UCL sees teams fight for first place
Every year, the month of April tends to bring out an uneasy sense of excitement among soccer fans. It’s the time of the year when their team is either fighting for their lives to stay in the top-tier of soccer, fighting for European qualification, or in the race to win a cup. One of these cups is the UEFA Champions League (UCL), the most prestigious club competition in soccer. The UCL quarterfinals first-leg games were played out last week: who will make the semifinals to move one step closer to securing the dream win?
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
This tie is probably the only one that is definitely over after the first leg. Madrid oozed class in the first leg played at the Santiago Bernabéu and destroyed Dortmund, who had keeper Roman Weidenfeller to thank for keeping the score line respectable. Wingers Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo scored two of the goals, and expect them to be in the mix again at the Signal Iduna Park. The midfield three of Luka Modrić, Ángel di María, and Xabi Alonso seemed to control the game and the same is expected at the Westfalenstadion. Dortmund is nothing resembling the side that destroyed Madrid 4–1 at the same stadium last season, and while the scorer of all four of those goals Robert Lewandowski will return, even that score line would not put them through this time.
Winner: Madrid. This injury-ravaged Dortmund side is never getting past Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich
They say Manchester United never die. This matchup proves that saying, as even after facing defending European champions Bayern Munich in a hugely disappointing season behind them, Manchester United is not dead, but rather very much alive in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. United’s home form had been nothing short of atrocious and Bayern’s form scintillated everywhere. Credit is in order for David Moyes, who pulled off one of the best performances of the season for his team, but that still does not reduce the magnitude of the task at hand. Bayern has the away goal advantage at this stage and United might be shorn of top goal scorer and talisman Wayne Rooney for the game. The team is already missing key forward Robin van Persie. Bayern is without key personnel too, as midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez will miss the game through suspensions picked up in the first leg, while Thiago Alcântara is injured. However, Bayern has probably the strongest and deepest squad in the world, as the likes of Mario Götze, Toni Kroos, and Dante will step in to replace the above while United has no one near that quality. United did beat their opponents 4–0 on the weekend and Bayern did lose for the first time in 53 games in the Bundesliga, but for United to pull this off would be nothing short of a miracle.
Winner: Bayern. United have a stupendous away record, but betting against a team that wrapped up their league title in March would be just be ignorant.
Paris St.-Germain vs. Cheslea
One of the games that was exceptionally hard to predict was made easier to do so with Paris St.-Germain’s (PSG) stunning performance and Chelsea’s equally pathetic show in the first leg. Chelsea manager José Mourinho’s decision to not play a striker and instead play attacker André Schürrle up top backfired spectacularly and his public derision of his strikers after the game couldn’t have helped their confidence. Chelsea was particularly awful in the final third, and PSG took their chances equally well, coming away with an important two-goal cushion. It would be wrong to count Chelsea out however, as PSG will be missing their best player in striker Zlatan Ibrahimović for the second leg. Edinson Cavani is more than able backup, but should Chelsea manage to keep a clean sheet, a 2–0 win would mean they go through.
Winner: Chelsea. Reason 1: Mourinho has never lost at the quarterfinals in the UCL. Reason 2: Mourinho knows how to win this tournament.
Barcelona vs. Atlético Madrid
This matchup was the hardest to call, and remains so. In their four games so far this season, there have been two 0–0 draws and two 1–1 draws. Barca and Atlético have not been split this season and its probably why they are currently the two top teams in the La Liga. These two teams will likely battle it out for the La Liga title on the very last day, and the winner of the second leg could very well win the UCL title as well. Atlético Madrid have the advantage, as Atlético midfielder Diego’s stunning goal at the Camp Nou gave them the away goal they needed, while forward Neymar continued his run as the only Barca player to score against Atlético this season. Barca has the x-factor though in forward Lionel Messi, arguably reaching the same form that made him the best player in the world before his injury this season. Atlético, though, have not lost at home this season and conceded two goals only to Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderón Stadium. Barca will need their best players to be on top form, and manager Tata Martino must get his tactics right, else Diego Simeone’s team will move one step closer to the impossible.
Winner: Atlético Madrid. Madrid will win only by a whisker only though — because this means no Messi and Barca in the semifinals for the first time in six years.