Rivalries and Storylines in the UCL Quarter Finals
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It’s March 17 in Switzerland. Fans of Napoli, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, AC Milan, Benfica, and Inter Milan are waiting anxiously to see who they would be facing in the UEFA Champions League Quarter Finals. It’s safe to say that, for a neutral fan, this draw went very well in terms of the matchups, and it certainly provides the full package: Tuchel vs. Pep, Milan vs. Napoli, and Chelsea vs. Madrid for the third year in a row.
#1: Benfica vs. Inter Milan:
This might not be the most exciting matchup on paper, but Benfica deserve their spot in the quarter-finals. They have been one of the best teams in Europe under the management of Roger Schmidt and his staff, boasting the perfect balance of talent and experience––even after the sale of Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea. Up top, the pace of Rafa Silva combined with the instinct and prowess of Gonçalo Ramos makes for a dynamic duo, especially with Ramos’ dominant season. Throughout 36 games in all competitions this season, the Portuguese striker has scored 24 times and assisted 10 times, proving to be one of the biggest talents in Europe. Controlling the midfield, João Mário––as well as the talent of Florentino Luís––provide the perfect balance of attack and defense. In defense, António Silva has been excellent all season, and it’s almost scary how good he is for a 19-year-old.
Meanwhile, Inter Milan is only third in the Serie A this season and barely scraped by FC Porto in the round of 16. Having been a primarily defensive side this season––playing with three central defenders rather than two––the matchup between the two sides should prove exciting, with Benfica playing their free-flowing attacking style against Inter’s defensive counter-attacking style.
However, Benfica holds a slight edge in this draw. Everything about them is clicking at the minute, and the underdog often comes out on top through the magic of the Champions League. If there was a dark horse candidate to go far in this tournament, it certainly would be Benfica.
#2: Manchester City vs. Bayern Munich:
Just days ago, Bayern Munich sacked their head coach, Julian Nagelsmann, leaving many supporters surprised. In all competitions this season, Bayern had only lost three games, and the coach had a contract until 2026, proving Bayern’s commitment to him. However, with his rapid sacking, they’ve brought in one of the best managers for domestic competitions in Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel’s record in the Champions League is excellent, having won the Champions League once in two finals appearances. Tuchel is a big fan of a three-back system, utilizing three central defenders and two wing-backs to provide significant offensive and defensive work support. The new manager will almost immediately revamp Bayern’s defensive structure in the hopes of preventing Manchester City’s strong attack. One thing to look out for is how Tuchel utilizes the talent of Jamal Musiala. Nagelsmann certainly transformed Musiala’s game, and it will be intriguing to see how his development continues under Tuchel and how big of a threat he will be against the Citizens. With that in mind, Tuchel will not have the ideal conditions to prepare for Manchester City, with the game scheduled to be in two weeks, which could prove the recent sacking detrimental to Bayern’s Champions League hopes.
Manchester City, on the other hand, likely won’t deviate from their usual game plan at all. Pep Guardiola’s side will play with direct wingers and attacking fullbacks. As usual, they will control the bulk of the possession and try to wear down Bayern. Both sides are going to go evenly against each other, but the appointment of Tuchel gives Bayern a different element in the Champions League. It will be extremely exciting to see what he brings to Bayern and how they cope with the attack of Manchester City. However, Tuchel won’t be able to address all of Bayern’s concerns against Manchester City in the first leg. In all likelihood, Manchester City will take the victory in the first leg of this enticing matchup.
#3: Chelsea vs. Real Madrid:
For the past two years, Chelsea and Real Madrid have competed against each other in the Champions League knockouts. So far, the record is split, with Madrid advancing last season but Chelsea advancing the season before. Coming into the matchup, Chelsea has been digging themselves out of their torrid form from the middle of the season under Graham Potter, as the squad is starting to gel more and more. The Blues, however, will have to cope without one of their best talents, Benoît Badiashile, who wasn’t registered for their Champions League squad. In the case that Thiago Silva cannot make it back in time for the first leg, Marc Cucurella will step into the left center-backrole, having been named the Man of the Match during the Blues’ round of 16 game against Borussia Dortmund. The Blues, however, sport a strong record against Madrid in recent matches, having won twice, drawn once, and lost only once in their games in the past two years.
Madrid, on the other hand, enters this game with a completely different outlook. Though their domestic season in La Liga hasn’t been ideal, as they’ve fallen behind FC Barcelona, Madrid consistently brings a different level of dominance to the Champions League. The past few years are a testament to that: in the last seven years, they have claimed the trophy four times––adding to their world-record 14 titles. Only teams of Madrid’s caliber can pull off last-minute comebacks against both Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City in the same year. Who wouldn’t be scared of a team consisting of multiple-time winners of the Champions League, such as Luka Modrić and Karim Benzema, or some of the most expensive talents in the world like Vinícius Jr., Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga, and Federico Valverde? Regarding the matchup, we’ll have to see how Carlo Ancelotti lines up his midfield, but a third straight year of Chelsea vs. Real Madrid is definitely something not to take your eyes off.
#4: Napoli vs. AC Milan:
It’s rare that we get a chance to witness two teams from the same league compete in the knockout rounds of a Champions League, but a matchup of the stature of Napoli vs. AC Milan is even more than that. It’s filled with everything that makes a soccer match exciting: rivalry, talent, experience, tactics, atmosphere, etc. This matchup is surely one for the ages, with the winner set to face the winner of Inter Milan vs. Benfica. Napoli have exceeded everyone’s expectations by storm this season, solidifying their spot at the top of Serie A with a nineteen-point gap over the second spot. The reasons for their success lay in the unprecedented dominance of Victor Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, and Kim Min-Jae. It’s more than fair to say that Napoli pulled off two of the biggest bargain deals with Kvaratskhelia and Kim. The two have slotted right into Napoli’s team, which at this point is surely destined to bring the Serie A title back to the fans. Meanwhile, in 29 games in all competitions this season, Victor Osimhen has bagged 25 goals and assisted five. He’s been nothing short of excellent, and fans will hope to see his dominance alongside Kvaratskhelia and Kim be key factors in how the game against Milan plays out for Luciano Spalleti’s side.
However, after winning the Serie A last season, this is not how AC Milan would have wanted this season to unfold. With that said, the talent of the team can not be neglected for this matchup. Having squeezed past Tottenham in the last round, the Italian side found themselves competing to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League against one of their rivals. More than ever, it’s time for players like Fikayo Tomori, Rafael Leão, and Theo Hernández to produce. With them at the top of their game, this Milan side looks much better, and Napoli, as good as they have been, will be tested to the real limit.
Similar to Benfica, everything is clicking for Napoli at the minute, while Milan is struggling to find their footing. Napoli’s best players are simply performing better, and the club is carrying a real sense of fearlessness no matter who they face.
real sense of fearlessness no matter who they face.