Predicting Man City-Real Madrid, Arsenal-Bayern, more


With eight strong sides in the pot for Friday’s Champions League quarterfinal draw, we knew we would get some incredible pairings in Europe’s elite competition, but this draw really did deliver in terms of talking points, drama and entertainment value. From Manchester City vs. Real Madrid — a rematch of last season’s semifinal — to PSG vs. Barcelona, there are storylines galore.

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We also know the semifinal path for all eight sides, so let’s break down the storylines, key players and make some predictions.

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359132ARSENAL vs. BAYERN MUNICH

Backstory/What you need to know

Look away, Arsenal fans. Bayern Munich have scored five goals past the Gunners in each of the past three encounters — twice in 2017 and in 2015 — and just to add to the sense of this being the worst possible draw in terms of history for Arsenal, the tie will see former Tottenham forward Harry Kane return to North London with Bayern to face his old foe.

Now this is clearly a different Arsenal to the teams that were humiliated by Bayern in their most recent meetings. Mikel Arteta’s side are top of the Premier League and in the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in over a decade, while Bayern face missing out on the Bundesliga title for the first time since 2011 this season.

But Bayern are unquestionably a bogey team for Arsenal.

In 12 previous meetings, Bayern have won seven and Arsenal just three, with two draws between the sides, but it is when the clubs meet in the knockout stages that things really get bleak for Arsenal. The two sides have met on four occasions in the Champions League knockout rounds and Bayern have emerged victorious each time, with the Germán giants winning 10-2 on aggregate in the 2016-17 round of 16 tie.

This isn’t just about revenge for Arsenal: Beating Bayern is also about proving they belong against the very biggest European teams.

Key players and/or tactical battle

Arsenal’s job in this game is simple: Stop Harry Kane. The England captain has scored 36 goals in 34 games in all competitions for Bayern since joining from Spurs last summer, and Arteta will need his best defender, William Saliba, to nullify Kane over the two games.

Saliba’s absence in the final weeks of last season coincided with Arsenal’s decline and eventual finish as runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League, but he is back to his best this season and his head-to-head with Kane could decide the outcome of this tie.

How Arsenal can win

Beating Porto in the round of 16, albeit via a penalty shootout, was a key moment for Arsenal’s young team in terms of their belief that they can succeed in the Champions League, but they will have to take it to another level against Bayern. Arsenal have the pace and energy, plus the creativity of Martin Ødegaard in midfield, to tear Bayern apart. It’s all about Arteta ensuring that his players treat the game in isolation rather than contemplate the history and tradition of Bayern.

Historically this tie has not been much of a contest, but in the here and now, Arsenal are more than a match for Bayern. They just have to believe it.

How Bayern Munich can win

Bayern’s experience is the key to their prospects of success, both in terms of their players and coach Thomas Tuchel. This Bayern squad is still stacked with players from their 2020 Champions League win, while Tuchel knows all about winning this competition having done so with Chelsea in 2021.

If the likes of Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Kingsley Coman perform, with Kane providing the goals, Bayern can overcome a confident young Arsenal side through sheer experience.

Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-2 Arsenal

This game is such a tough one to call, but Bayern have the nous and the advantage of the second-leg at home, so they will shade it.

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1068124ATLÉTICO MADRID vs. BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Backstory/What you need to know

For two teams that have become such established Champions League competitors, this is a rare head-to-head fixture, with Dortmund and Atlético only meeting four times previously in the competition and never in the knockout rounds. But with such a heavyweight look to the quarterfinals, this matchup is probably the one that both clubs would have chosen in order to give themselves the best possible chance of reaching the semifinals and possibly even the final.

When Dortmund won the Champions League for the only time in 1996-97, they face Atléti twice in the group stage, winning 1-0 in Spain before losing 2-1 in the return fixture in Germany. When the sides met again in the 2018-19 group stage, Dortmund won 4-0 at home before losing 2-0 in Madrid.

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2:44

Are Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund dark horses in the Champions League?

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens react to Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund being drawn against each other in the Champions League quarterfinals.

But while the immediate priority is to get through this tie, the prize of winning is bigger than simply reaching the semifinals. With the favourites (Arsenal, Bayern, Real Madrid and Manchester City) in the other half of the draw, coaches Diego Simeone and Edin Terzic will be able to plot a route to the final at Wembley — facing either Barcelona or PSG — in the belief that they will each have a strong chance of success in the semis … if they get there.

Key players and/or tactical battle

This tie is unusual in that it involved two teams who rely on the collective rather than individual brilliance to overcome opponents, but Dortmund’s biggest task will be to win the midfield battle against Atlético. That is where the power lies in Diego Simeone’s team, with the tenacity and industry of Koke, Marcos Llorente and Rodrigo De Paul behind the attacking quality of Antoine Griezmann, Álvaro Morata, Ángel Correa and Memphis Depay.

Can Dortmund match up with Emre Can, Marcel Sabitzer, Marco Reus and Julian Brandt? They have the ability, but do they have the work-rate to overcome Simeone’s team?

How Atlético Madrid can win

Atlético eliminated an Inter Milan side that is flying at the top of Serie A this week by displaying the classic qualities that Diego Simeone has imposed on his teams — work-rate, never-say-die attitude and underappreciated quality. If they have the same approach against Dortmund, Atlético’s superior quality in every area of the pitch should see them through.

They also have a formidable home record to defend. Atlético haven’t lost a Champions League knockout tie at home since a 3-2 defeat to Ajax in the 1996-97 quarterfinals. They have 10 wins and 7 draws since that loss.

How Borussia Dortmund can win

Manager Edin Terzic needs forwards Donyell Malen and Jadon Sancho to be at their absolute best over the two ties. Sancho limped out of the round of 16 second-leg win against PSV Eindhoven after scoring the opening goal, so getting the on-loan Manchester United winger fit for the quarterfinal will be crucial.

Dortmund have plenty of experience in Mats Hummels, Niklas Süle, Reus and Can, which is a positive for the Bundesliga side, but whether they can keep pace with Atlético over two legs remains to be seen.

Prediction: Atlético Madrid 4-2 Borussia Dortmund

Atlético have everything in their favour. They have a deeper squad, better players and a supreme coach in Diego Simeone.

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86382REAL MADRID vs. MANCHESTER CITY

Backstory/What you need to know

Reigning champions Manchester City against Real Madrid, the most successful club in Champions League history, in a tie that everybody wanted to see apart from the two teams themselves.

Pep Guardiola’s City are the favourites to win the competition for a second straight year, but Real are arguably their strongest challengers, meaning this tie has plenty of danger for both sides. Real’s desire for revenge after last season 5-1 aggregate semifinal defeat is another element to this clash. City and Real have met in each of the last two seasons and the winners of the tie have gone on to win the competition, underlining the pedigree of the two teams and the coaches, with Guardiola (three) and Carlo Ancelotti (four) having seven Champions League titles between them.

This tie has everything. It pits the best two coaches against each other, gives us Jude Bellingham versus Erling Haaland and other great names including Kevin De Bruyne, Toni Kroos, Rodri and Vinicius Jr. It would have made a dream final, but ultimately, one of the best sides in the competition will be exiting at the quarterfinal stage.

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Can Real Madrid topple Man City in the Champions League quarterfinals?

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens react to Champions League holders Man City being drawn against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.

Key players and/or tactical battle

Jude Bellingham has arguably made himself the best midfielder in the world at Real this season, but by the same token, no defensive midfielder can compare to Rodri right now — the winner of this tie could come down to who comes out on top in that battle. It’s not a direct head-to-head, but it is about which player is able to set the tempo: Real’s Bellingham or City’s Rodri.

City were in the running to sign Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund last summer before the England player chose instead to move to Real, and they could be set to discover exactly what they missed out on.

How Real Madrid can win

Real were blown away by City in a 4-1 second-leg defeat in last season’s semifinal because they had now answer to Pep Guardiola’s powerhouse midfield. If Real are to avenge that loss this time around, they need to win the midfield battle, but they have the benefit of having Bellingham in their ranks now, with Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni a year older and wiser, plus the experience of Kroos.

There is so much attacking quality in both sides, but Real need to beat City in midfield before relying on their forwards to seal the win.

How Manchester City can win

Despite his incredible season last year, Erling Haaland didn’t score in his two games against Real in the semis. Having destroyed Real in midfield a year ago, Pep Guardiola will want his team to have a different gameplan to beat the Spanish giants, so they will need Haaland to have his shooting boots on this time.

If Haaland can take 2-3 of the chances that his teammates create, it could be too much for Real. The pressure will be on him to step it up from last season’s performance.

Prediction: Manchester City 4-2 Real Madrid

Manchester City aren’t quite as formidable as last season, but they have a goalscorer in Haaland and Real haven’t really replaced Karim Benzema. In a tie of fine margins, that’s what will count.

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16083PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN vs. BARCELONA

Backstory/What you need to know

A tie dripping with recent history and humiliation experienced by both teams. When it goes wrong in PSG vs. Barcelona clashes, it really goes wrong, so can we expect another meltdown in this quarterfinal tie?

Back in 2016-17, PSG travelled to Barcelona with a 4-0 first-leg advantage in their Round of 16 tie and seemingly cruising into the quarterfinals, but a Lionel Messi-inspired Barca produced the most stunning fightback in Champions League history to win 6-1 in Camp Nou. Four years later, PSG gained revenge by winning 4-1 in Camp Nou on their way to a 5-2 Round of 16 triumph, so the best advice for this tie is to expect the unthinkable.

This is a meeting between two teams in the midst of a transitional phase. PSG are rebuilding following the departures of Messi and Neymar last year and the impending exit of Kylian Mbappé this summer, while Barcelona are struggling to remain competitive as they combine financial problems with the expensive Camp Nou upgrade. They also face uncertainty over their on-field future, with coach Xavi stepping down at the end of the season.

Despite the issues at both clubs, this is still a game that pits Mbappe against Robert Lewandowski and gives both a shot at a run to the final at Wembley.

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2:35

Why Gab & Juls are picking PSG to beat Barcelona

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens react to PSG vs. Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals.

Key players and/or tactical battle

This all revolves around whether Barcelona can get their best players off the treatment table and onto the pitch. Midfielders Frenkie de Jong and Pedri are both sidelined, with Pedri hopeful of returning by the end of March and De Jong expected to be fit by mid-April – just as the quarterfinals are scheduled to begin.

With Ferran Torres also pencilled in for a late-March/early-April comeback, the Barcelona medical staff could yet decide the outcome of this tie.

How Paris Saint-Germain can win

Luis Enrique’s team were expected to find it tough against Real Sociedad in the Round of 16, but they cruised to a 4-1 aggregate victory with Kylian Mbappe scoring three times for PSG over the two games.

With Mbappe set to leave PSG at the end of the season, his performances against La Real hinted at the France forward being on a personal mission to deliver the one trophy he has yet to win for the club and Enrique simply needs to keep his star player fit and focused on that goal.

If Mbappe is on fire again in this tie, PSG go through.

How Barcelona can win

This looks a tough task for Barcelona and where their Champions League journey will end due to the question marks over the fitness of key players and the prospect of facing an on-form Mbappe. If the likes of Ilkay Gündogan and Robert Lewandowski can summon all their experience for potentially their last shot at winning another Champions League, Barca could take PSG all the way in this tie.

The reality is that Barca need all the help they can get because unfortunately for them, this looks the most predictable tie of the round.

Prediction: PSG 4-1 Barcelona

On paper, this is a clash between two heavyweight clubs, but Barca are not the Barca of old and PSG should win comfortably.

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PATH TO THE FINAL

  • Semifinal 1: Atletico/Dortmund vs. PSG/Barcelona

  • Semifinal 2: Arsenal/Bayern vs. Real Madrid/Man City

  • Final: Semifinal 1 winner (home team) vs. Semifinal 2 winner (away team)

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OK, we also know the semifinal and final path for all eight teams. Who will win it all on June 1?

The path to the final has given us a formidable quartet in one half and four outsiders in the other, but ultimately, the winner is likely to come from the Real Madrid-Man City tie.

So back City to defend their crown at Wembley in June, with Atletic Madrid once again having to suffer the pain of being a losing finalist.



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