Quarterfinals! Let’s go!
The quarterfinals of the Champions league is here. These next two days is like heaven for football fans all over the world. No more playing around we’re down to the final 8 in the biggest competition in club football. League play is starting to wind down, in most leagues there are less and less games that have meaning. All of the top 5 leagues are basically all wrapped up except for Serie A, so all that’s left are the battles for the Champions League spots and the relegation battles that are ongoing and the finish of the domestic cups. Still a lot to play for but nothing is better than knockout competitions. You get to see the best of the best going head to head and there is no points, we play till there is a winner. We start Tuesday with Juventus/Real Madrid and Sevilla/Real Madrid. For purposes of this blog I am just going to stick to the scores of the first leg. But for the record I am going with Real Madrid. I’ll have second preview for Sevilla and Bayern Munich.
These two have become very familiar with one another over recent years. Juve shocked the world in 2015 knocking Los Blancos off in the semi finals keeping Real Madrid from winning a major trophy in a year that the experts were predicting multiple trophies for them.
Madrid got their revenge last year beating Juventus 4-1 and was really a crowing moment for them. It was their second straight Champions League crown, it also gave them the league and Champions League double. This was the first time they accomplished this feat since 1958, they’ve done it 3 times in their history. They did it in 57, 58, and obviously last year. They are also trying to win the Champions League for a 3rd consecutive time. If they are able to win 3 straight they will be the first team since Bayern Munich did it in the mid 70’s.
This is all Real Madrid has to play for this season. They’re a distant 3rd to Barcelona and are not alive anymore in Copa Del Rey, so for all intents and purposes this is their season right here, which is so Real Madrid this competition for whatever reason is where their best tends to come out. Barcelona has more success in league play but in this competition Real Madird are the king’s. They have won 12 which is by far the most of anyone. 2nd is AC Milan who have 7. They’re also going for 4 out of 5 in this competition so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they are currently dominating this competition.
No doubt it brings out the best in this squad but it also brings out the best in Cristiano Ronaldo, we all know CR7 loves to perform on the biggest stage and this competition is his personal playground. He’s the all time goal scoring leader with 117. He is extra motivated this year. A lot of experts were singing his demise as he was off to a slow start to the season this year, but that slow start didn’t include the Champions League, he wasn’t scoring for Madrid in league play but he was still scoring in this competition. Like I said this competition brings out the best in him. He has played his best football since the beginning of 2018. For the season he now has 34 goals in all competitions including 12 in this competition in only 8 games. Absolutely stupid numbers he puts up in Europe. Madrid may not be having their best or most consistent season but for whatever reason when it gets to this competition they find another level that no other team can seem to find. It’s going to take a special performance to beat them, they’re no doubt vulnerable but if someone does it, it’s going to take a performance of a lifetime.
PSG and form
The Madrid hype train is definitely rolling full throttle right now after beating PSG in the round of 16, it was by far the most hyped match up of that round, but Madrid destroyed the dreams of the Pariasians ending what was supposed to be their dream season a lot earlier than anyone expected. Sure it was helped by Neymar missing the second leg but regardless if Neymar was there or not you had to think that PSG was in trouble after the first leg after Real won the first leg 3-1 on their way to a 5-2 aggregate win.
They are in fine form enterting the quarterfinals by winning the 9 of their last 10 in all competitions. No doubt they’re playing their best football at the right time of the season to make a serious run at their 13th Europeon Cup, 3rd straight, and 4th out of 5th, which seems really difficult to do in the modern era.
No doubt if someone could beat them it is this Juventus side. As I mentioned earlier they did it 3 years ago in what to me at least was a bigger upset than what this would be. Juventus is going for their 3rd finals in 4 years and no doubt want to make redemption for losing in the finals in 2015 and 2017. No doubt their season has been geared up to win this competition even more so than winning another Serie A crown. And for good reason obviously. They’ve won 6 straight Scudetto’s and on their way to a 7th but have lost their last 5 Champions League finals since they last won this competition in 1995-1996. There is almost an obsession around this club about winning this competition. If you watched their Netflix show you could can tell that this club is quite obsessed with winning this. Plus there is nothing more they want to do than send club sport legend Gigi Buffon off with a European Cup, the one trophy that has alluded him during his historic career. He has said this is his last season and probably should be as his play has declined but you never know with Gigi as he marches to the beat of his own drummer.
No doubt Gonzalo Higuain will be a big part of the narrative heading into this. No player get the conversation stirred up more than him. He has quite the history of not burying his chances in big games but Higuain has also scored a lot of goals in his life and in 2018 you can’t have it both ways you can only have it one way or the other but the reality is it is both ways. He has choked a lot in big games, we didn’t imagine those situations, but he’s also a great striker who has scored a ton of goals. But if you go on Twitter if you ever taken a jab at him there are 40 people that are silent, never have opinions of their own that live to come out and take shots at people for ever pointing out his previous failures, but then there are people that can’t see past his failures and think he’s an awful player. The truth is he’s a great footballer that has had soem struggles in the biggest moments. So, no doubt anything he does in this is going to be magnified it always is. It’s funny but annoying.
No doubt if Juventus is going to win this it will more than likely be on the heels of Paulo Dybala. Dybala is no doubt the star player for Juve, but has had a bit of a rollercoaster of a ride of season. He got off to a terrific start to the season looking like he was about the enter the world’s elite but then tapered off, got injured, and even fell out favor wirh manager Massimiliano Allegri, but since his return around a month ago he’s returned to form and is looking like the player that most think is going to be one of the big stars in this sport for years to come.
Another common thing about these two is that they were in the two big matchups in the round of 16. As I mentioned earlier Madrid played PSG and Juventus had to get by Tottenham to get here.
It actually didn’t look like Juventus was going to be here. Tottenham was able to get a draw out of the first leg heading home with a huge advantage and things got worse when Spurs took the lead, meaning Juve needed two goals to advance but goals by Higuain in the 64th and Dybala in the 67th minute got Juventus through to the quarterfinals. They were a bit fortunate to be fair. Tottenham was the better team for a large part of the tie, but Spurs let Juve hang around and Juve made them pay. Tottenham representes themselves very well and in my mind should have advanced but Juventus is a team you have to kill them to beat them, if you allow them to breathe at all they will more than likely make you pay.
However if Juventus wants to beat the Real Madird and end their quest for a three-peat they are going to need to be a lot better than they were against Spurs. Spurs are a good club, can play with anyone and on any given day can beat anyone but this is Real Madrid and you’re going to have to be great over 180 minutes to beat them, not be good for a total of 20 minutes over the 180 like they we’re against Spurs.
As it usually happens Juventus plays their best football after the new year. They have been incredible and have been at a ridiculous pace to open up a 4 point lead on Napoli.
They haven’t lost since November when Sampdoria beat them 3-2, they have gone unbeaten in 25 matches winning 21 and drawing 4 so to say the least they have been on fire.
Juventus is dealing with more in this area than Real Madrid is. The only question mark for Real Madrid is Nacho. Nacho would be more than likely be a sub anyways. He was a key player when Dani Carvajal was out with his heart issues, but Carvajal is fime these days.
On the other hand for Juventus this is an area that is a real concern for Juventus. Miralem Pjanac is out for the first leg with a yellow card suspension. Mendhi Benatia is also out, but Pjanac’s absence is a real concern. In a lot of ways he’s the brain of this operation, he runs their midfield, dictates tempo, and is one of their best set piece takers. He may not be their captain but in a lot of ways he’s the leader of this team. He will be missed and missed badly.
Other injury news for Juventus is Fredrico Bernadeschi is out and Alex Sandro and Mario Mandzukic are both question marks. Not having either would be huge, but Sandro would be a huge loss. If you remember their loss in the Final to Madrid last year Sandro was a real matchup issue for Madrid, they like to get their fullbacks up the pitch and sometimes they aren’t the best at getting back which can allow the opposition fullbacks to take advantage of that space which Sandro did and could do again so not having him would be huge. I would prefer to have Mandzukic, knowing Allegri he will start him if he’s healthy, not what I would do so they can survive his loss, but obviously I would prefer to have him as an option.
Not having Pjanac will be huge. Knowing Juve they will try to use their defensive prowess to keep Madrid’s high flying attack at bay. They sat back quite a bit against Spurs in the first leg. Allegir knows they have to keep Real Madrid from getting a road goal but they also know they have to take a lead to the Beranbau for the second leg. Again without Pjanac expect Casemiro, Kross, and Modric to dominate the midfield which will allow Ronaldo, Isco, and whoever else Zidane chooses to play with them to get loose and force Juve to hold on. They have the team defensively to do so and will look to take advantage of a team that can be vulnerable on the counter. It will be interesting to see how this will play out. Who dictates the term of this game will be huge. Juve is so hard to beat at home, but Madrid is a different animal than most of their Italian opponents. I expect Madrid to dominate the ball and find a way to get one, but I also expect Juve to get one on the counter. So that’s what I see a draw in this. Juve needs to go for it they have to take a lead like I said, but Juve really knows one way so that’s why I think it will be an entertaining.