On Friday, the pairings for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals were confirmed. The draw, which most notably consisted of four English teams for the first time since the 2008-09 season and did not include three-time defending champions Real Madrid, has set the stage for some mouthwatering fixtures. Premier League front runners Manchester City face fellow British competitors Tottenham; Liverpool play Portuguese giants Porto; high flying Manchester United are up against favorites Barcelona; and Italian powerhouse Juventus will do battle against a young and talented Ajax. The quarter-finals promise electrifying displays of world-class football, and here’s what to expect from each matchup:
Manchester City vs. Tottenham
City are soaring in Europe, having just picked apart Schalke 7-0 at the Etihad, and 10-2 on aggregate, in the round of 16. In addition to reaching the Champions League quarter-finals, Pep Guardiola has already won the English League Cup, has the Cityzens atop the domestic table, and on Saturday saw them through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup—albeit controversially—to keep alive hopes of a quadruple. Meanwhile, 200 miles south of Manchester in north London, Spurs coasted past Dortmund 4-0 over two legs in their last European contest. The Lilywhites have also just received a huge injury boost, as both Harry Kane and Dele Alli are fit again. However, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are winless in their last four domestic fixtures, drawing against Arsenal and losing to Chelsea as well as Premier League strugglers Southampton and Burnley.
Verdict: Manchester City won the only meeting between these two sides this season, and are in far better form than Spurs at the moment. Expect City to come out on top once again and advance to the Champions League semi-finals for only the second time in club history.
Liverpool vs. Porto
Liverpool arguably have the deadliest attack in Europe. The free-scoring Reds were on full display in the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich this week, with goals coming from forward Sadio Mane (2) and center back Virgil Van Dijk—who is making a case for himself as the best defender in the world. The addition of goalkeeper Alisson to the side that reached last season’s final only strengthens Jurgen Klopp’s team’s chances. Conversely, Porto currently lead the Premeira Liga but needed a VAR-assisted penalty to overcome AS Roma in the round of 16. The Portuguese champions have experience and quality in their side, with center back Pepe having won three Champions League medals during his time at Real Madrid, but the Iberians are undoubtably the weakest team still standing.
Verdict: The dynamism and power of Liverpool will prove to be too much to handle for Porto. Expect Liverpool to ease into the semi-finals in the most lopsided matchup of the round.
Manchester United vs. Barcelona
Manchester United looked reborn after the appointment of club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager. The Norwegian orchestrated the Red Devils’ rise up to fourth in the league, demolition of Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup, and historic victory over Paris Saint-Germain to reach this stage in Europe. Since that now-famous night, however, United have lost two games in a row with serious implications. Solskjaer’s men now sit fifth in the Premier League and were knocked out of the FA Cup themselves. Their upcoming opponents, Barcelona, are cruising in La Liga and this week dissected Olympique Lyon in a 5-1 mauling. Led by one of the best players in the history of the sport, Lionel Messi makes Barcelona favorites to win nearly every game they play.
Verdict: Manchester United will put up a good fight against the Catalans, but Solskjaer’s honeymoon period will officially be put to the sword by Messi and Barcelona.
Juventus vs. Ajax
Juventus have virtually wrapped up an eighth consecutive Scudetto and are out of the Coppa Italia. The Bianconeri, therefore, will be fully focused on Champions League glory. Spearheaded by the greatest goalscorer on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo, and boasting the second best defensive record across Europe’s top five leagues (only PSG has conceded fewer league goals), Juventus are a force to be reckoned with at both ends of the pitch. Ajax, on the other hand, are coming off the back of a shockingly impressive 4-2 victory over Real Madrid. Dusan Tadic stole the show in that game, but starlets Matthijs De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong—who will be plying his trade in a Barcelona shirt next season—are the most exciting names in this Dutch squad.
Verdict: Ajax’s performance in Madrid, combined with the prospect of the team’s energetic and youthful players going up against the aging stalwarts of Juventus, make this matchup the least predictable of the bunch. Although Ajax proved they can’t be taken lightly, expect Ronaldo to live up to his nickname, Mr. Champions League, and find a way to lead Juventus into the semi-finals.