In the previous part, we covered the representation of English and Spanish clubs in this year’s UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. This article covers the analysis of current champions as well as 2019 finalists along with the ‘Yellow Wall Warriors’ and the surprise of the tournament all the way from Portugal.
1. BAYERN MUNICH
Bayern’s thrilling, aggressive football that made them the WORLD CHAMPIONS by winning the Champions League last season hasn’t always been in evidence this time around; even they blew away Lazio in the last 16. Hansi Flick has largely persisted with the 4-2-3-1 and similar personnel from last season, with Thiago’s departure to Liverpool, compensated for by the outstanding Joshua Kimmich alongside Leon Goretzka in midfield. Corentin Tolisso and Javi Martinez, two World Cup winners, offer cover.
Leroy Sane offers another wide option, although the combination of Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry has been Flick’s preference. The Bayern head coach has sometimes used a 4-1-4-1 with all three “wingers” and Thomas Muller supporting Robert Lewandowski, and Kimmich holding behind them. Muller is in double figures for both league goals and assists this term, while Lewandowski is on course for his best-ever Bundesliga goal-scoring season. Opponents will feel Bayern’s incredibly high defensive line might be the best way to expose them, although with speedy defenders and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer still sweeping outside his box, Flick remains confident in his ultra-aggressive approach.
2. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
The sensational form of Haaland has earned Dortmund a place in the quarter-finals. Aside from him, this side often lacks the cohesion and aggression we’ve come to expect from Dortmund. But, the club's defensive record has shown massive improvement in recent weeks with Goalkeeper Roman Burki taking over the sticks in Champions League games and Marwin Hitz holding the fort in Bundesliga matches.
Lucien Favre was replaced just before Christmas by his assistant Edin Terzic. Results were initially inconsistent, but there has been an improvement in recent weeks, partly because of Marco Reus’ return to form. He’s surrounded by tremendously exciting young attackers in Haaland, Jadon Sancho, and Giovanni Reyna. Sancho’s form has recovered after a slow start to the season. At times, their chief creator is left-back Raphael Guerreiro, who is currently out injured but should return for the quarter-finals. Emre Can has played the holding midfield role recently, while Mahmoud Dahoud starred in the first leg against Sevilla.
3. PARIS SAINT GERMAIN
PSG changed a coach since the group stage, replacing Thomas Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino. Upon the former Tottenham manager’s appointment, there was plenty of speculation about whether Neymar and Mbappe would be capable of adapting to Pochettino’s approach, which surely misunderstood the power dynamic in Paris — Pochettino’s job is to adapt his system to suit the preferences of the world’s two most expensive players. That situation has been complicated by a thigh injury for Neymar that meant he missed both legs of their last-16 tie against his old side Barcelona. Mbappe stole the show in his absence, scoring a hat-trick at the Nou Camp before PSG held firm at home to advance to the last eight.
Tuchel was using a three-man defence during his final days at the club but Pochettino has switched to a back four. When both have been fit, Neymar and Mbappe tended to alternate roles in the middle and on the left of a 4-2-3-1, with Angel Di Maria, as ever, drifting inside from the right onto his stronger left foot, and usually Mauro Icardi — or sometimes Everton loanee Moise Kean — leading the line. Marquinhos, who spent much of last season playing as a holding midfielder, is now a permanent centre-back after the summer departure of compatriot Thiago Silva to Chelsea, and he was excellent in the games against Barcelona, while Marco Verratti has been fielded in unusual positions, at times seeming to drift between a deep midfield role, a left-sided position and a No 10 role.
Porto eliminated Juventus in highly dramatic circumstances but, over the two legs, Sergio Conceicao’s side deserved their victory. Using a deep, compact shape that started the first leg as a 4-4-2, gradually shifted to a 5-3-2 and eventually looked more like 6-3-1, Porto are well organised and excellent at defending crosses.
Conceicao’s side have often struggled in domestic competition this season, suffering 3-2 defeats to Maritimo and Pacos de Ferreira, but their domestic form improved after Conceiceo’s switch to a 4-4-2. Their performance in the group stage was highly impressive — following a 3-1 loss to Manchester City on the first matchday, Porto collected 13 points from their remaining five games, keeping five clean sheets. The fine displays against Juventus were not complete anomalies.
For goals, Porto depend upon the combination of Moussa Marega and Mehdi Taremi, with the major supply line coming from right-sided Jesus Corona, a tricky dribbler. The midfield duties are clear — Mateus Uribe sits deep and breaks up play, and Sergio Oliveira is given more licence to create and was outstanding in both legs against Juve. Defensively, the cornerstone is veteran Pepe who was one of the key architects in the club's victory against Juventus. The Portuguese defender turned 38 last month and is surprisingly mobile for his age, while still boasting great aerial power.
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