If the first leg of the quarterfinals is any indication of how the final four will look, then we can expect to enjoy an all-Italian Milan city derby between AC Milan and Inter Milan. And on the other side of the bracket, Real Madrid is poised to face Manchester City in the semis for the second season in a row. All four clubs won to-nil in the first leg.
But we’re talking about the UCL, so we know that comebacks are not out of the question. Several times in years past we’ve seen the best of the best fall victim to a comeback.
Newly-appointed coaches Thomas Tuchel (Bayern) and Frank Lampard (Chelsea) failed to show their quality in Leg 1, but that will probably be tolerated by the management and fans considering they faced Manchester City and Real Madrid respectively.
The return leg is separated from the first leg by just one domestic match for the UCL quarterfinalists, so the second leg will most probably feel more like a second half, especially for the teams that are trailing.
MATCH-DAY 8 FANTASY GUIDE
Three free transfers are allowed ahead of the quarterfinals second leg, and fantasy managers (like me) who were expecting a better showing from Benfica and Napoli may now want to bring in some players from the Milan clubs. Napoli is only one goal down and considering they had several chances to score in Milan then they may be the closest to surmounting their first leg gap.
As expected, Real Madrid did not disappoint in the first leg. Chelsea’s appointment of Lampard hasn’t stopped the rot — the Blues are still winless in his second term as manager — so there should be little trouble for Real Madrid to carry the Bandera de España into the semifinals.
Tuchel’s Bayern fell prey to the juggernaut that is Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, but the Germans can never be brushed off despite their three-goal deficit. They certainly do not lack passion: Sadio Mané was fined and handed a one-match suspension (served domestically) for punching Leroy Sane in the face during a dressing-room altercation after the first-leg defeat.
I do not expect any major players to return from injury in time for the second leg kick off times, but be sure to keep an eye on the Team News & Live Chat & Team News article for any updates. That will publish tomorrow or Tuesday.
Like all the domestic seasons, the English Premier League is in the home stretch, so we may see a little bit of Pep’s roulette wheel this week considering his three-goal lead from the first leg, and considering that Arsenal’s draw with West Ham today leaves him only four points behind the league-leaders with a match in hand.
Against teams such as Benfica and Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid cannot afford to simply sit on their two-goal leads. But we may see Inzaghi or Ancelotti indulge in rests or managed minutes for one or two players.
As Leg 2 is simply Leg 1’s reverse fixture, fantasy player picks remain mostly the same. See our player picks article for the first leg for those recommendations. But in each of the following match previews, I will mention developments that may impact fantasy choices for the return leg.
Bayern Munich vs Manchester City (0-3)
Manchester City is one of just two clubs still remaining in UCL that recorded a domestic victory this weekend. Erling Haaland’s imperious form is keeping Manchester City’s title-hopes alive this season. Guardiola adjusted Man City tactics recently by inverting John Stones into a the midfield when City are attacking, which lessens Rodri’s defensive burden. As a result, Rodri’s new-found freedom adds even more offensive threat to a team that was already formidable in this area. Ilkay Gundogan and Nathen Aké were rested in the 3-1 victory over Leicester City in EPL so could feature in the UCL this week.
City’s opponents suffered a worrying 1-1 draw at home against Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, with all key players starting except for Jamal Musiala. As we mentioned, Sadio Mane was suspended for that one (More details here on the incident). Tuchel claims that the team has put the altercation behind them and that the atmosphere in the dressing room is positive.
Player Picks: Last week’s players picks Ederson, Ake, and Haaland are all still valid. It is hard to see Bayern recovering from their recent struggles in such a short time, even though Tuchel is eager to paper over the recent discord. I still cannot get my head around the sacking of Bayern’s former coach for the given reasons. I worry that De Bruyne could be rested and brought in only if needed. Hopefully the same does not apply to Rodri, but who can really tell what Guardiola is thinking.
If Tuchel is to have any chance at overcoming the three-goal deficit, he’ll need to field his best XI and get top performances from them. But remember that you will have to burn transfers to dump players in your MD-10 squad that fail to advance, and we are only allotted five ahead of the semis. Given the mountain that Tuchel has to climb, a fully-rested Jamal Musiala is the best, and probably only, pick to consider from Bayern.
Inter Milan vs Benfica (2-0)
A heavily-rotated Inter lineup wasn’t up to the task in Serie A this weekend, when the Nerazzurri were defeated 0-1 at home. The relative lack of quality in his depth chart means that Inzaghi can only focus on one competition. Inter’s 2-0 victory over Benfica in the first leg may have been a bit of a surprise, but the Italians’ hunger combined with the absence of Nicolas Otamendi due to suspension helps explain it.
We saw Benfica run circles around French titans PSG in the group stage. But in Leg 1 of the quarters, Benfica was missing Enzo Fernandez, who left for Chelsea, plus Otamendi, who was suspended. The return of Otamendi could tilt the return fixture in Benfica’s favor, especially with fully-rested defensive midfielder Florentino playing in front of him.
Player Picks: I would make no changes to the Benfica players we recommended in last week’s article. With Otamendi back in the lineup goalkeeper Vlachodimos has an even better chance at a clean sheet. With a two goal deficit to overcome, Benfica must stay on the front foot, so Joao Mario, Rafa Silva and Goncalo Ramos all remain viable options. Grimaldo is a player who can make an impact at any moment, but his value is perhaps lessened when we consider that Inter’s 3-5-2 is an automatic trap for opposing wing-backs.
From Inter, one player to consider is Marcelo Brozovic. Inter’s defense will be under heavy pressure from a desperate Benfica, so the Croatian should have plenty of chances for ball recoveries and maybe even a goal contribution on the counter.
Napoli vs AC Milan (0-1)
With star striker Victor Osimhen absent through injury for Leg 1, Napoli’s attack failed to step up. The good news for Napoli is that Osimhen has recovered for Leg 2, having played the last 17 minutes of the goalless draw with Verona this weekend. He even hit the woodwork.
In truth, the first leg defeat was probably more psychological than anything else. Milan fans raised a huge banner of the devil ready to pounce on their opponent, and the referee also played a part in several decisions that may have caused the players to lose heart.
For their part, Milan’s dip in form seems to behind them with the return of Brahim Diaz from injury. The Spaniard’s energy made all the difference in both recent matches against Napoli. Surely Spalletti will make note of this and make the necessary tactical adjustments, putting Napoli in position to prevail in the return leg. Milan did suffer a setback in Serie A yesterday however, as they could only share the spoils in a 1-1 draw with Bologna.
Player picks: Kvaradona (ie, Kvaratskhelia), Osimhen, and Di Lorenzo continue to be the best fantasy options for this match. Theo Hernandez and Brahim Diaz can be included if you believe Napoli’s rot will continue.
Chelsea vs Real Madrid (0-2)
While it is not inconceivable that any of the other scorelines could be reversed in the return leg, based on Chelsea’s current form it would be one of the biggest shocks in Champions League history for the Blues to overcome Real Madrid’s advantage and progress to the semis.
The London club fell 1-2 to Brighton in the EPL this weekend, with many of the regular starters relegated to the bench. It’s not entirely clear if this was an attempt to conserve Lampard’s stars for the UCL tie against Real Madrid, or if Lampard still does not know who his preferred XI are. Regardless, Chelsea’s hopes will not be helped by the fact that Real Madrid’s Camavingha, Kroos, Modric, and Vinicius Junior were all rested for the club’s 2-0 victory over Cadiz this weekend.
Player picks: Vinicius Jr, Benzema, and Militao are at the top of the list. Thibaut Courtois’s monster mode tends to emerge around this time of year as well, so he also joins the top picks for MD-10.
There are three free transfers available ahead of the second leg of the quarterfinals — will that be enough for you to fill holes in your squad plus bring in the players you want? Are you playing a chip in MD-10? Please log in and let us know your plans!