Serie-A boasts the most clubs in the quarterfinals of UEFA Champions League with Napoli, AC Milan and Inter Milan all making the cut. This over-representation of Italian clubs was normal back in the 1990s until the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, which relegated several Italian clubs into Serie B for bribes and match fixing. The aftereffects lingered, turning the elite rounds of the UCL into a playground dominated by Spanish and English clubs during the interregnum.
As the 2023 UCL quarterfinals and semifinals draw near, the brackets deprive Italy of a potential all-Italian final by pitting Napoli against AC Milan in the quarter, with the winner to face Inter Milan (or Benfica) before the final in Istanbul.
The other side of the chart showcases a replay of last year’s quarterfinals as Real Madrid takes on Chelsea. The Spanish giants defeated The Blues when Thomas Tuchel was at the helm, but the German coach has now moved on to Bayern Munich, while Chelsea has since spun the dial twice, recycling Frank Lampard as interim manager until end of the season.
The last week of March saw recent Bayern manager Julian Nagelsmann also lose his job to the aforementioned Tuchel. The reason was reportedly poor domestic performance. But noting how Bayern easily brushed off PSG in UCL round of 16 under Julian’s guidance makes me question this decision at this stage of the season. Tuchel will lead Bayern into a tough tie against Man City to decide who will have a chance at revenge against Real Madrid (unless Chelsea pulls an upset).
MATCH-DAY 8 FANTASY GUIDE
We are blessed with five free transfers ahead of the quarterfinals, and fantasy managers may now select as many as five players per club.
Scanning the fixtures for low-hanging fruit, it does not seem that there are any easy matches at this stage. Even Napoli enthusiasts are wary of their chances now, after AC Milan defeated them domestically a few days ago 4-0 with forward Victor Osimhen sidelined through injury.
It is a guessing game at this point then, but logic suggests that Real Madrid is a team to invest in. Their opposition is showing weakness on the field and in the technical box, with Chelsea shut out 1-0 by EPL relegation-threatened Wolves today).
All domestic seasons are in the home stretch, so all UCL clubs will field their best fit players to establish as big a lead as possible in the first leg. The only rotation that can be expected is if a player is lacks fitness to compete at this level.
Manchester City vs Bayern Munich
It is always a stroke of luck when Manchester City’s confirmed lineup is available for fantasy managers before a fantasy deadline. But be careful here. City faces a strong Bayern Munich side, and the return leg reintroduces the vagaries of Pep roulette. Don’t over-invest.
City has played three matches since knocking out RB Leipzig in R16, scoring 14 goals in defeating Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Erling Haaland missed the 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool, but he returned to display his world-class skills against Southampton earlier today, scoring two goals in 69 minutes. One of them was this stunning overhead kick:
Bayern on the other hand played two matches under Nagelsmann, winning one and losing one before he was sacked in favor of Tuchel, who started his Bayern journey with a 4-2 victory over rival Borussia Dortmund. A few days later, Bayern failed to qualify for the semifinals of the domestic cup tournament, losing 1-2 to Freiburg. Bayern recovered earlier today, defeating the same team 1-0 in the Bundesliga.
Benfica vs Inter Milan
Benfica scored nine goals after knocking out Club Brugge in the round of 16, defeating Maritimo 3-0, Vitoria de Guimeraes 5-1 and Rio Ave 1-0. Yesterday they were defeated at home 1-2 by Porto in the Portuguese domestic league. Benfica will host Inter Milan, the Italian club that knocked out Porto in UCL R16.
The Italian giants have played three Serie-A matches since R16, losing twice (to Juventus and Fiorentina 0-1) and drawing 1-1 with Salernitana yesterday before preparing to travel to Portugal. They also suffered a 0-1 defeat to Juventus in the Italian Cup semifinal first leg match. Simone Inzaghi may not be far from becoming the next manager of a major European football club to receive his walking papers.
AC Milan vs Napoli
AC Milan has been struggling to keep up with the group of domestic clubs vying for UCL qualification behind Napoli’s ever-increasing double-digit lead. Milan and Napoli played a Serie A match against each other last Sunday, and Milan pulled off a shock 4-0 win at Napoli. In its other matches, Milan failed to record any wins, drawing 1-1 with Salernitana, 0-0 with Empoli and losing 1-3 to Udinese.
Napoli’s loss to AC Milan came as a surprise for all spectators and it looked as if Milan coach Pioli has Luciano Spalletti’s plans figured out. However, the loss may only delay Napoli’s celebrations of the Serie-A championship temporarily. They defeated Torino 4-0 and Lecce 2-1 in other Serie-A matches.
Real Madrid vs Chelsea
After knocking out Liverpool in R16, title holders Real Madrid lost the all-important La Liga El Classico 1-2 to Barcelona to stay in second behind a 12-point gap. RM followed the loss with two huge victories: 6-0 over Real Valladolid, and 4-0 over Barcelona in the Spanish Cup to reverse a first leg 0-1 loss to reach the final (via another hat trick from Karim Benzema). Real Madrid hosts Villarreal today before hosting new old-look Chelsea midweek.
Chelsea’s unstable situation has manifested itself in the club’s recent results. The Blues defeated Leicester 3-1 after knocking out Dortmund in the round of 16, but they have not won since. They drew 2-2 against Everton and 0-0 against Liverpool, then lost 0-2 to Aston Villa on April Fool’s Day and 0-1 to Wolves today.
There are five free transfers available ahead of the first 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-9? Please log in and let us know your plans!