After the final 16 wrapped up over the weekend and several other huge groups bowed out early — Juventus even modified managers after shedding to Lyon — we’re right down to the ultimate eight, competing in Lisbon, for the 2019-20 Champions League.
The format has been altered in gentle of the coronavirus pandemic, with the normal “two-legged” home-and-away construction for the quarterfinals and semifinals changed by a easy one-and-done knockout by to the coronation of a winner. There aren’t any extra away targets or combination scores; as a substitute, we get 90 minutes for a winner to emerge (or, if that does not occur, one other 30 minutes of additional time adopted by a penalty shootout).
Which groups have the very best shot of advancing to the semifinals? Which gamers might be key in settling the quarters? Will Bayern cruise to the trophy, or will a brand-new staff win it in 2020?
Contemplate this your information to the quarterfinals.
Leap to: Will we get a brand new champ? | Depay’s redemption | Do not sleep on Atalanta | Why Bayern are assured | PSG’s finest, and worst, likelihood to win | Key gamers | Atletico good for this competitors | Choosing the winners
Will we now have a brand-new champion this season?
PSG, Man Metropolis, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich are 4 of the edges left competing for the Champions League. ESPN Illustration
It is a numbers recreation, is not it? You’ve gotten eight groups left. Solely two, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, have received it earlier than, and as luck would have it, they play one another on Friday evening, which suggests three of the 4 semifinalists, come what could, will likely be sides who’ve by no means lifted the European Cup.
Past that, there’s loads of proof to recommend we’ll get a brand new winner, beginning with the truth that the format and circumstances are solely unprecedented. These are single-leg, straight knockout video games, and so they are typically much less predictable than the usual home-and-away affairs. Every little thing, after all, is behind closed doorways, and everybody will likely be in a bubble in Portugal. Most of those groups are accustomed to the previous, however not the latter, as throughout their home seasons post-lockdown they had been nonetheless residing at residence. We’re in uncharted waters right here.
However does that imply an underdog will triumph then? Not essentially. Whoever emerges from the heavyweight Bayern vs. Barcelona quarterfinal will nonetheless be a favourite. And whereas neither Paris Saint-Germain nor Manchester Metropolis have received it earlier than, given their spending over the previous decade and the truth that they have been Champions League knockout-stage regulars, you would not describe both as an underdog.
These 4 golf equipment are all within the international high six on the subject of spending on salaries, so it is not significantly romantic, however it’s honest to say that whereas the others aren’t precisely “superclubs,” they are not all minnows both. Atletico Madrid have reached the ultimate twice previously decade, however they revel within the ugly, street-fighting underdog standing, partly because of Diego Simeone, partly as a result of they share a hometown with the sport’s final blue bloods, Actual Madrid.
Bayern Munich must be the odds-on favourites to win all of it in Lisbon, however they will not face a straightforward path to the ultimate starting with Messi and Barcelona this Friday. A. Hassenstein/Getty Photographs for FC Bayern
Leipzig have been within the German high flight solely since 2016 and that is solely their second Champions League participation, however theirs is not fairly the romantic upstart story, which is why so many conventional followers dislike them. Or, extra precisely, they may admire their state-of-the-art scouting, entertaining soccer and high-energy fashion, however lament their heavy reliance on company sponsorship. They’re underdogs of a special type, extra like outcasts.
By no means concern, although — Atalanta and Olympique Lyonnais match the underdog tag to a tee. The previous’s wage invoice is lower than a tenth that of PSG, whom they face on Wednesday. However they’ve punched approach above their weight the previous few seasons, taking part in an all-out attacking fashion that has seen them outscore nearly all people in Europe’s high 5 leagues.
As for Lyon, as a result of the French league was deserted in March, they’ve performed solely two aggressive video games previously 5 months. Additionally they had a tough home marketing campaign, altering managers within the fall and ending seventh. Nonetheless, they managed to knock out a heavyweight, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus, within the spherical of 16. If you wish to root for the (comparatively) little man, go for a kind of two. — Gab Marcotti
Depay finds redemption as Lyon’s chief
Depay, proper, was instrumental in eliminating Juventus from the Champions League and has proven he could make an affect in huge matches. Up subsequent? Man Metropolis on Saturday. MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP through Getty Photographs
When Memphis Depay left Manchester United for Lyon in January 2017, it was as a lot to do with the Dutch ahead’s dedication and perspective as his performances on the pitch which, for a £25m signing, had been constant solely when it comes to their mediocrity. Louis van Gaal, United’s supervisor on the time, believed he might mould Depay right into a staff participant, having labored with him throughout his spell as Netherlands coach, however when the then-21-year-old reacted to being dropped to the reserves by turning up for the sport in a Rolls Royce whereas sporting a cowboy hat, it was clear that he had some rising as much as do.
United proved to be the flawed membership on the flawed time for Depay, however shifting to Lyon has been his salvation and the 26-year-old will lead the French staff’s Champions League assault in Lisbon having come of age with Les Gones.
Depay was handed the captaincy by coach Rudi Garcia earlier this season — a outstanding flip of occasions to those that knew him at Outdated Trafford — however a cruciate ligament damage suffered in December halted his progress at Lyon, threatening to each finish his season and power him out of Euro 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to each Ligue 1 and Euro 2020 being canceled, has inadvertently led to Depay having the ability to return to motion, nevertheless, and his penalty within the spherical of 16 second-leg tie in opposition to Juventus in Turin proved to be the decisive purpose that despatched Lyon by to the quarterfinals on the away targets rule.
Lyon will now face Manchester Metropolis in Estadio Jose Alvalade on Saturday and Depay will go into the sport figuring out he already has haunted his former membership’s neighbours within the Champions League. Again in September 2018, Depay created the purpose for Nabil Fekir for Lyon’s shock 2-1 group-stage win on the Etihad earlier than offering the assists for each of Maxwel Cornet’s targets within the 2-2 draw within the return recreation in France two months later.
Metropolis had been in all probability anticipating to face one other former United No. 7 (Juve’s Ronaldo) within the quarterfinals, however they need to not really feel a way of reduction that it will likely be Depay as a substitute.
Unusually for United, they insisted on a buy-back clause within the deal that took Depay to Lyon three years in the past. They knew what he was able to in the proper circumstances and he has clearly discovered himself in Lyon. — Mark Ogden
If footballing aesthetics are your factor, then Atalanta are taking part in arguably essentially the most lovely soccer in Europe at this time limit. However converse to those that have adopted the membership for years and so they’re pinching themselves that their beloved Atalanta, so typically the outsiders in each competitors, are thought of real Champions League contenders.
Having misplaced their Champions League opener 4-Zero away at Dinamo Zagreb, they one way or the other edged by the group earlier than dispatching Valencia 8-Four on combination within the second spherical, a pair of video games that gained added notoriety in gentle of the coronavirus pandemic. That is all very new for the Nerazzurri devoted. Although they completed third in every of the previous two seasons, they had been historically a extra midtable Serie A aspect, working on a low funds and the equal of straightforward prey for different greater footballing vultures. Their final main trophy was in 1961 after they received the Coppa Italia, however they’re now the envy of a lot of Europe, maybe this season’s “neutrals’ favourite” as Ajax had been in 2018-19.
Atalanta’s 3-4-1-2 formation is concentrated on overloading their opponents, with the midfielders there to dictate precisely which areas of the pitch they must be taking part in in. It creates each house and alternative — their velocity in transition includes shifting the purpose of assault from left to proper, and vice versa, creating house in the midst of the pitch for the good roaming Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, Josip Ilicic, Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata. This tactical trickery is to supervisor Gian Piero Gasperini’s immense credit score; he has moulded this staff so the gamers can interchange positions within the blink of an eye fixed, whereas making them structurally elusive to cease persistently.
Atalanta’s all-out assault and unpredictable ways make them a harmful staff to guess in opposition to over 90 minutes, even in opposition to PSG on Wednesday. Getty Photographs
This season, Atalanta scored essentially the most targets in Serie A (98, third most in Europe’s high 5 leagues), had essentially the most pictures heading in the right direction and third-most probabilities (535 — behind Manchester Metropolis and Napoli). Briefly, they may give PSG an actual run for his or her cash with a squad that price £94m, lower than half what their opponents paid for Neymar.
However equally, that is unknown territory for them. They’ve by no means been within the Champions League earlier than this season, and so they’re solely a few accidents away from bother — they’re already probably with out Ilicic for the PSG recreation as a consequence of private motive. Whereas many pundits anticipated them to bow out gracefully, Atalanta are quietly adamant they are going to be a power come the ultimate throes of this competitors. The scariest factor for PSG? Atalanta don’t have anything to lose.
“We will beat anybody over a single leg,” mentioned Atalanta midfielder Remo Freuler. “We imagine in our probabilities, after all, in any other case we would not even trouble going to Lisbon.” — Tom Hamilton
Steve Nicol is shocked Bayern Munich dominated Chelsea regardless of day off after their Bundesliga season ended.
Bayern Munich are second-favourites to carry the trophy, and if you speak to those that had been a part of the 2013 class that received the Champions League, you will find out about two key components that should swing in your favour if you’re to beat Europe.
Firstly, in keeping with Bayern Munich centre again Jerome Boateng, you want “a little bit little bit of luck.” Then it’s worthwhile to have a “sturdy mentality,” with everybody pulling in a single course. He thinks of Liverpool final yr: “They had been a little bit household sticking collectively.” However whereas Bayern are actually in unison, earlier within the season they had been a disconnected bunch.
Boateng was one of many membership’s extra skilled gamers, like Thomas Muller, who, again when the 2019-20 season was nonetheless in its infancy, discovered himself on the periphery of the squad below earlier supervisor Niko Kovac. They had been considering life away from Bayern, however now, below Hansi Flick, as Boateng displays on profitable his eighth straight Bundesliga and their Champions League aspirations, he smiles as he talks about his coach.
“He [Flick] introduced again the enjoyment for us as a staff to play soccer, to have enjoyable,” Boateng says. And so they play like they’re having enjoyable, too: lightning-quick fullbacks, ridiculously proficient midfielders, wingers sprinting infield to assault the center after which Robert Lewandowski, arguably essentially the most prolific striker in world soccer, main the assault.
However don’t underestimate the significance of Boateng and that partnership with Manuel Neuer. The skilled centre-back has seen all of it in a wealthy and assorted profession, and he possesses a level-headed character that gives the look he’s internally evaluating all potential influencing components within the remaining rounds of the Champions League. He personally feels health will likely be king, with Bayern ideally taking part in 4 video games in 15 days by to the ultimate.
“On the finish, whoever wins will say, we received the Champions League with this type of little event, it was completely different however we made it,” Boateng says. “I believe each season after all has its personal story and to win this Champions League … it is actually arduous work and it is particular.” — Tom Hamilton
Frank Leboeuf says Kylian Mbappe will make the ultimate name on taking part in in PSG’s Champions League match.
Thomas Tuchel has been at PSG for less than two years, however on Wednesday evening, he neatly defined the dynamic between the membership and the Champions League.
“Each time we get near a Champions League recreation, one thing unfavourable occurs. I do not know why,” the German mentioned. By means of the years, even going again to the pre-QSI period, PSG’s European campaigns have typically been jinxed by accidents, suspensions, errors, stress and the stress of sky-high expectations. This season is not any completely different.
In case you take a look at the season as an entire and the place the staff is now, with the progress made previously 12 months, how Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have been taking part in, how they lastly have a high goalkeeper in Keylor Navas, there’s numerous optimism that this might lastly be the yr. The draw was variety to them. The one-legged video games will take away all of the ghosts of the humiliating remontadas they suffered final season in opposition to Manchester United at residence within the final 16, and in 2017 away at Barcelona on the similar stage. Over 90 minutes, the French champions are definitely able to beating anybody. We noticed it after they destroyed Barça 4-0, Bayern 3-Zero and Actual Madrid 3-Zero previously three years.
With their Brazilian famous person and their French prodigy, they’ve two of the very best gamers on the planet, every able to profitable a recreation on their very own. Neymar has by no means been happier in Paris; he lastly feels at residence, and the membership is hoping that they might renew his deal, identical to they did Mbappe’s. The environment contained in the dressing room can be the very best it is ever been. That is why, collectively, they’ve change into higher on the pitch too.
They nonetheless naturally rely rather a lot on the person brilliance of Neymar and Mbappe, however the affect that Angel Di Maria had this season, the output of Pablo Sarabia and the artistic expertise of Marco Verratti have made the staff stronger as a unit. And in Mauro Icardi, they’ve top-of-the-line finishers within the recreation if he will get the service he wants.
Robust defensively, balanced in midfield, distinctive offensively and with a supervisor who hopefully would have realized from his errors of final season, with nice momentum after profitable a home treble and a beneficial draw: all of the lights must be inexperienced for PSG. And but, it is the worst time for them to lastly win this Champions League.
Neymar, left, might be compelled to attempt to win with out Mbappe, proper, arguably the important thing participant to creating PSG tick. FRANCK FIFE/AFP through Getty Photographs
The choice taken by the French league to cease Ligue 1 whereas the remainder of Europe’s high leagues ultimately concluded safely signifies that the Parisians have performed solely two aggressive video games in 5 months.
Equally, PSG will wrestle much more as a result of they will not have their strongest aspect out. First, Mbappe was the sufferer of a mistimed however horrible deal with from Loic Perrin in opposition to Saint-Etienne. He is a big doubt for Wednesday’s recreation. After shedding Neymar from January and February onward previously two seasons, PSG actually wished to keep away from shedding one other of their stars. With out the Frenchman, this can be a completely completely different staff given the added stress on Neymar. Then defender Thilo Kehrer damage his again and broke a bone in his ear, Layvin Kurzawa is out (hamstring) and to high all of it, Verratti injured his calf at coaching final week and will miss the quarterfinal. Even when Mbappe and Verratti can play, they will not be 100 % for the sport and it will likely be a a lot weaker PSG aspect consequently.
On high of that, the membership hoped that the out-of-contract trio, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier, would keep to complete the season; PSG had been additionally hoping to maintain the very promising Tanguy Kouassi on the membership. Solely Silva will likely be there to face Atalanta. Kouassi left on a free switch to Bayern Munich, whereas Cavani and Meunier declined the provide of a two-month extension. In case you add that Di Maria is suspended, it signifies that PSG have gone from excessive hopes and ambition to gloom and pessimism.
All of the latest setbacks and unhealthy information will definitely make their life tougher. However contemplating PSG are a membership that is by no means ceased to amaze, each in good and unhealthy methods, you may by no means say by no means. — Julien Laurens
Gamers who ought to make a distinction within the quarterfinals
The FC guys weigh-in on whether or not Clement Lenglet ought to’ve been referred to as for a push earlier than netting Barca’s opener.
Single-game knockout rounds are likely to lend themselves to impactful people imposing themselves on the motion, so we requested professional scout Tor-Kristian Karlsen to take a look at a trio of gamers who might be particularly important subsequent week.
Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, FW, Atalanta: Though extremely revered in Italy, the artistic Argentine attacking midfielder nonetheless hasn’t fairly achieved the worldwide recognition he deserves. Gomez is a technically good participant, stuffed with pretty little touches and layoffs, with the flexibility tackle opponents in broad and central areas, arrange teammates or end with a thunderous shot. Maybe considerably underappreciated as a consequence of by no means having performed for one of many established Italian giants, Gomez has earned solely 4 caps for his nation.
Now, at 32, Gomez is taking part in the soccer of his life, and Atalanta’s probabilities of inflicting an upset in opposition to PSG relaxation closely on their inspirational captain.
Emil Forsberg, MF/FW, RB Leipzig: As soon as considered probably the most thrilling, up-and-coming gamers within the German Bundesliga, the Swedish winger/attacking midfielder hasn’t fairly managed to push on from his wonderful 2016-17 season when he topped the help charts with a powerful 22. Even so, Forsberg remains to be an excellent footballer, and whereas Timo Werner has grabbed the headlines (and since gone to hitch new staff Chelsea), the 28-year-old does have the technical means and contact of sophistication to make a helpful contribution — be it a superb cross or a well-executed direct free kick — when it issues essentially the most.
He scored Leipzig’s first-ever Champions League purpose (vs. Monaco in 2017-18) and might want to have a giant recreation as a doable fulcrum in Leipzig’s assault.
Renan Lodi, DF, Atletico Madrid: The left-back had essentially the most traumatic of La Liga debuts when he was despatched off earlier than half-time in opposition to Getafe in August final yr. Then adopted a interval of inconsistency and frequent shows of defensive frailty, however Diego Simeone caught with the younger Brazilian. Renan Lodi is not a weak spot and has since established himself as an everyday within the Atletico Madrid aspect. The 21-year-old masters each phases of the sport; he loves defending (and an old style deal with), is ready to ship crosses from superior positions and is sensible and technically gifted sufficient to interact in combinational play. He was man of the match within the Champions League residence leg in opposition to Liverpool. — Tor-Kristian Karlsen
Diego Simeone has Atletico in fantastic type for a knockout event. This staff is constructed for the stress of the state of affairs, and so they have already eradicated final season’s champions, Liverpool, on this competitors. David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Photographs
Does it heighten your suspicion that Atletico is likely to be the “shock” winners of this redesigned event if you recognize that below Simeone, they’ve by no means misplaced a knockout Champions League tie or match until Ronaldo’s been within the different staff? If nothing else, it ought to definitely heighten your appreciation of the Argentinian coach.
In fact, Atleti misplaced two finals to Ronaldo-inspired Actual Madrid groups, plus a semifinal and a quarterfinal. Then, final season, it was Ronaldo’s hat trick for Juve that dumped Los Rojiblancos out on the first knockout stage.
So is the truth that Ronaldo and Juve flopped final week and are not in Lisbon a touch that nothing can stand in Atleti’s approach now?
That must be too huge a conclusion given Simeone nonetheless has a health concern over a key participant, Thomas Partey, and ongoing calibration required to get the very best out of his first rate array of attacking gamers. The chance, you’d say, is that he does not double down on his post-lockdown concept that Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa do not work nicely sufficient as a beginning pair. That means, in all chance, that Costa is most well-liked up entrance, probably with Marcos Llorente as his accomplice. In truth, there is a good likelihood that that is his beginning XI in opposition to RB Leipzig: Jan Oblak; Santiago Arias, Stefan Savic, Jose Giménez, Renan Lodi; Angel Correa, Koke, Saúl, Yannick Carrasco; Costa, Llorente.
Realistically, Atleti are a kind of sides who lose one thing with the absence of a house crowd. The brand-new Wanda Metropolitano may not be fairly as rabidly passionate because the Calderon was, however these followers are particular, and so they assist. The large plus for Atleti in one-off matches is that they are awfully arduous to beat, beginning with a keeper in Oblak who typically performs like he is the very best on the planet in that place. There have been three Champions League/European Cup finals for Atleti and three horrible “sob” tales thanks to 2 extra-time equalisers from opponents to disclaim victory, and a heartbreaking penalty shootout loss. This would possibly simply be the panacea yr. — Graham Hunter
Choosing the winners
Final, however not least, we now have predictions! Which groups will likely be left standing in Lisbon? Listed below are our greatest guesses.
PSG vs. Atalanta (Wednesday): Earlier than the coronavirus stoppage, PSG had been one of many three most dominant groups within the Champions League subject up to now, producing 19 factors from eight matches (third finest) with a mean purpose differential of +2.Zero per match (second finest). EloFootball.com ranks them third in Europe, too. However March was a very long time in the past, and Atalanta performed numerous matches, at a stable degree, this summer season. If the layoff, and Mbappe’s absence, do not matter, PSG is a stable favourite.
RB Leipzig vs. Atletico Madrid (Thursday): This can be a stylistically fascinating matchup, and it is likely to be essentially the most statistically tight, too. FiveThirtyEight provides RBL a 52% likelihood of advancing, whereas Atletico has a slight edge per EloFootball. Atleti’s type was higher after the summer season restart, although, and whereas Leipzig must be formidable once more subsequent season, they have not but had a possibility to exchange new Chelsea addition Timo Werner. That alone in all probability suggestions the scales in favor of the 2014 and 2016 finalists.
Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona (Friday): Regardless of the seemingly nonstop existential disaster round Messi and co, there’s nothing inherently flawed with Barcelona. However Bayern has performed like one of many high two groups in Europe for a lot of the previous 9 months, whereas Barca has been merely superb. Bayern had the very best post-restart purpose differential among the many high leagues, and so they have but to undergo a single blemish within the Champions League. They might be favored in opposition to anybody besides possibly Manchester Metropolis, and it is no completely different right here.
Manchester Metropolis vs. Lyon (Saturday): Here is your David vs. Goliath matchup. FiveThirtyEight ranks Manchester Metropolis and Lyon because the No. 1 and No. 40 groups in Europe, respectively. For context, Lyon ranks between Everton and Sheffield United, two groups that had been outscored by Man Metropolis by a mixed 8-2 in 4 Premier League matchups this season. Metropolis have had an consideration span drawback this yr, struggling about one baffling loss monthly in the course of the Premier League season, however that is actually the one factor you may reference to assume Lyon’s bought an opportunity. — Invoice Connelly