draw took place on Friday at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, throwing up some particularly juicy ties between some of Europe’s best clubs.
There was also the added bonus of the semi-final draw being made, allowing us to engage in some much-loved bracketology and to map out a route to the final for each team.
If you’re Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, you know you can’t meet Barcelona until the final—if they get there. If you’re Barcelona, you’ll being thinking you have got the kinder path to Madrid in June and might just find your eye skipping ahead in the bracket to future ties.
But let’s dial it back a little and focus on those four quarter-final ties. How does each team match up against one another? Who are the key men? And most importantly, which teams will be going through?
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City
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For some, all-domestic ties in the Champions League knockout stage have no magic, and that’s understandable. After all, a large part of the excitement when it comes to this competition is the chance to watch cross-continental battles and measure teams against yardsticks not usually available.
But there have been some superb all-Premier League ties in the Champions League over the years—Chelsea vs. Liverpool springs to mind—and Tottenham vs. Manchester City, at least domestically, has produced some absorbing games in recent years.
Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola are two of the most tactically astute managers on the planet, so for those chalkboard-inclined followers, this will represent an intriguing tussle. Both will look to one-up each other, to find the weaknesses in each other’s system and to compound said flaws.
Spurs will have to arrest their serious slump in form to have any chance of winning this one—they’re winless in four Premier League games, losing three and drawing one—but the streaky nature of the team means that by the time these ties roll round, they could be hitting peak levels.
Key battles: Fernandinho vs. Harry Winks, Aymeric Laporte vs. Harry Kane
Prediction: Man City progress but are pushed hard
Ajax vs. Juventus
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The narrative here is strong. Ajax knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo’s former club Real Madrid in the round of 16; can they go one better and knock out his current club in the quarter-finals?
This is a match in which near-polar-opposite styles clash. Ajax have “pass and move” etched into their DNA and stay true to Cruyffian roots on the pitch, whereas Juventus—despite being fully capable of playing the same way—take a far more simplistic approach.
As we saw against Atletico Madrid in the second leg, they’re at their most lethal when teasing in crosses for Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo in the box. They showed they can even dominate against the likes of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez.
On the ball, Ajax will look to let their flowing football do the talking, with Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech in need of another massive game if they are to get the better of Giorgio Chiellini’s streetwise defensive line, and off the ball their lives will depend on how well they can prevent crossing opportunities.
Ultimately, where Ajax likely fall short here is execution on the big stage. As impressive as they were against Real Madrid, they won’t be facing a highly dysfunctional outfit this time around.
Key battle: Matthijs De Ligt vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
Prediction: Juventus manage this one quite easily from start to finish
Barcelona vs. Manchester United
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For many, this tie is the pick of the round. When two illustrious teams of this standing go head-to-head, you can’t possibly consider giving it a miss.
Two squads packed with talent—one led by Lionel Messi, the other by Paul Pogba—will clash. The likely flow of the game will see United counter-attacking and Barca attempting to break down their opponents, and it is sure to create an impressive spectacle, with certain key battles emerging as a result of it.
United have been so good on the counter under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with Marcus Rashford running the channels, Jesse Lingard orchestrating the moves and either Romelu Lukaku or Anthony Martial popping up in different spaces to dole out damage.
Barcelona are well-versed in defending this type of attack, but it’s still difficult to stop if players blend the sort of speed and quality the Red Devils do. Barca are also experts at breaking down deep-set defences. The ability to lean on Messi’s incredible passing and shooting skills helps to see them through. They will need more of that here.
Just like against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, many will determine this mission impossible for Manchester United. The problem is, it’s in those circumstance where we tend to see the best of them.
Key battles: Lionel Messi vs. Ander Herrera, Gerard Pique vs. Marcus Rashford
Prediction: Barcelona progress after a scare
Liverpool vs. FC Porto
FC Porto are probably the team everyone wanted to draw.
That’s less an indictment on the Portuguese outfit and more a nod to the overwhelming quality present in the rest of the field. So while many might consider Liverpool the big winners of the draw for landing them, Sergio Conceicao’s men will provide a stern test regardless.
There are a couple of defining tenets to Porto’s play. From set pieces, left-back Alex Telles’ sumptuous dead-ball delivery brings their big forwards and defenders into play. In open play, Telles transitions into a wing role and allows Jesus Corona to dip inside and find space between defenders, which he uses to create chances.
This creates a strong left-sided bias to Porto’s play, meaning Trent Alexander-Arnold will need to prepare well for the movements on that flank.
But that might just be all the Reds need to worry about, as the Dragoes’ other major attacking threat, powerhouse striker Moussa Marega, plays in Virgil van Dijk’s space.
This is an excellent chance for Real Madrid fans to watch (and maybe even support) new recruit Eder Militao against top-tier opposition, and given he’s been shifted to right-back in 2019 (where he isn’t as good), he’ll likely face Sadio Mane.
Key battles: Virgil van Dijk vs. Moussa Marega, Trent Alexander-Arnold vs. Alex Telles
Prediction: Liverpool win by two goals on aggregate
All statistics via WhoScored.com.