I will be honest with you: I have never witnessed such a one-sided 1st leg of quarterfinals in my 15+ year romance with the Champions League. Here are some quick facts:
- Real Madrid did the job in Turin by scoring three goals and assuring that Paulo Dybala won’t travel to Madrid due to the suspension. He is arguably Juventus’ most creative star player, so he will be bitterly missed. Yes, Miralem Pjanic will be back, but I’m afraid the train has already gone.
- Barcelona, as predicted, didn’t want any unnecessary surprises, so scored four at Camp Nou against unlucky Roma. Can you believe that the Italians can score at least three and keep Messi quiet in Rome? You must be insane.
- Bayern Munich had to come from behind after Sevilla took a well-deserved lead (and should have scored more) in the first half. The task was successfully accomplished and the Germans come home with a win and two away goals. There is still a chance left for yet another miracle for Sevilla, if you remember the turn of events at Old Trafford couple weeks ago. But this will be against all the odds. Consider this:
- Munich are led by one of the most pragmatic coaches in the world: Jump Heynckes
- They play in front of the home crowd, and pride means a lot to Germans
- If compared to the games against Manchester, Sevilla will have to score at least two and not concede. While I see them potentially coping with the scoring task, I can’t imagine Bayern blanked at home (14 goals were scored in four home matches by Bayern in 2017/2018 season. Easy math, right?)
- The fourth quarterfinal result was jaw-dropping. Only life-time Liverpool fans will claim that they expected it to end in a 3:0 triumph over the almost-crowned Premier League champion. Manchester City left Anfield with no shots on target, but will remember the 5:0 humiliation of Liverpool at Etihad back in the beginning of the season. Game on, right? To be consistent, I have to say that the chances are low, as that’s what I stated about Juventus. The only difference is that the Citizens will play at home and it’s still Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Loris Karius in Liverpool’s backline.
With the above said, here are my “unexpected” picks, based on the teams’ motivations:
A keeper value is in potential clean sheets, period. He is the one with the best chance.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
The German has the 2nd best chance to keep his goal closed, but it remains to be seen if Barca will take the game seriously.
Juventus lost their most influential attacker and will be traveling. There is a chance that the tie is already over in their heads, meaning higher chances for Keylor’s clean sheet.
Samuel Umtiti / Gerard Pique
Pique simply loves scoring against any sort of opposition, while Samuel was rested during the weekend and therefore should be a guaranteed starter. I see a potential clean sheet for the Catalans.
Vincent has not only regained his fitness, but he has returned to the scoring ways. He netted one against Manchester United and was a constant threat on set pieces. Pep will need every weapon in attack, so why not the big Belgian?
Mats Hummels / Jerome Boateng
I’ve read mixed reports on the fitness of David Alaba, and it’s not a time for experiments at this stage of a season. Go with the safe and guaranteed German duo who are a constant threat from set pieces. If I expect any clean sheet in Champions League this week, this is in Munich.
The Brazilian magician keeps banging important goals and should be allowed to attack more often in a return leg at Bernabeu. With Sergio Ramos being suspended, I can’t see any more Fantasy value in Madrid defense.
Kevin de Bruyne
The Belgian deserves a separate paragraph. Shocked typing this, but he was rested against Manchester United, and City lost the derby in the center of a park without him. He will be obviously right back and is capable of providing his team with some much needed spark.
Raheem Sterling / Leroy Sane
These two lightning-quick wingers have been exceptional this season, but both have been a bit off the boil in recent weeks -- especially Raheem, who missed a handful of chances over the weekend. If City score early, it will be a long and nervy evening for all Liverpool supporters, and both Sterling and Sane can thrive in such atmosphere.
Thiago Alcantara / Joshua Kimmich / James Rodriguez
James scored and assisted over the weekend and is slowly showing his potential in a Bayern t-shirt. Took him a while though. Bayern will want to finish the game off early, and James is my preferred attacking option in that midfield. Alcantara is on free kicks and has a history of scoring stunning goals from long-range, while Kimmich is an assist machine, though playing as a defensive wing-back.
He is yet to show his real self in a Madrid t-shirt. Why? Look at his performances for the Spanish national team. He didn’t have the best first game, but he should start at Bernabeu too and have another run on that aging Juve defence.
In my view, Ivan isn’t getting the credit he deserves. He should be up for yet another tireless performance, and he is always in the penalty box to convert Alba’s crosses or score from a rebound. I prefer him to Andreas Iniesta these days simply because of his energy level.
He is back from injury, but was held to less than a half of playing time from the bench in the Manchester derby. He must start, as Jesus has looked sluggish lately to say the least. It will be an all-in game for City, and they need their star attacked to wake up in a good mood. I’m buying him, are you with me?
Roberto Firmino / Sadio Mane / Mo Salah
The status of Salah’s injury is yet to be announced, but he missed the weekend game. Firmino was rested. Sadio Mane got 74 minutes. Liverpool didn’t score against a mediocre (at least these days) Everton backline. Can Liverpool resist City’s pressure and still be able to score without their talisman? My pick would be Firmino.
Robert Lewandowski / Thomas Muller
Bayern is one of two teams who would prefer to score and kill this encounter off early. Both are in great form lately, and I can’t see Jupp resting any from his starting eleven, as they need to complete the job. The Polish predator will cost you 1.2 million more, but that’s the premium you need to pay for a nailed-on forward in the 2nd leg quarterfinal home game.
One of the best players in a football history, who keeps enjoying himself in this Champions League season. Must have, no matter the opponent.
Those were my thoughts and picks. Since I rate City v. Liverpool as the only game of interest in the 2nd leg, let’s have a quick poll to see, if you share my view of City being capable of a come-back:
Who will go into the Semifinal from the English showdown at Etihad?
This poll is closed
Oh come on, Liverpool all the way!
Manchester City to repeat an early season trick
Wait, where is Arsenal?
Thank you for reading us!