The European Champions League resumes this week with the first legs of the quarter-finals, which are dominated by English and Spanish clubs, plus a couple of upsets between many of the heavyweights.
England, Spain, Germany and Portugal are the four countries with teams that are still in the running. The presence of Benfica and Villarreal mark the surprise.
A look at the four crosses:
For many, Liverpool came out with the better part of the draw, as they were rivaled by Portugal’s Benfica, who reached this stage of the tournament for the first time in six years. The English team aspires to a four-time championship this year. They have already won the English League Cup, reached the FA Cup semi-finals and are one point behind leader Manchester City in the English Premier League.
The fact that the second leg is at Anfield, the scene of several unforgettable European nights, makes Jurgen Klopp’s side even more favorites as they bid to claim their seventh European Cup.
Two-time European champion Benfica dreams of repeating the surprise they staged against Liverpool in 2006, when they eliminated the English team 3-0 on aggregate in the round of 16. The two teams also met in the 2010 quarter-finals, with Liverpool prevailing 5-3 on aggregate.
MANCHESTER CITY vs ATHLETIC MADRID
Get ready for a contrast of styles at the Etihad Stadium. The fluid game and possession of City, directed by Pep Guardiola, against the defensive method and dependent on counterattack, preferred by Diego Simeone’s Atlético. The coaches make no apologies for the way they play, which has brought them much success, in fact they are both the reigning champions of their respective leagues. But both Guardiola and Simeone have failed to win the Champions League in the past decade. The Spaniard’s last title came with Barcelona in 2011 and he faces his sixth attempt to do so with City, who have not won Europe’s top club tournament.
Atlético have lost the European final three times, including twice against Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016. The Spanish side return to Manchester, having defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford last month to advance to the quarter-finals. Simeone may be without one of his best defenders, Uruguayan centre-back José María Giménez, who was injured in the final minutes of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Alavés in La Liga, when Luis Suárez scored twice in the second half. coming off the bench.
CHELSEA vs. REAL MADRID
Chelsea seeks to defend the title in the context of a crisis due to off-field issues. The English team was put up for sale by its owner, billionaire Roman Abramovich, who was sanctioned by the British government for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine. The name of the new owner is expected to be known sometime next month. The players have done their best to stay focused on the pitch, with back-to-back wins over Lille in the round of 16 achieved with minimal effort. In fact, Chelsea have only lost once in the middle of the sale issue, thrashing Brentford 4-1 on Saturday.
Real Madrid will represent a much bigger challenge than Lille. The 13-time European champion lost in the semi-finals against Chelsea last season, when he was still unable to play at the Santiago Bernabéu due to renovation work and the pandemic. Karim Benzema, who led Madrid to a historic comeback over Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, remains fired up after scoring both Madrid goals from penalties in victory over Celta de Vigo on Saturday to hold firm at the top of the league.
VILLARREAL vs. BAYERN MUNICH
Well on their way to a tenth straight Bundesliga title, Bayern Munich will be hoping to cap the season with their seventh European title and second in three years. This is the 20th time that Bayern have reached the quarter-finals, a record. The Bavarian giant already has his sights on the semifinals. It would be a major surprise if they give in to Villarreal, seventh in Spain.
The two teams met in the group stage in 2011, when Bayern advanced with a 5-1 win on aggregate. Julian Nagelsmann’s team got in tune for the visit to Spain by thrashing Freiburg 4-1; the second game in a row in which they scored four goals. Villarreal, Unai Emery’s team, chained their second defeat in Spain by falling to Levante, penultimate in the table. Emery gave no rest to the usual headlines from him. Villarreal, who won the Europa League last season, are seeking to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2006.