APRIL 18 ― The Uefa Champions League quarter-finals conclude this week with Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Juventus holding leads from the first leg, and I think three of them will go through ― but one to suffer from a rousing comeback.
The biggest margin of victory in last week’s games came in Turin, where Barcelona were on the receiving end of a 3-0 thrashing after being outplayed by Italian champions Juventus in a rematch of the 2015 final.
It was not the first time that Barca have found themselves hit by a heavy away defeat in this season’s competition, and they are hoping that history will repeat itself after the previous round’s first leg 4-0 loss at Paris St Germain was followed by a truly extraordinary 6-1 win in the second leg.
But I can’t see that happening this time around. Juventus are a very different proposition to PSG, especially in defence where it’s almost impossible to imagine veteran goalkeeper Gigi Buffon and trusty warhorse Giorgio Chiellini allowing their team to capitulate.
Of course, nothing is impossible and if Barca can score an opening goal in the first 15 or 20 minutes, they will gain new belief that another great escape is on the cards. And with the attacking brilliance of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez at their disposal, it’s always possible for the Spanish team to score four or five goals against any opposition.
The way they have been playing in recent weeks, however, it is highly unlikely that Barca will be able to do what’s required at the other end of the field, because they are looking extremely vulnerable in defence.
Saturday’s 3-2 league victory over Real Sociedad, which could have easily finished 5-5 if both teams had made more use of their chances, means that Barca have now conceded seven goals in their last three games, and only kept two clean sheets in their last 13.
With Juve’s attack containing plenty of firepower in the form of Gonzalo Higuain, Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and especially rising star Paulo Dybala, I think we can expect the Italians to score at least once at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night and progress without too many difficulties.
Another away team I am expecting to advance comfortably are Atletico Madrid, who displayed their defensive prowess last week by restricting Leicester City to zero shots on target as they gained a 1-0 advantage from the first leg.
Although a one-goal lead is obviously slender, the fact that Atletico kept a clean sheet is highly significant. It means they only have to score once to leave Leicester in need of at least three goals to advance, and conceding three goals is something that hardly ever happens to Atletico.
Dazzling French forward Antoine Griezmann is always lauded as Atletico’s best attacking player, and rightly so because he is a sublime talent. But they also possess another major weapon who I believe can play a big role tonight: Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco, whose ability to run with the ball at great speed is ideally suited to the counter-attack.
Carrasco is one of those players who scores in streaks, so it’s pretty ominous for Leicester that he ended a two-month barren spell with two goals in Atletico’s weekend victory over Osasuna, and it would not be surprising to see him on the target again tonight to secure his team’s progress.
The tie of the round sees another Spanish giant, Real Madrid, take on the mighty Bayern Munich, and Real have a strong advantage thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s two goals in last week’s 2-1 win in Germany.
Bayern possess enough talent to overturn that kind of deficit, especially with lethal Polish striker Robert Lewandowski back in the team after injury, but Madrid’s blend of quality, confidence and never-say-die spirit is tough to overcome. It might be close and nervy near the end, but I think Zinedine Zidane’s men will just have enough to prevail.
That leaves Monaco’s tie with Dortmund, whose hopes were hit with a 3-2 home defeat last week after the game was delayed by a day due to a serious attack on the German team’s bus, only avoiding fatalities through good fortune.
Although Dortmund face a tough task in winning by two goals in the French principality, I think they have the best chance of all the teams who lost last week because they will be fired by a serious sense of injustice.
Following the attack on their players before Tuesday’s scheduled kick-off, Dortmund were furious that Uefa basically forced them to play the game just one day later without any kind of discussion or negotiation, and it’s no surprise they were not in the right frame of mind to compete.
This time, however, they will be more than ready and last week’s incidents have probably created an atmosphere of solidarity and togetherness within the Dortmund ranks that could take them a very long way ― and, more prosaically, the return of star forward Marco Reus from injury is another important factor.
Monaco possess an extremely talented squad but also a young and very inexperienced one, and it will be a major test of their character and maturity if Dortmund can score the first goal. I’m backing that to happen, and for Dortmund to take a 3-1 win which will send them into the semi-finals.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.