UEFA Champions League Recap
After a busy couple of weeks, the following teams have advanced from the round of 16 onto the quarter-finals: S.L. Benfica, F.C. Bayern Munich, Chelsea F.C., A.C. Milan, Manchester City, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and S.S.C. Napoli. Italy leads all countries with three teams still in the running. England has two squads while Germany, Spain and Portugal all have one.
None of these teams come as much of a surprise. However, Chelsea is the only team out of the eight not currently in a position to qualify for the Champions League, based on their standing in the Premier League. To reach this stage, they defeated one of the current German leaders, Borussia Dortmund. Despite this crucial victory, it is the other English team that has their name in the headlines.
After a disappointing 1-1 draw in the first leg, Manchester City dismantled Red Bull Leipzig 7-0 in the second leg. Earling Haaland, City’s new striker, tallied 5 goals before being substituted in the 63rd minute. He joins Lionel Messi and Luiz Adriano to score 5 goals in a single Champions League match. Only 22 years old, Haaland is showing promise that he is on his way to becoming one of the game’s next greatest players.
In the upcoming round, the club will see some familiar faces as they face off against Bayern. Although the German side has had more European success, both sides have been unable to capitalize on their chances in the UCL as of late. In their round of 16 tie, Bayern handled business against Paris Saint Germain 3-0 through two legs. Missing some star power after Neymar’s injury, PSG simply could not break through Bayern’s defense in 180 minutes. PSG now goes back to the drawing board after failing to win despite spending 147.5 million Euros during the transfer window.
In the most uneventful matchup this round, AC Milan defeated Tottenham 1-0 through two legs. It was Brahim Diaz’s goal in the seventh minute of the first game that proved to be the difference between the two clubs. AC Milan will face a familiar foe in Napoli as they return to the quarter-finals for just the second time since winning the tournament in 2007. Napoli reached the quarter-finals in dominant fashion after defeating Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 on aggregate. This tie will be the one to watch as an immovable force faces an unstoppable object. Who will break first and have to abandon their game plan?
One of the surprises of the tournament so far, Benfica has exceeded the low expectations that were placed on them. They were able to go undefeated in a group that featured European giants PSG and Juventus. Benfica continued in their winning days against Club Brugge as they demolished them 7-1 on aggregate. Most years, there is a club outside of Europe’s top five leagues that makes a Cinderella run, and it appears that this rendition of the tournament is no different. Inter is the one that stands in their way of a semi-final appearance. If this is going to be a competitive matchup, Inter is going to have to shake off its rough form as of late. They are winless in the last four of their five matches in all competitions. Their round of 16 draw was very similar to AC Milan’s with only one goal being scored, except they faced a far less formidable opponent in Porto.
Lastly, the previous two champions of the UCL face off in what should be must-see television for soccer fans across the globe. Chelsea and Real Madrid will play for the first time since the 2021-22 campaign, which ended with Real Madrid claiming one of their 14 UCL titles. To get to this stage, Real Madrid cruised by Liverpool 6-2 on aggregate. On the other hand, Chelsea’s road was not so easy, as they were forced to come from behind to take Dortmund down in the second leg back in London. Regardless of their road to get to where they are today, both clubs are known for putting in solid performances in the Champions League, so the world is waiting in anticipation to see who will emerge victorious after 180 minutes.
As the contest starts to approach the end, player fitness becomes a crucial talking point if you want to correctly predict a winner. If a club is challenging for a league title, domestic cups and European cups all at the same time, the starters will become fatigued very easily and may not play as well as expected. It is important to have good depth and prioritize which trophy they can lift at the end of the season so there can be an effective strategy. That being said, here are my predictions for who will reach the semi-finals. I believe Real Madrid, Benfica, Manchester City and AC Milan will survive and advance in their matchups.
Jackson Wedin is a senior writing about some of the larger soccer events globally in his column, “Death, Taxes and Soccer,” which runs every other Thursday.