The 2021-22 edition of the UEFA Champions League has reached its captivating phase as eight teams are set to battle it out in the quarter-finals next month. Three English and three Spanish teams as well as one team each from Germany and Portugal will bring out their best in their quest for the continental title. All the quarter-finals will be held in a two-legged format, with the first legs scheduled on the 5th and 6th of April and the second legs scheduled on the 12th and 13 of April.
At the moment, there are no clear favourites among the eight teams, with all three English teams and Bayern Munich looking in prime form. A fairytale underdog story cannot be ruled out either, with both Villarreal and Benfica looking to make their mark on the international stage.
Ahead of the quarter-final fixtures, here’s our detailed look at the UEFA Champions League quarter-final draw announced last week:
LIVERPOOL vs BENFICA
Liverpool are a team on a mission at the moment, with their sights firmly set on achieving the rare quadruple of trophies. Jurgen Klopp’s men have displayed intensity and discipline on the field that has seen them inch closer and closer to Premier League leaders Manchester City. A rare slip up against Inter Milan notwithstanding, the Reds have rarely made a mistake that has cost them dearly.
Benfica, on the other hand, will be thanking their luck to advance as far as they have in the tournament. They were completely outplayed by Ajax in both legs in the Round of 16, gaining entry into the quarter-finals thanks to a goalkeeping error from the opponents. Their domestic season isn’t going smoothly either – they have managed to win just seven of their last 15 games.
Benfica might look back to their 3-0 win over Liverpool back in 2005 for inspiration, but a win against Jurgen Klopp’s dream team is too much to ask. The only setback for Liverpool is the tight schedule they are faced with in April – they will face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals before hosting Manchester United at Anfield in the Premier League. The Reds might have to rest and rotate key players for the second leg of the fixture, giving Benfica a fighting chance.
Expect Liverpool to be aggressive in the first-leg and progress to the semi-finals.
MANCHESTER CITY vs ATLETICO MADRID
Just a month ago, Manchester City were cruising at the top of European football. A series of missed opportunities has seen them squander away their lead at the top, with Liverpool just a point behind the Citizens. Pep Guardiola simply does not have the room to rest players in the Premier League games anymore as he usually does, given the relentless pursuit that Liverpool are offering. Their path to the quarter-finals offered few challenges, but their fixture against Atletico Madrid comes at an uncomfortable time for the Citizens.
Defending La Liga champions Atletico Madrid have just a fighting chance to reclaim the title, but that looks unlikely given Real Madrid’s form. Diego Simeone will now be fully focussed on defeating Manchester City in April, with the team going back to its original approach of digging in deep and looking to counter-attack at every available opportunity.
It will be a clash of two contrasting styles at the Etihad Stadium on April 5th, where Pep Guardiola’s high-press tactics will be tested against Diego Simeone’s deep-lying strategies. The two clubs have never met before in the Champions League despite being a part of the prestigious tournament for years.
Just like Liverpool, Manchester City have a congested April schedule. It will be interesting to see the strategies Pep Guardiola will adopt to keep his players fresh, as they might be facing the Reds four times in the span of three weeks.
Expect Manchester City to advance to the quarter-finals, but Atletico Madrid have the best chance of creating a major upset in the round.
CHELSEA vs REAL MADRID
Defending champions Chelsea are going through a rough time in terms of ownership and potential transfer bans, but that hasn’t affected their on-field performance so far. With their spot in the next edition of the Champions League firmly secured, the Blues can fully focus on retaining their continental trophy without worrying about league fixtures.
Thomas Tuchel’s conservative style of pressing paid rich dividends for the team last season, and they breezed past Lille in the Round of 16 with the same tactics.
Real Madrid will be low on confidence after their 4-0 loss to Barcelona in El Clasico at home, but that doesn’t materially affect their prospects. Carlo Ancelotti’s men are comfortably on top of La Liga, nine points clear off an out-of-form Sevilla. But Spanish football, in general, has been outclassed by the depth of English football in recent years, and it remains to be seen how the experienced Karim Benzema and Luka Modric will perform against the young and energetic Chelsea midfield.
Chelsea defeated Real Madrid 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals of the Champions League last year and will be eager to replicate that victory. Expect a tight contest between the two European giants.
BAYERN MUNICH vs VILLARREAL
Bayern Munich’s experiment with Julian Nagelsmann seems to be paying off, with the club comfortably ahead in the Bundesliga. Their performance in the Champions League so far has been extraordinary – they remain the only team to be undefeated in the tournament. The attacking unit led by Robert Lewandowski has scored a whopping 26 goals till now, with 12 of them coming from the Polish star alone.
Villarreal’s victory over Juventus put them on the spotlight once again, as Unai Emery’s men proved that they cannot be written off so easily. While their domestic season has been a disaster, they have shown meticulous planning and execution to bring down the Italian giants. Gerard Moreno’s return from injury will be an added boost for the team ahead of the fixture, and they will be hoping to turn heads with a second consecutive upset win.
But Bayern Munich are in a class of their own at the moment, and it will take more than sheer luck to stop them. Expect Bayern Munich to advance to the semi-finals.
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