The Road to Madrid: Nerve Sport analyses the Champions League quarter-final draw

Champions League

Written by Kieran Green (Instagram: @kierangjournalism)

After a Round of 16 packed with excitement and upsets, the Champions League quarter-final draw took place in Nyon, Switzerland. It had all the potential to bring some mouthwatering ties for the final eight clubs and did not disappoint – pitting some huge teams against each other for a place in the semi-finals. Nerve Sport’s Kieran Green took a look at the games after the draw was made, making predictions for who he thinks will advance to the next stage of the competition.

AJAX VS JUVENTUS (10/4/19 & 16/4/19)

Juventus will be happy with their draw for the quarter-finals, after narrowly beating Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 thanks to a stunning hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The two-time winners of the tournament head into the tie as one of the strong favourites to lift the coveted trophy in Madrid, boasting an array of world class talent that comfortably topped their group earlier on in the campaign. However, it would be foolish to write off Ajax before a ball is even kicked. The Dutch outfit entered the quarter-final draw fresh off the back of completing a huge upset away at Real Madrid, dethroning the winners of the last three tournaments with a resounding 4-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

And with players such as Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs Light running the show in Spain, manager Erik Ten Hag will be casting them into the spotlight once more, as he seeks to cause another huge upset on the continent.

My verdict:

It’s no doubt that Juventus will be favourites to win the tie by some distance, being one of the best sides in the world and having the likes of Paulo Dybala and Ronaldo turning out for you every week.

For me Ajax must look to win the battle in the midfield as they did in the last round, and it is down to players such as Dusan Tadic to do this. It is a monumental occasion for Ajax, who will feel as if the draw has gone against their favour, but I am sure they will be well up for it come April.

However, I just see Juventus being too much for them over the course of both legs – they are desperate to win this trophy again and will be clinical in the final third. I predict Juventus to qualify.

Liverpool vs FC Porto (09/4/19 & 17/4/19)

A clinical Liverpool side ensured every English club would be in the quarter-final draw, after an impressive 3-1 win away to an uninspired Bayern Munich.

Following a goalless first leg at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp’s men were quick out of the blocks and overcame a nervy first 30 minutes at the Allianz to eventually outclass their opponents. The Reds reach the quarter-final stage for the second time in two seasons, an impressive feat for a side who had previously been absent from the top European stage for quite some time.

FC Porto arrive fresh from knocking out last year’s semi finalists AS Roma, in what proved to be a tricky tie over the two legs. The Portuguese club will be looking to get their revenge on Liverpool, who thrashed them 5-0 in the Round of 16 in last year’s competition.

My verdict:

Although all of the possible outcomes of the draw were undoubtedly difficult, Liverpool supporters will feel as if they have got the easiest possible game here. Whilst the manager has outlined the importance of respecting this opposition, many will expect his side to finish the tie in the first leg – although Liverpool supporters know better than anyone that this is not how it works in the Champions League.  

Porto will definitely be out to cause an upset by knocking out the five time winners and progressing to the next round, but I expect them to stutter early on as they did last year. Overall I feel Liverpool are a much more rounded side, calm in the defence and lethal in attack, and with better options to influence the game from the bench.

Whilst Porto will give Liverpool a strong fight home and away, I just think the Reds will prove too much for them to overcome and will enter the pot for the semi-finals. I predict Liverpool to qualify.

Tottenham vs Manchester City (09/4/19 & 17/4/19)

An ‘all English’ draw between two Premier League heavyweights ensures that at least one English club will be playing in the semi-finals. Both of these sides will certainly feel that they have a strong chance of doing so.

Manchester City are desperately seeking their first European title and will be looking to better their effort from last year, where they were knocked out at this very stage. They enter the quarter-final round after comfortably dispatching German strugglers Schalke, notably thrashing them 7-0 in the second leg.

Their English counterparts Spurs will be desperate to reach the semi finals of this competition for the first time in their history, after defying the odds to escape their group before edging past Borussia Dortmund in the knockouts.

My verdict:

In my opinion, Spurs are one of the weakest sides left in the competition, and would have definitely been hoping to draw Ajax or Porto. Whilst they have knowledge of how their opponents set up on the pitch, City have the experience of playing at this stage of the tournament before, which could be the catalyst in helping them secure the tie over what will be a cagey two legs.

Tottenham fans will be happy to be reaching this stage alone – after all, at one point it appeared they would end up in the Round of 32 for the Europa League instead. However, they have done unbelievably to reach the quarter-finals, and have beaten their opponents several times in the past. I believe this mentality needs to be used by Mauricio Pochettino’s men if they are to gain anything from this at all, and they cannot shy away from the occasion.

However City are one of the best sides in world football currently, and have the squad depth to be able to rest players for the game. This is where I think this quarter final could be won, as Tottenham’s squad has been thin on signings in recent years, meaning any injuries cause serious problems.

Resting key players will be an issue due to domestic progress, and if a big game man such as Harry Kane or Heung-Min-Son are injured prior to this then Spurs will be in big trouble. For this reason, I predict Manchester City to qualify.

Manchester United vs FC Barcelona (10/4/19 & 16/4/19)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United were rewarded with a mouthwatering tie against Barcelona following their heroics in Paris. They became the first side in Champions League history to win a tie after losing the first leg at home by two or more goals, and will definitely feel they have a chance of defying the odds once more against the Catalan giants.

Meanwhile Barcelona are chasing a sixth European crown, and will be feeling as if they have a strong opportunity to do so this year – especially after watching the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern being dispatched in the last sixteen.

This is by no means an ‘easy draw’ for the Spaniards, but with the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez amongst their ranks, it will be the toughest challenge yet for the hopeful Red Devils.

My verdict:

For me, it is United that should be worrying the most about their game plan for the tie. Whilst certain Barcelona players are arguably beyond the peak of their abilities, they are still absolutely world class and will smell blood after seeing some of their biggest rivals knocked out earlier in the competition. It is their best chance in recent years of winning it, but an in-form United side will definitely be out to sabotage that.

Since the appointment of Solskjaer, the Red Devils have won almost every game they have played, and a place in the semi-finals alone could be the deciding factor in him receiving the manager’s position on a permanent basis. For these reasons I think he has a point to prove. Can he turn United back into European giants once more? He definitely has the potential to, and it hangs in the balance of this game.

It will all depend on how he sets up to defend against the dangerous front three of Barcelona, and whether his side can catch them on the break to score some important goals.

United have been hit by injuries recently, but if they can have players such as Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sanchez ready to make an impact from the bench or even start, then it will be a huge boost.

I expect Marcus Rashford to cause Gerard Pique some big problems, and if United study their opponent’s previous tie against Lyon, they will learn some important lessons. Barca looked very ropey for the opening periods, and some weak spots seemed evident early on. For me, United will have to break up the opposition in the midfield, and hit their opponents hard on the break. If they take a defensive approach, Barcelona will eventually find a way through, and the floodgates will open up – killing the tie.

I think this is the hardest result to make a prediction for, but I am expecting the class of Barcelona to stifle a resilient Manchester United side late on, just edging it to progress to the semi’s. I predict Barcelona to qualify.

Draw in full:

  • Ajax vs Juventus
  • Liverpool vs FC Porto
  • Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur
  • Manchester United vs FC Barcelona

Semi Finals:

  • Tottenham/Man City vs Ajax/Juventus
  • Man United/Barcelona vs Liverpool/Porto