UCL QUARTERS (PART-1)

UCL QUARTERS (PART-1)

 

For the first time in 16 Years, the footballing maestros Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will have to step out of the UEFA Champions League and make way for their new generation counterparts Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland to battle it out for becoming world champion, signifying change in guard in footballing world as Paris Saint-Germain swept aside Barcelona in the last 16 and Haaland helped Dortmund power past Sevilla along with Porto registering a dramatic win over Italian giants Juventus in the same round.

The quarterfinals of 2020-21 UEFA Champions League will see THREE English Clubs (Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool), TWO German Clubs (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund), ONE Spanish, Portuguese and French club (Real Madrid, Porto and Paris Saint Germain) battling it out to reach the semi-finals over two legs. The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals is at 11am GMT (4 pm IST) on Friday in Nyon, Switzerland, and will be streamed live on UEFA’s website and broadcast on Sony Six.The first legs of the quarter-finals are scheduled to take place on April 6 and 7, with the return legs being played over April 13 and 14.

Let’s look at what each team brings on to the table in this competition to be crowned as ‘World Champions’ in two parts article

1. MANCHESTER CITY

Pep Guardiola hasn’t won this competition in his last eight attempts — one with Barcelona, three with Bayern and four with Manchester City. Ninth time around, he seems to have a serious chance of ending that run because City have hit their stride over the past couple of months. And it hasn’t just been about possession play and attacking drive — we’ve seen a significant defensive improvement. The arrival of Ruben Dias in the summer transfer window has given City the traditional defensive qualities Guardiola’s teams have sometimes lacked while John Stones’ re-emergence alongside him has created a classic partnership of a solid defender and a more cultured ball-player. The form of Joao Cancelo has been particularly remarkable — the right-back has drifted inside to become a holding midfielder and, increasingly, a genuine deep playmaker.

It’s not as if Guardiola needs more midfield quality, and Cancelo’s movement into midfield is part of the reason why Ilkay Gundogan has suddenly become the Premier League’s most prolific goalscorer, eternally bursting into the box to score close-range goals. He’s often formed part of a fluid attacking section, also featuring four of Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Phil Foden, meaning we’ve become accustomed to seeing Guardiola again playing without a recognised striker with Sergio Aguero consistently injured and Gabriel Jesus misfiring, although both did play together in a recent win over Fulham.

2. CHELSEA

Thomas Tuchel has been in charge of Chelsea for just two months, but the side already feels radically different, particularly after making it past Atletico Madrid last night. Tuchel immediately went to a three-man defence, with the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso reprising the roles they played in the Antonio Conte era from 2016-18. Chelsea’s defensive record under Tuchel has been excellent — they’re not just keeping clean sheets, they’re barely allowing the opposition a chance, with Andreas Christensen in particularly fine form. The midfield has thus far been based around the passing quality of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, rather than the energy of N’GoloKante, though it was Kante who was the standout performer in last night’s second leg win at Stamford Bridge.

The real question is how Tuchel gets so many expensive attacking players firing. He has used both 3-4-2-1 and 3-4-1-2 so far, with Mason Mount perhaps the most pivotal player between the lines in either formation. The former system could see him joined by Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic or Kai Havertz as a second No 10, but the latter one features split strikers that suits Timo Werner better. He and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has also featured at wing-back, played the wide forward roles expertly in a 1-0 away win over Tottenham. Havertz has also been used up front.

3. LIVERPOOL

The Merseyside Reds dismal defending of their Premier League title owes much to the complete absence of their regular centre-backs, with Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez all unavailable for Jurgen Klopp’s side. In big matches, Klopp initially elected to field a makeshift duo of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, two midfielders, in central defence, but even that is no longer an option with Henderson suffered a groin injury last month. Fabinho returned to midfield for the second leg of Liverpool’s second-round victory over Leipzig and provided more control in the centre, while the unlikely duo of Nathaniel Phillips and loanee Ozan Kabak have formed a decent partnership at the back with Ben Davies at their disposal who hasn’t been tested much. Indeed, the lack of first-choice defenders had had more of an impact in the possession phase — Van Dijk’s pinpoint balls downfield have also been missed, and Henderson is no longer able to connect Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah.

Thiago hasn’t quite yet demonstrated his Bayern Munich form in midfield, although suggestions he has hampered Klopp’s side’s rhythm areprobably exaggerated, and less important than injuries to defenders and a fatigued forward line. Klopp sometimes used a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-4 system in the autumn when Diogo Jota was in fine form, which might be an option now he’s returned from a long period out injured — he played up front and scored the only goal in a recent trip to his former club Wolves. Otherwise, Roberto Firmino drops deep to supply Sadio Mane and Salah, who narrow their positions to allow full-backs Andrew Robertson and Alexander-Arnold forward on the overlap. Questions persist, though, about whether Liverpool still have the requisite physical level to match their performances of recent seasons.

4. REAL MADRID

After an unconvincing start to the season, Real Madrid’s form has improved significantly since the group stage, when they were beaten home and away by a Shakhtar Donetsk side who did not make the last 16. Their star attacker has been Karim Benzema, who tops both their goals and assists charts.

Their major issue in recent weeks has been injuries. The list of absences has, at various stages, included Dani Carvajal, Alvaro Odriozola, Eder Militao, Sergio Ramos, Lucas Vazquez, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Federico Valverde, Eden Hazard and Rodrygo. Manager Zinedine Zidane has sometimes been more tactically adventurous than usual, however — at one point, he used Marcelo tucking inside from wing-back to become an extra central midfielder. In the aftermath of that match, though, it was revealed that Marcelo himself is now also on the treatment table with a calf injury.

They can still depend on the midfield presence of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Kroos, survivors of Zidane’s three previous European Cup wins as coach, but this isn’t a particularly cohesive side at the moment, and probably lacking the individual magic in the final third that he has previously relied upon. The Madristas have risen from the ashes many time before and is likely to do it again, making them a team to watch out for in this edition of Champions League.

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