Europe’s Last Eight

A preview of the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s finest club soccer competition.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Sandra Lin

After a thrilling round of 16 that featured dramatic moments—including two suspenseful penalty shootouts—the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League is now resuming with its quarter-final stage. Unlike the last edition, where the matchups were consistently underwhelming, the knockout draw for this year’s competition has blessed soccer fans with enticing, balanced, and heavyweight clashes that will continue all the way to the final at Wembley Stadium. Without further ado, it is time to break down what each quarter-finalist has to offer.

Atlético Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund

On one side of the bracket, fans can expect a very interesting matchup as Spanish giants Atlético Madrid will be facing 1997 UCL winners Borussia Dortmund from Germany. Dortmund had the easier route to the quarter-finals after soundly beating PSV Eindhoven in the round of 16 with a 3-1 aggregate victory. Meanwhile, Atlético had to tough it out against Inter Milan, the current leaders of the Serie A and the finalists of last season’s UCL. The matchup went all the way to a penalty shootout, where Atlético prevailed after Milan striker Lautaro Martínez missed his shot. 

Both sides are relatively equal in terms of quality, but Dortmund does have the upper hand in terms of form. The Germans are unbeaten in the second half of the season and coming off a high after defeating arch-rivals Bayern Munich for the first time in six years. Atlético, in comparison, have been very inconsistent domestically and were recently defeated by Barcelona 3-0. However, their defensive tactics will make Dortmund’s life very difficult, just as they did against Inter. Dortmund’s ability to break down Madrid’s intricate defense using their young forwards, such as Jadon Sancho and Karim Adeyemi, will be the difference-maker for this tie. Atlético will likely adopt a defensive approach, relying on counter-attacks from their strike partnership of Álvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann, or they might opt for a patient strategy, aiming to win through penalties.

Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain

These two teams have provided the UCL with some of its most memorable matches, such as the famous “La Remontada” match where Barcelona overcame a 4-0 deficit and won 6-5 on aggregate. Barcelona will be eager to make history once again this season, as they have not reached the semi-finals in five years. However, Paris Saint-Germain will have a lot to say about that, especially with superstar forward Kylian Mbappé leading the charge. The Frenchman, who has been heavily linked with a transfer to Real Madrid in the summer, will relish the opportunity to make a statement against his potential future rivals. He already has shown his might against a Spanish team in this tournament, as his three goals contributed massively to PSG’s 4-1 aggregate victory against Real Sociedad in the round of 16.

However, Barcelona will be a tougher nut to crack as they possess two strong defenders in Jules Koundé and Ronald Araújo who can deal with the speed of Mbappé down the left wing. Pau Cubarsí, the seventeen-year-old center-back plucked from Barca’s youth academy, has also shown defensive prowess beyond his years, as evinced by his man-of-the-match performance against Napoli in the round of 16. The same cannot be said for PSG’s defense as they will be missing key center-back Milan Škriniar due to injury, forcing them to rely on a young and untested Lucas Beraldo to partner captain center-back Marquinhos in the backline. Despite stretches of inconsistency earlier in the season, Barcelona’s attack is still strong enough to pose a threat through the skills of veteran striker Robert Lewandowski and 16-year-old forward Lamine Yamal. Overall, this quarter-final matchup is set to be an open encounter with both sides looking to pounce on each other’s weaknesses with their exciting attacks. But regardless of who ultimately prevails, this contest has the potential to become another classic.

Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich

The other side of the bracket will feature another trip down memory lane with Arsenal taking on German juggernauts Bayern Munich in the European stage for the first time since their encounter in 2017, when Bayern battered them 10-2 on aggregate. The English side are aiming to right their wrongs under the leadership of young manager Mikel Arteta, while Bayern will look to salvage what has been a poor season by their standards. 

Currently sitting an astonishing 13 points behind first place Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga with only seven games left to play, it seems almost inevitable that the Bavarians will relinquish the title of German champions after eleven consecutive seasons. To make matters worse, the team also suffered a new low very recently after a home defeat against rivals Dortmund—a result that has not occurred in a decade. To say that Bayern are having a tumultuous season would be an understatement; manager Thomas Tuchel has already announced his departure in the summer and big players such as wing-back Alphonso Davies and midfielder Joshua Kimmich are refusing to renew their contracts with the club.

Comparatively, Arsenal have been flourishing under the guise of manager Mikel Arteta, remaining undefeated in the Premier League since January and scoring 35 goals while only conceding four during that stretch of time. In theory, the Gunners have all it takes to defeat this underwhelming edition of Bayern in this heavyweight clash, but their UCL record remains a big question that Arteta’s team will have to answer. Despite their dominance in England, Arsenal have never won a Champions League in their history, and this season marked the first time the club has reached the knockouts since their fateful encounter with Bayern in 2017. The team’s lack of experience in the tournament was evident when they unexpectedly lost to the Portuguese team Porto 1-0 in the first leg of the round of 16. The Gunners ultimately prevailed through a penalty shootout, but Bayern will be a significantly greater challenge. Winners of six UCLs, Bayern has the firepower and experience to capitalize on any errors Arsenal makes. Notably, Bayern’s Harry Kane boasts an astonishing record of 14 goals against Arsenal during his time with Tottenham Hotspur and will relish the opportunity to score against his former rivals again. Fans can expect a fiercely contested encounter as one team looks to uphold their European domination while the other tries to etch its name into the Champions League trophy for the first time.

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City

Last but not least, the quarter-finals of this season’s UCL presents fans with a rematch of last season’s semi-finals where Manchester City comfortably won 5-1 on aggregate and went on to win their first-ever Champions League title. Therefore, Real will be eager for a chance at redemption, while City aims to make history by potentially securing back-to-back trebles.

Speaking of comfort, though, there wasn’t much of it in Real’s round of 16 matches against RB Leipzig, where they narrowly avoided elimination thanks to Leipzig’s lack of clinical finishing. Fortunately, the expected return of key defender Éder Militão from injury will provide a much-needed boost for Los Blancos ahead of this important fixture against a City team stacked with attacking talent—a cast spearheaded by striker Erling Haaland, the current joint-top goalscorer of the tournament with six goals. However, City are not without their own faults, having endured a shaky start to their season and currently sitting in third place in the Premier League. 

Though they have drastically improved and are currently on a 22-game unbeaten streak, the Mancunians do have some slight defensive issues that Real Madrid can capitalize on. For example, City right-back Kyle Walker is still recovering from injury and center back Nathan Aké was recently injured in a league game against Arsenal. Walker’s injury is particularly concerning because his absence leaves City’s right flank vulnerable to the dangerous runs of Real’s Vinicius Junior. The Brazilian winger is currently in brilliant form, having scored six goals in his last four games. Overall, this matchup is predicted to be just as impactful as the last two meetings between these two teams—so much so that the winner of this stage is likely to win the tournament as a whole.

The stage is set for another exhilarating round of knockout action in the UEFA Champions League. On one side of the bracket, underdogs Borussia Dortmund will take on the defensive powerhouse in Atletico Madrid, while Barcelona and PSG reunite for hopefully another spectacle of European soccer. On the other side of the bracket, a young Arsenal team under the guise of a visionary manager aims to bring a Champions League to North London, while Real Madrid seek revenge against familiar foes Manchester City. Whether you’re a supporter of one of these eight special teams or a neutral wanting to enjoy the show, soccer fans around the world are in for a treat as the plot of this UCL season thickens.