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Champions League quarterfinal: Picking Chelsea-Real Madrid, Man City-Bayern, more



Now that the quarterfinal matchups for the UEFA Champions League are set, ESPN’s Mark Ogden and Julien Laurens look at how each team fared in the draw, the players who could decide each tie and which teams are the safest bets to advance.

Full UCL quarterfinal draw: Man City vs. Bayern, more

The quarterfinal first legs will take place April 11-12, with the return legs held April 18-19. The semifinals will be staged May 9-10 and May 16-17.

This year’s final will be held at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey on June 10.

Betting lines (via Caesars Sportsbook):

Real Madrid -112, Chelsea +310

How these two sides match up

This is a rematch of last season’s incredible quarterfinal. Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick and Real Madrid won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge before Chelsea shocked the Bernabeu in the second leg by leading 3-0 with a dominant performance, until Rodrygo and then Benzema again, in extra time, led Madrid to victory and knocked the Londoners out.

This time around, Real Madrid are even more favoured compared to a year ago. The European champions are not firing in all cylinders in LaLiga, where they trail Barcelona by nine points, but when it comes to the Champions League, they have this remarkable savoir faire and experience; they rarely panic and always keep control of their destiny. The way they won at Anfield against Liverpool (5-2) in the last round reminded everybody of their strength.

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Chelsea, on the other hand, are not the team they were a year ago — far from it. Despite three wins in a row, including a victory in their last-16 second leg against Borussia Dortmund, Graham Potter is still looking for consistency and momentum. The Blues will have to be an improved team in a month’s time when they travel to Madrid if they want to cause problems. Time could play in their favour in this case.

The key player who could decide it for each team

REAL MADRID: Karim Benzema. Despite an up-and-down season because of injuries at age 35, Karim Benzema is still the most important player in this Real Madrid side. Of course, Vinicius, Luka Modric, Antonio Rudiger or Thibaut Courtois are massively important but the 2022 Ballon d’Or is the X factor, the leader, the soul, the scorer and the guide of the team.

Since the restart, he has been in great scoring form when he plays and his record in knockout rounds of the Champions League since last season is unreal: 13 goals in his past eight matches beyond the group stage. His consistency — 89 Champions League goals now in his career, the only player along with Lionel Messi to have scored in 18 European campaigns in a row — is outstanding and he is clutch by definition. A man for the biggest occasions.



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CHELSEA: Wesley Fofana. If Chelsea are currently doing better, it’s mostly because of the defender’s form. Since coming back from injury and settling into the Blues’ back three, the former Leicester defender has made this team much more solid, and even scored the winner against Leeds in the Premier League. His partnership with Kalidou Koulibaly is excellent and whoever is named as the third man in the defense — Marc Cucurella, Benoit Badiashile, Thiago Silva — will fit in nicely.

His duel with Benzema, if both of them are fit to play, will be the biggest key in this game. At 22, Fofana is learning quickly about the demands of the top level and this could prove his biggest test yet. Didier Deschamps even called him up for France for the first time on Thursday, which will boost his confidence before what will be a huge end of the season for him.

Who advances?

Real Madrid. I don’t think this will be an easy tie at all for the European champions. I expect Chelsea to be better by the time the first leg comes and to make this competitive. Yet the experience and recent success of Real Madrid in this competition make them favourites. — Laurens

 logoInter Milan vs. Benfica

Betting lines (via Caesars):

Benfica +129, Inter Milan +130

How these two sides match up

A very long time ago, they faced each other in the European Cup final and neither of them would have started this current Champions League campaign back in September thinking they could meet again in the quarterfinals this time. But here they are, enjoying two very different styles and seasons.

Benfica are one of the best teams in Europe right now, with Roger Schmidt’s team only losing one game all season. They play great football with intensity, movement and intelligence. Even the departure of Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea at the end of January doesn’t seem to have hurt them.

They will face an Inter Milan side who have struggled at times. It’s not the nice ball-playing team of last season, but rather more pragmatic, having defended for its life against Porto in the last-16 second leg and managing to keep its 1-0 advantage from the first leg. They are capable of good football but we have not seen it enough this season. They still beat Napoli in Serie A, which says a lot about their ability on their day.

The key player who could decide it for each team

INTER MILAN: Andre Onana. It’s incredible to think that manager Simone Inzaghi took so long to give him the starting spot ahead of Samir Handanovic, but since he did, the Cameroon international has been great — particularly in Europe. He was incredible against Porto in the two games: his incredible double save in the first leg was one of Inter’s most important moments this season.

Onana’s perfect distribution helps the team when under pressure and on his line, he is capable of miracles, even if sometimes there is still a mistake or two in him. For a back-to-back trip to Portugal, he will probably have even more work to do against the formidable Benfica attack than he did against Porto. And he will have to be ready.

BENFICA: Goncalo Ramos. Darwin Nunez left Benfica last summer for Liverpool, but Goncalo Ramos has made Benfica a better team than when Nunez was there! The 21-year-old Portuguese striker, who scored a hat-trick at the World Cup against Switzerland, has been on fire all season: In 12 Champions League games so far, he has seven goals and three assists, with 15 goals and one assist in 20 league matches.

He is not just a great finisher; Ramos is already a complete forward with quick feet and great awareness. He has been a handful for every opponent this season, even when he has not been scoring. Inter’s back three will have to find a way to keep him quiet.

Who advances?

Benfica. I think the Portuguese side will have too much for Inter. Roger Schmidt and his players have been unplayable at times this season, and their intensity will be a problem. Inzaghi will have a plan and this Inter side can defend well, but they also have too many weaknesses to beat Benfica over two games. — Laurens

Betting lines (via Caesars):

Man City +100, Bayern Munich +240

How these two sides match up

This fixture could have been a sensational final between two Champions League heavyweights, but despite both sides having ambitions to win this season’s competition, neither has reached their usual high standards during this campaign. Bayern have won all eight Champions League games this season — City have won five and drawn three — but they have been inconsistent in the Bundesliga. City have been similarly unconvincing in the Premier League.

But while there is a sense that each team enjoyed its peak maybe two or three years ago, both are capable of producing a big performance to win this tie. Bayern overcame Paris Saint-Germain in the last round with a blend of youth and experience — the precocious talent of Jamal Musiala, the Champions League pedigree of Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka, plus the ageless Thomas Muller.

City displayed their ruthless side by beating RB Leipzig 7-0 in the second leg, with Erling Haaland scoring five goals, and that display was a warning to all of their Champions League rivals. But Kevin De Bruyne and goalkeeper Ederson are struggling for form, just as Bayern have had to overcome the injury that ruled keeper Manuel Neuer out for the season.

Both these teams have weaknesses, even coaches Julian Nagelsmann (no European success) and Pep Guardiola (too prone to erratic tactics at this stage of the competition), so neither can claim to be the favourite. It may all come down to Haaland and whether he is unstoppable again or contained by Bayern.

The key player who could decide it for each team

MAN CITY: Rodri. This game will be won in midfield and City need to control Bayern much better than PSG were able to in the last round. If Rodri is at his best, City should dictate the tempo of the game and that will be decisive. But if Goretzka and Muller run the show, as they did against PSG, it will give Bayern the edge. Guardiola may need to deploy Ilkay Gundogan alongside Rodri in order to tilt the tie in City’s favour.

BAYERN MUNICH: Jamal Musiala. Bayern might seem like a team in transition right now, with the team still adjusting to last summer’s loss of Robert Lewandowski, but Musiala is their shining light and the 20-year-old surely causes Pep Guardiola the greatest concern. The Germany attacker can run at defenders, pick a pass and score goals — in many ways he fits the profile of a perfect Guardiola player — so he will be a major problem for City and Bayern’s best hope.

Who advances?

Bayern Munich. This tie is so tough to call, but Bayern have the edge due to playing the second leg at home. Clubs such as Bayern — you can compare them to Real Madrid and Liverpool in this sense — possess an X factor in European games because of their history and the belief that it gives to players and supporters.

City only have the pressure to deliver after consistent Champions League failure, and I expect that to work against them again. — Mark Ogden

Betting lines (via Caesars):

AC Milan +210, Napoli +140

How these two sides match up

On paper, this tie looks like a mismatch, with Napoli 20 points clear of Milan in Serie A and on course to win a first Scudetto since 1990. Luciano Spalletti’s side beat Milan 2-1 at San Siro in September and they are the top scorers in the Champions League with 25 goals this season. But Milan are the reigning Italian champions and despite enduring a difficult recent period, they remain a European giant, with only Real Madrid (14) winning more Champions Leagues than the Rossoneri (7).

If this tie goes to form, however, Napoli will reach the semifinals for the first time. They have arguably been the most impressive team in this season’s competition because of the performances of Victor Osimhen, Kim Min-jae, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and so many others. They’re not just a formidable force going forward, either: they have the best defensive record in Serie A and have conceded just six goals in eight Champions League ties this season.

Even as overwhelming favourites, Napoli will have to cope with the pressure of expectancy against a domestic rival and Champions League history is littered with examples of upsets in ties between teams from the same country. Milan simply have to find a way of stopping Napoli’s formidable forwards, though it seems an impossible task.

The key player who could decide it for each team

AC MILAN: Fikayo Tomori. If Milan are to pull off a shock in this tie, they simply have to stop Napoli forward Victor Osimhen. And having kept Harry Kane quiet during the round-of-16 tie against Tottenham, England defender Tomori is likely to be tasked with doing the same job here. Of course, Napoli have threats in all areas of the pitch, but Milan will look to stifle the game in order to remain in the tie when the play the second leg in Naples. Their defenders have huge responsibility on their shoulders and Tomori will carry most of it.

NAPOLI: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. The Georgia international has been the breakout star of this season’s Champions League. He tore Liverpool apart in the first group game back in September and he has continued in a similar vein throughout the campaign. His stats of two goals and four assists in the competition so far do not do justice to the impact he has had for Napoli, where he has been nicknamed Kvaradona, after club legend Diego Maradona, because of his game-changing ability.

Who advances?

Napoli. Milan have the pedigree and that always counts for something in the Champions League, but Napoli are so superior to Stefano Pioli’s team that the ghosts of Milan’s glorious past won’t be able to knock them off their stride. Napoli can go all the way this season; don’t expect Milan to stop them. — Ogden

Who will reach the final based on the full draw?

Outright winner lines, via Caesars:

Man City +225, Napoli +320, Bayern Munich +350, Real Madrid +650, Inter Milan +1400, Chelsea +1400, Benfica +1600, AC Milan +2000

Real Madrid and Napoli: Bayern have a great record against Real over the years, but Carlo Ancelotti’s team are too strong to falter against the Germans again this time around and they will also be too good for Manchester City. Napoli are the outstanding team in the other half of the bracket: it’s tough to see Inter or Benfica beating them over two games in the semis if they get beyond Milan. — Ogden

Manchester City and Napoli: Napoli are the outstanding favourites in the side of the draw and unless something crazy happens to their star players, they are way too good for Inter, Benfica or Milan. The road to the final for City is much harder but Pep Guardiola and his players have learned from their mistakes and disappointments of the past. This could be their year and beating Bayern Munich and Real Madrid or Chelsea will make them stronger. — Laurens

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