The end of the Champions League business begins in earnest on Tuesday night as Europe’s top teams face off, starting with Real Madrid v Liverpool and Manchester City’s clash with Borussia Dortmund. With Bayern Munich hosting Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday as Porto and Chelsea play the first of their two games at Sevilla, it will be a tempting collection of matches.
Let’s get into some predictions:
Man City shut down Haaland
Entering the quarter-final with Borussia Dortmund in a form of relentless victory, Manchester City are not too far from carving out a surprising place in Champions League history. There have been 706 minutes of scoreless Champions League football against Pep Guardiola’s defense, a run that is already good for the second-best in competition history behind Arsenal’s 2005-06 side. who dropped to just five minutes from 1000 without conceding. This is particularly surprising given the number of questions they had about the club’s backline as the season approached.
The Ruben Dias-John Stones tandem certainly didn’t fly under the radar and this is the rare occasion when a soon-to-be title-winning team has as much credit for their defensive flair as their excellence in attack, albeit of course in the City case. there were never any questions about the firepower at this end of the field. As such, praise has rightly gone to the new defenders – Dias is among the favorites to win individual awards in English at the end of his first season at Manchester after a move to Benfica – and old, with a reminder from England last month capping Stones’ excellent revival under Guardiola.
In Europe, City have certainly benefited from what appears to be a rather favorable set of opponents. Since Luis Diaz struck on Matchday 1 with Porto, Olympiacos, Marseille and Borussia Mönchengladbach have been sidelined with barely a broken sweat. In theory, Marco Reus, Thorgan Hazard and of course Erling Haaland should represent a step forward for City’s back line although Dortmund’s form have been so unhappy recently, culminating in a 2-1 home loss to Eintracht. Frankfurt on Saturday is up. for debate.
Haaland is arguably the best individual striker City have faced in the Champions League this season, the competition’s top scorer with 10 goals in six games. For him to arrive at the Etihad Stadium as Premier League leaders vie with a host of European giants for his signing adds to the intrigue of this tie, but now might not be the time for him to shine.
The young Norwegian excels at finding positions on the pitch to score valuable shots. Its movement is exceptional; Find him a shot spot in the box and chances are he will make the most of the opportunity you give him. At the start of his career, Haaland was not the man to mold the odds entirely for himself, rather a finisher. ultimate. The question that could define this tie is whether players like Reus and Hazard can give their star striker the chances he needs to attack players like Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko.
City are exceptional in preventing the ball from reaching Haaland’s place. The English giants conceded only one goal as they faced a ridiculously small number of shots (35 in eight games) and most of them were low probability efforts. According to Opta, City’s total expected goals conceded (xG) – a metric that rates the likelihood of a shot being scored – is 2.26, a comically low number when the next best defense in the competition is Chelsea with more. twice that number (5.73).
Haaland is so good City only need to give him half a chance and he could score. His problem could be that Guardiola’s defense is so strong that those opportunities simply won’t present themselves.
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Madrid’s three full-backs favor Liverpool
The draw of the round could well be the meeting of Real Madrid and Liverpool, the champions of Spain and England with 19 European titles between them. Even though the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Sergio Ramos means a little less stardust – and no chance for Mohamed Salah to get revenge on the latter – it adds to the tactical intrigue as Zinedine Zidane and Jurgen Klopp seek to protect what looks like. be gentle under the belly by their side.
Klopp’s approach was straightforward and effective against Arsenal. If Fabinho and Thiago regain possession, no one has much of a chance attacking Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips anyway. Zidane, meanwhile, had turned to a three-way defense during Ramos’ initial absence earlier in 2021 and Saturday’s 2-0 win over Eibar offered an indication that it could continue into the decisive weeks. of the season.
It’s easy to see why Zidane has come to favor a threesome. Neither Marcelo nor Ferland Mendy are entirely convincing to do all that is required by a left-back, the former in particular is a defensive sieve, while Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola have suffered injuries. Likewise, if none of Raphael Varane, Nacho or Eder Militao seem so convincing without Ramos beside them, it is better to go for strength in numbers.
Perhaps Madrid’s problem is that a back three is a perfect fit for Liverpool. The traditional deployment of three center-backs gives teams a man’s advantage against hitting lines, but when Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson bomb forward while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane lead inside this power-play s ‘evaporates quickly, as does the excellent presser of Klopp’s men deployed at Emirates Stadium. could negate the advantages that an additional defender brings in the construction of the game.
According to Opta, Liverpool have averaged 2.4 points per game against teams in a back of three or five in the last three years of Premier League and Champions League football, compared to 2.17 against teams in a three-to-five backstroke. four. That the Reds don’t score more against those teams with a three or five might not come as a surprise – their opponents have an extra defender on the pitch after all – but they also only concede 0.74 goals per game against 0.93 when facing. a back four.
Real Madrid certainly have a striker who can make sure they get goals at Karim Benzema, and Vinicius Junior could exploit Liverpool’s high line the same way Timo Werner did if he starts. But, if Zidane opts for the three-man defense, he can see that he is playing into his opponent’s hands.
Chelsea overcome scoring difficulties
Chelsea’s two-legged affair with Porto in Sevilla should be a relatively comfortable walk to the semi-finals. This is not to disparage the Portuguese team, which performed exceptionally well against Juventus, but Sergio Conceicao’s side face a significantly bigger test from the Blues than from an Italian roster giant. who struggles to define his identity on the pitch under Andrea Pirlo.
This criticism is not one that could be directed at Thomas Tuchel, who has his team playing football in such a clearly defined way that an external shock such as Thiago Silva’s red card to West Bromwich Albion can send such shock waves through the system Chelsea can dispatch. five goals for the 19th best team in the Premier League. Assuming they fail to leave a man down again, they should be able to stand their ground against a Porto side that Moussa Marega’s usual punching partner Mehdi Taremi will miss.
Porto’s defense is firm, but Pepe’s heroism in the win against Juventus could have painted a false picture. Good attacks can bring them joy, and although their defensive record is the fourth best among the remaining teams in terms of goals conceded (seven in eight games), opponents have amassed 12.69 xG. Much of that discrepancy can be attributed to the penultimate group stage against Manchester City, which turned 2.88 xG into zero goals.
Does Porto’s defense live dangerously at UCL?
Man City 3-1 Porto
Porto 2-0 Olympiacos
Porto 3-0 Marseille
Marseille 0-2 Porto
Porto 0-0 Man City
Olympiacos 0-2 Porto
Porto 2-1 Juventus
Juventus 3-2 Porto
Meanwhile of the goalkeepers who remained in the competition, only Manuel Neuer prevented more goals than Agustin Marchesin while Chancel Mbemba leads the tournament in blocked shots with nine. It’s all to be admired, but when a team depends on the heroism of your center-backs and goalkeepers, it leaves them with less margin for error. Compare that with Chelsea, whose defensive excellence under Tuchel was defined by preventing opponents from approaching their surface, let alone testing Edouard Mendy. Even West Brom needed a string of exceptional finishes to rack up such a record on Saturday.
The question that will define this tie could be whether Chelsea forwards can sanction any regression to the average by the Porto defense. It’s tempting to point the finger at and laugh at Timo Werner’s cavalcade of easy misfires, especially for defeated Germany against North Macedonia. That would be unfair because if he didn’t make the most of the chances he was offered – scoring eight times in the domestic leagues and in Europe with shots worth 13.55xG – he offered plenty to those surrounding him, a layoff composed for Mason. Mount to tap into a nearly empty net was his sixth assist of the season in the Premier League.
Werner might not be the number nine Chelsea thought they would get, but right now they have one in Olivier Giroud, a striker who is hot this season while his teammate is cold. Against Porto’s low block, his ability to find a way to cross wide should offer the Blues enough to win this draw in the same way they beat Atletico: dominate possession, find wide avenues and shoot. make the most of a defense’s mistakes. first opponent.
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