Karim Benzema celebrates his goal for Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 tie against Liverpool.
Football’s elite European competition, the UEFA Champions League, makes its return on April 11. Following the draw in March, a combination of blockbuster ties and underdog stories should make for a memorable set of quarter-final games. Let’s look at each game and some predictions on who will advance to the semi-finals.
S.L. Benfica vs. Inter Milan
Benfica returns to the quarter-finals for the second consecutive year, but after a disappointing result against Liverpool last season, they will look to advance to the semi-finals of the UCL for the first time in their club’s history. Benfica currently sits ten points clear at the top of Portugal’s first division and as of right now, seem unstoppable. Inter’s performances, on the other hand, have worsened in recent weeks. This is their first time in the quarter-finals since the 10/11 season. While Inter’s defense has been particularly strong this season under manager Simone Inzaghi, the threat of Benfica’s intense style of play will prove to be too much for Inter Milan to handle. Benfica also has one of the most in-form strikers in Europe, Gonçalo Ramos. Ramos has seven goals and three assists in his 12 Champions League appearances this season, and if he is as sharp as he usually is during their match, Inter will struggle.
Prediction: S.L. Benfica
Manchester City vs. Bayern Munich.
The most anticipated tie this year. Manchester City is looking to finally get their hands on European silver, but Bayern will not be an easy opponent. Bayern recently won the competition in the 19/20 season. They are in second in the Bundesliga, but their main focus will be on this matchup against Manchester City. Bayern’s team is characterized by their immense experience combined with exciting young talents, such as Jamal Musiala. Their squad also features two ex-Manchester City players: João Cancelo and Leroy Sané. Manchester City do seem to be hitting their stride at the perfect time in the season, winning all of their last seven competitions. They should have a relatively full squad, with the expected return of Erling Haaland from injury. However, their recent collapses in previous UCL campaigns cannot be ignored. They conceded three late goals to lose to Real Madrid last year, and also had notable defeats in 19/20 and 18/19 against Lyon and Tottenham, respectively. Another key aspect of UCL ties that is often ignored is which team plays the second leg at home. In this case, that team is Bayern. This means that even if they lose at Manchester City they will have the opportunity to more easily mount a comeback, just as Real Madrid did. There is no doubt that Manchester City on paper should be the clear favorite, but the intricacies of the competition will certainly make the tie more complicated than it appears. In order for City to go through, they will need to either completely put the tie away in the first leg, or have the composure and organization to hold on in Munich and not let Bayern stage a comeback.
Prediction: Manchester City
AC Milan vs. Napoli.
An all-Italian tie featuring possibly the most exciting team in Europe this year, Napoli. Napoli has run away with the Serie A trophy this season, sitting 19 points clear of second place and 23 points ahead of Milan. Napoli’s aggressive playstyle, made possible by stars Victor Osimhen and Kvicha Kvaratskhelia, has completely overwhelmed teams this year. Napoli picked up all three points in their last game against Milan in a 2-1 away win in September. This is the furthest Napoli has ever gotten in the Champions League, though. Additionally, Napoli is also largely composed of young players who do not have experience in these high pressure games. Milan, in comparison, has had great success in the competition, although it was a long time ago. Despite this lack of experience from Napoli’s team, Milan will still be able to cope with Napoli’s electrifying, attacking prowess. When Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia were on the top of their game, no one was able to stop them this season, and Milan could find the tie quickly out of reach if they are not careful.
Real Madrid vs. Chelsea.
In this highly anticipated match, the current champions are put head-to-head against 20/21 winners, Chelsea. Real Madrid dumped Chelsea out of the competition last year following an impressive comeback at the Santiago Bernabéu, so Chelsea will be especially careful to not repeat the past. This year, Chelsea has had a poor season in the Premier League, barely staying in the top half of the table. Chelsea has little hope of catching up to compete for a top four spot, so all of its attention should be on this clash against Real Madrid. Chelsea has shown glimpses of success under manager Graham Potter, but following its recent big spending transfer windows, Chelsea should really be doing better. If Chelsea is to have a chance in this game, new signings Enzo Fernández and João Félix will have to rise to the occasion. They have been key in recent weeks, rescuing points for Chelsea, but this will be their first big test in the Champions League. Like Chelsea though, Real Madrid is having a subpar season in La Liga for their standards. They are 12 points behind Barcelona, but at the same time, they are also fully focused on this UCL game. Although the league seems to be out of reach, they are still almost the same squad as last season, led by Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior. Real Madrid’s domination in this competition cannot be understated, and even against a Chelsea team playing to its full ability, the bets are greater on Real Madrid to get the job done over two legs.
Prediction: Real Madrid