The first leg of the UEFA Champions League 2021-22 quarter-finals are set to begin tonight as Liverpool take on Benfica and Manchester City host Atletico Madrid. Chelsea will clash with Real Madrid tomorrow in what is arguably the most competitive fixture of the quarter-finals, while Bayern Munich will hope to have an easy night against Villarreal.
Here’s our preview of the UEFA Champions League first-leg fixtures:
#1: LIVERPOOL vs BENFICA
The Reds haven’t reached the semi-finals of the continental tournament since 2019, but superb form and a young lineup might turn the tide in their favour this year. They have been fortunate to find themselves drawn against an easier opponent, giving Jurgen Klopp a chance to focus the team’s energies on the domestic tournament.
Liverpool will enter the fixture on the back of a 2-0 win over Watford last weekend. With a title-deciding fixture against the Citizens scheduled for the second week of April, Jurgen Klopp will be keen to settle the outcome in the first leg itself.
Benfica’s season has seen mixed results, with the team now third in the Primeira Liga, twelve points away from the top. They will enter the fixture on the back of a 3-2 loss to Braga last weekend, and Nelson Verissimo needs to find the right strategy to fight against an intimidating Liverpool outfit.
Benfica and Liverpool have clashed eight times in the Champions League, with the Reds winning six fixtures. Both sides are without any major injuries and are likely to field full-fledged starting XIs. Expect Liverpool to take a clear lead over their opponents in the first leg.
When: Wednesday, 6th April, 12:30 AM IST.
Where: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon.
#2: MANCHESTER CITY vs ATLETICO MADRID
Manchester City will host Atletico Madrid at the Etihad Stadium tonight as Pep Guardiola is forced to tackle challenges from all fronts. The Citizens are being given a run for their money as Liverpool trail them closely in the Premier League – just one point separates the two north England rivals.
For all their domestic glory, though, Manchester City have never been able to lay their hands on the continental trophy; they lost out to Chelsea in 2021 final. A 2-0 win over Burnley last weekend put the Citizens back at the top of the table after they lost out to Liverpool briefly, and Pep Guardiola will be keenly aware of the need to manage his squad ahead of the winner-takes-all April 10 fixture.
After conquering the other Manchester side in the Round of 16, Atletico Madrid will travel once again to the city to face a much stronger side. Atletico’s La Liga title defence is in shambles, but the team has shown that it can rise to the occasion when it comes to the Champions League. Jose Gimenez and Hector Herrera will be absent, but Yannick Carrasco will be back from suspension. Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann will lead the attack at the Etihad, but Luis Suarez could also see game-time.
This will be the first competitive encounter between Manchester City and Atletico Madrid. Diego Simeone has the experience of outsmarting Pep Guardiola – Atletico famously eliminated Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the 2016 Champions League.
Expect a fiercely competitive encounter between the two world-class managers.
When: Wednesday, 6th April, 12:30 AM IST.
Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
#3: CHELSEA vs REAL MADRID
In what is arguably the highlight of the quarter-finals, defending champions Chelsea will host Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. A surprise 4-1 loss to Brentford on Saturday has brought the Blues’ morale into question, with the defensive tactics of Thomas Tuchel backfiring against them. Despite that loss, Chelsea have ample experience in the Champions League and will be hoping to put on a more aggressive and energetic performance against Real Madrid.
A 4-0 defeat to arch-rivals Barcelona in El Clasico might have ruined Real Madrid’s straightforward march to lift the La Liga trophy, but they came back strong last weekend to win 2-1 against Celta Vigo. Carlo Ancelotti will be keen not to repeat the same mistakes that led to their 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Blues in the semi-finals last year. Los Blancos have been too dependent on last-minute heroics this season and they have to change that outlook before tomorrow to have a chance against the defending champions.
Last year’s semi-final tie was the first time Real Madrid and Chelsea had clashed in the Champions League. Expect a very close encounter this time around, with the outcome of the quarter-finals being decided only in the second leg.
When: Thursday, 7h April, 12:30 AM IST.
Where: Stamford Bridge, Chelsea.
#4: BAYERN MUNICH vs VILLARREAL
Unai Emery’s men created the biggest upset of the tournament when they eliminated Juventus in the Round of 16. The Yellow Submarines humbled the Italian giants on their own turf, as goals from Gerard Moreno, Pau Torres and Arnaut Danjuma gave the visitors a 3-0 win. But they have lost their momentum since then – losing fixtures against both Cadiz and Levante ahead of the clash against the Bavarians. Villarreal’s chances of qualifying for the next Champions League are slim, which makes the quarter-finals crucial for them to make an impact on the continental stage.
Bayern Munich haven’t secured the Bundesliga title just yet, but with a comfortable lead over Borussia Dortmund, Julian Nagelsmann’s focus is firmly on winning the Champions League. Robert Lewandowski has been phenomenal throughout the season and will be keen to score another hat-trick against the Spaniards. Corentin Tolisso sustained an injury in the game against Freiburg and will miss out on the fixture, while Alphonso Davies will not be available until the weekend.
Bayern and Villarreal clashed in the group stage of the 2011-12 Champions League, with the Bavarians prevailing on both occasions. Despite the odds of Villarreal creating an upset, Bayern Munich are the clear favourites to win the game outright.
When: Thursday, 7th April, 12:30 AM IST.
Where: El Madrigal, Villarreal.
Where to Watch: All UEFA Champions League matches can be streamed on SonyLiv and JioTV. Select matches will also be shown live on Sony Ten and Sony Six channels.
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