European powers gear up for UCL quarterfinals

This year, the UEFA Championships League quarterfinal matchups will consist of four matchups, each having a home and away match, with the winner advancing. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

American soccer fans don’t have much to look forward to this summer, with the U.S. Men’s National Team failing to make this year’s World Cup in Russia. But for those still interested in gearing up for the tournament, the UEFA Champions League should provide great drama and competition.

The Champions League announced its quarterfinal matchups March 16, highlighted by a contest between English rivals and a rematch of last year’s final. Each matchup will feature a home and away match, and the winner will advance on aggregate — or total combined goals between the two matches.

Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (To be played April 3 and April 11)

Bayern has made it to the quarterfinals in the Champions League for the ninth year in a row, and once again it will be one of the favorites to win.

Bayern will be without goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for both matches this round, but that shouldn’t be a problem. He’s been out with a foot injury for the majority of the season, and the team still has an exceptional defense, midfield and attack.

The Cinderella story of this year’s tournament has been Sevilla, who shocked the competition when it moved on in the last round, beating Manchester United 2-1. It is currently the only team remaining that stands lower than third in its domestic league.

Sevilla plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation, a defensive arrangement that makes it more difficult for opposing teams to attack down the middle. This will force Bayern to rely on playing the ball out wide and have its wingers and outside backs send crosses in.

In Sevilla’s last match, Sevilla center back Clement Lenglet controlled Manchester United star forward Romelu Lukaku. Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski will be an even tougher challenge to contain — this year he scored 32 goals in 39 games across all competitions.

Lewandowski will likely prove too much for Sevilla, and Bayern should go through with ease to make its fourth semifinal appearance in five years after missing out last season.

Real Madrid vs. Juventus (To be played April 3 and April 11)

This rematch of last year’s final should prove to be a highly entertaining matchup, with the winner likely establishing itself as the new favorite in the tournament.

If there is a team to stop Real at the moment, it’s Juventus. Juve is defensively sound, with center back Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the defense and Gianluigi Buffon in goal, who only allowed three goals in the last 15 games.

Juventus’ forward partnership of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain is strong in its own right. Higuain will be facing his old club, and both Higuain and Dybala are fighting for a place on Argentina’s World Cup roster. That should provide added motivation for the Argentinean pairing.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, is peaking at the right time. Since the turn of the year, forward Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 21 goals in 13 games across all competitions. As a team, Real has outscored its opponents 13-6 over its last four games.

Combine that output with the leadership of veteran defender Sergio Ramos and the deadly midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro, and Real Madrid looks primed to win its third straight Champions League final.

Real Madrid is playing at a high level. It made short work of Paris Saint Germain — one of Europe’s most expensive teams — in the last round by an aggregate score of 5-2. That momentum should carry over to a similar result against Juventus.

Barcelona vs. AS Roma (To be played April 4 and April 10)

This draw could prove interesting, even though the last time these two met Barcelona beat AS Roma by an aggregate score of 7-2 — including a 6-1 win in Barcelona during the 2015-2016 Champions League group stage.

Roma won’t be favored, but it might be able to surprise Barca and the soccer world by stealing a place in the semifinals. Barcelona central midfielder Andres Iniesta is currently out with a hamstring injury, and if Roma can capitalize on Barca’s tired legs and lack of leadership, it might be able to progress.

Barcelona has only won one of its last nine games in Italy — a 3-2 victory over AC Milan in 2011-2012. But this should be the team to reverse the trend. The partnership of central defenders Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti has been impeccable in the past few weeks.

Forward Lionel Messi is still producing at an extremely high rate, and the team’s new signings, including midfielder Philippe Coutinho and forward Ousmane Dembele, appear to be working out well. Even without Iniesta, Barcelona should advance.

Liverpool vs. Manchester City (To be played April 4 and April 10)

Real Madrid and Juventus may be the headliners of the tournament, but this matchup could easily be the most entertaining. Man City has developed a budding rivalry with Liverpool as its profile has risen over the last half decade. Police are already warning fans and preparing for the rowdy crowd in the first leg.

Liverpool has one of the most potent trios of forwards in all of Europe. Mo Salah currently leads the Premier League in goals, Roberto Firmino is having a career year and Sadio Mane is still a lethal threat.

At its best, Liverpool can beat anybody — but often its defense and goalkeeping hold it back. The addition of central defender Virgil van Dijk has greatly improved its back line, while goalkeeper Loris Karius has lately been performing at a high level, with six clean sheets in his last nine games.

Man City has just one loss in the Premier League on the season, which came against Liverpool. That strong record has come thanks to a dominant offensive side. Man City’s forwards Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aügero have scorched their domestic opponents this year, combining for 44 goals in the Premier League.

Despite the brilliance of City, Liverpool will move on from this matchup. Liverpool performs very well against top domestic competition and could jump out to an early lead on the aggregate after scoring a home victory.

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