The eight teams remaining in Champions League play have enjoyed a two-week break for international play heading into the quarterfinal round, but they’re set to get back to action this week when play resumes.
Elimination is looming for half the competing teams, so let’s take a closer look at who will advance to the semifinal round.
Sevilla FC vs FC Bayern Munich
While Sevilla has done a fine job to get this far in the tournament, it’s hard to see how Los Rojiblancos can advance beyond the current round of play. They managed to defeat a talented Manchester United squad in the Round of 16, although Jose Mourinho’s tepid gameplan has certainly helped their cause. Sevilla is expected to be fully healthy entering the game, with former Manchester City winger Jesus Navas returning to practice this week.
Unfortunately for Sevilla, their opponent is Bayern Munich, who are currently solidly in the top spot of the Bundesliga with an astounding goal differential of +52. Bayern has now set its sights on European glory in the CL, with veteran stars such as Robert Lewandowski, Franck Ribery and Arturo Vidal coupled with exciting young players like James Rodriguez and David Alaba. With many of their starters rumored to be moving to the transfer window at the end of their current campaign, this is a team who have the desire and the talent to bring the CL trophy to Bavaria this year.
Prediction: Look for Bayern Munich to control the tempo of the matches against the weaker squad, winning 6-2 on aggregate.
AS Roma vs. FC Barcelona
Roma, currently third in the Serie A table, have advanced to the quarterfinal round in spite of losing main goal-scorer Mohamed Salah to Liverpool in last summer’s transfer window. I Giallorossi are currently led by sought-after striker Edin Dzeko with 14 goals in Serie A competition, as well as midfielder Daniele De Rossi and defender Aleksandar Kolarov. Another top-shelf player for the Italian side is Roma goalkeeper Alisson, who is currently being heavily courted by Liverpool and several other top clubs in Europe. Roma is keen to advance to the semifinals, having never advanced to that level in any European club competition since 1991, but the team needs to eliminate Barcelona first.
Any success the Yellow and Reds might have rests largely with shutting down Barca’s maestro Lionel Messi, who has recently been hampered with a hamstring injury, but is expected to play. But even without Messi, Barcelona have a talent-laden squad beginning with Uruguayan international Luis Suarez, who is just as prolific in goal-scoring as Messi. While recent arrival Philippe Coutinho already played in the CL for Liverpool this season and is ineligible to play for Barca, stalwarts like Andres Iniesta in the midfield and Gerard Pique in central defense provide formidable firepower against any team.
Prediction: It is a tribute to Serie A for a team other than Juventus to compete in the semifinal round of the Champions League. But advancing against Shakhtar Donetsk on away-goal differential cannot be compared to attempting to garner a victory against a star-studded squad such as Barcelona. Look for the Blaugrana to advance to the next round with an aggregate score of 6-2.
Liverpool FC vs. Manchester City FC
Manchester City has already nearly clinched an EPL title, but its season would not be complete without garnering European silverware. Having never won in the Champions League (or its predecessor, the European Cup), this is a trophy that both manager Pep Guardiola and the Sky Blues management covet. Having lost just one match in the EPL this season while scoring 88 times and ceding just 21 goals, they are having a stellar season. With the team powered by Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling up front, a midfield led by Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva and a defense anchored by Nicolas Otamendi, it’s hard to see Man City not advancing.
No one, however, should make the mistake of looking past their opponent. Liverpool, with a goal differential of +40 while trying to hang on to third place in the EPL standings, manager Jurgen Klopp has this team believing they can beat any team. Their strength lies in their attack, with Mohamed Saleh and Roberto Firmino netting 29 and 14 goals respectively. Having lost only four times this season, if the Liverpool goal-scoring juggernaut isn’t contained, Man City will find itself in a tough fight to advance.
Prediction: Look for both teams to look to create ample scoring chances after some initial tentative play early in the matches, with Manchester City advancing to the next round via a 7-5 aggregate scoring advantage.
Juventus FC vs. Real Madrid CF
Juventus is once again positioned to lift the Coppa Campioni d’Italia. After beating Tottenham in the last round of the CL, the Old Lady was hardly convincing, advancing with an aggregate score of 4-3. Although there is little doubt that veteran goalkeeper and team captain Gianluigi Buffon will continue to inspire his troops on the field, their overall play this season on the pitch has been somewhat underwhelming by their standards. Strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Paolo Dybala have had a solid season, scoring 15 and 18 times in Serie A respectively. In the midfield, however, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and Blaise Matuidi are all past 30 years of age and seem to have lost a few steps. The Juve defense also seems to be more suspect with the departure of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan.
For Real Madrid, who surprisingly are currently in third place in La Liga, silverware is a must, and the CL offers Los Blancos their last chance to hoist a trophy this year. With manager Zinedine Zidane a possible casualty of their season, along with players like Gareth Bale and Isco, this team is never to be counted out, as Paris Saint-Germain found out in the last round of the tournament. With team leader Cristiano Ronaldo back in form and the team playing well lately, no one should make the mistake of overlooking this talent-laden squad. Keep in mind that Los Blancos have won three of the last four Champions League finals.
Prediction: Both teams will begin their matches a bit tentative in their attacks, but the quality and speed of the Spanish side will give Los Blancos a noticeable advantage, thus saying arrivederci to the Old Lady and advancing to the next round by a 5-2 aggregate score.