Champions League Preview: Madrid Derby Time

Atlético Madrid vs. Real Madrid

BBC in training

Image: AFP

This quarterfinal matchup sees a rematch of last year’s tournament final as the two Madrid teams square up once again. This season’s matchups between the two rivals has been dominated by Atlético, with Diego Simeone’s men winning four of the six matches, and Real failing to register a victory in those fixtures. Despite this rivalry dominance, Los Blancos currently sit seven points ahead of Tuesday’s opponent in La Liga.

Last round, both of these sides were nearly eliminated by their German competition. Bayer Leverkusen pushed Atlético all the way to spot kicks before falling to their Spanish hosts. Real, on the other hand, were almost on the wrong end of one of the greatest Champions League comebacks in recent history. Having beaten Schalke 2-0 in the away fixture, the Spanish giants were consummately dominated by the German visitors and were lucky to survive on aggregate after a 4-3 loss at home. Since these rough fixtures, Real have won four of five and gone undefeated in four matches.

As usual, the focus will be on players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale up top for Real, and Atlético’s ability to contain this intimidating attacking force for a seventh game in a season. Ronaldo has been in unstoppable form in the previous four matches, scoring eight goals, including his first ever five-goal game in a 9-1 victory over Granada. In the six games against the Rojiblancos, however, the reigning Ballon d’Or holder has only managed to score once. If Diego Godin and Miranda are able to bend but not break, their side could leave with a vital home win. I think that the hosts will hold off Carlo Ancelotti and Ronaldo and win 2-1.

Juventus vs. Monaco

Monaco was the talk of the town after knocking out heavily favored Arsenal in the Round of 16. The French side is seen as one of the weaker teams left in the tournament, but Juve will be in for a rude awakening if they expect an easy path to the semi finals. Monaco have shown that travelling does little to affect their form having won twice and only losing once in their four away games this campaign. The trip to Turin on Tuesday will provide a good difficult test for the Ligue 1 side and will require an amazing defensive effort if they want to stay relevant for the second leg. Danijel Subasic is sure to have a busy night, and his performance could determine Monaco’s future in the tournament.

The hosts are coming off of a complete dismantling of Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16, beating the German outfit 5-1 on aggregate. Juventus has been dominant domestically, as well, currently sitting 12 points ahead of second-place Roma in Serie A. The play of Carlos Tevez up front paired with Paul Pogba (who unfortunately will miss both legs) and the evergreen Andrea Pirlo in the midfield have shaped a dominant team that any club left in the Champions League would fear to play. The Italian squad is heavily favored in this matchup, and rightly so. Juventus Stadium has yet to see a home loss in this year’s Champions League, and the hosts have only given up three goals in the four home games.

As much as I love going with the underdog, I have to pick Juventus in this fixture. The Italian giants just offer too much class and skill from back-to-front for Monaco to eek out an upset. The French side’s Cinderella tournament run will essentially come to an end Tuesday night as Juve will walk away with an insurmountable 4-0 victory.

PSG vs. Barcelona

In arguably the biggest matchup of the quarterfinals, Barcelona will travel to Paris to take on PSG in a rematch of the group stages. The Catalan outfit has strung together a ten-game unbeaten streak, but lost precious ground in La Liga title race when they drew against Sevilla at the weekend. Barca were able to knock out Manchester City last round, and had it not been for the heroic effort of Joe Hart in net for the English side, the aggregate score line would’ve looked much worse than 3-1. Barcelona head into this match with only one major absence as Dani Alves will miss the match through injury. This means that the attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar (who have accounted for 64 combined goals this season) will be in full force. All three of the strikers have scored against PSG this season, with Neymar and Messi scoring in both legs. This almost unstoppable goal scoring threat should keep Salvatore Sirigu busy in net.

The main storyline for the hosts this game will be who isn’t on the field. One of the most feared strikers in the game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will be watching from the stands after being sent off against Chelsea in the Round of 16. Joining the Swede off the pitch will be Marco Veratti, Serge Aurier through suspension, David Luiz and most likely Thiago Motta through injury. The Ligue 1 side will have to rely on the momentum they gained through their historic comeback victory at Stamford Bridge last round and hope that Edison Cavani will be able to continue his goal scoring form (three goals in the last three games) if they want to continue their treble hopes and advance in the tournament.

When these two teams met in the group stage, they split the results with PSG winning at home 3-2, and then falling at the Camp Nou 3-1. The loss of Ibrahimovic changes this fixture dramatically. Granted, Cavani is a world class striker that is fully capable of scoring goals, he just does not provide the same all around threat that his Swedish strike partner does. The suspensions and injuries befalling the French team will be its downfall this week as they lose to Barcelona at home by a score of 2-1.

FC Porto vs. Bayern Munich

One of the heavy favorites to win the Champions League this year has to be Bayern Munich. The Bavarian powerhouse strikes fear into the hearts of whomever they play and possess an unmatched depth of quality at virtually every position. The last time the Bundesliga leaders played in Europe they completely dismantled Shaktar Donetsk 7-0 at the Allianz Arena. Even with the expected absences of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern head into this match as clear favorites. The return of Philip Lahm and Thiago to the midfield and defense should encourage Munich fans, and the brick wall defense of David Alaba, Jérome Boateng and Manuel Neuer among others will feel very confident going into Wednesday’s matchup. Including the 7-0 thrashing of their Ukranian opponents, Bayern hasn’t given up a goal in open play since March 7th.

Things already look bleak for the Portuguese hosts when they were drawn against their German opponents. Then, it managed to get even worse as star striker Jackson Martinez, who was tied for the team lead in European goals with five, was reported to be doubtful for Wednesday’s match. Last round, Porto put together an impressive 4-0 victory over FC Basel, but they face a much tougher test against their next opponent. In the group stages, Porto faced off against Bayern’s Round of 16 opponent and tied both games. They tied the team that Bayern put seven goals past. On paper, this match is Bayern’s to lose, but there is always the possibility of an upset and it will take a massive upset for Porto to advance.

Even though this game is being played in Portugal, I’d be a fool not to pick Bayern to win this one. There is just too much skill and star power on the German front for Porto to overcome. The loss of Martinez up front doesn’t do Porto and favors and I expect Munich to leave the Iberian Peninsula with a comfortable 2-0 victory.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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