Thursday 30 March 2017

Crunch time: This week's champions league quarter-finals

REAL MADRID v TOTTENHAM: Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has been preparing for this game in much the same way as he did for the last-16 tie against Milan -- by claiming that his injury crisis is so bad that he'll barely be able to put out a team.



In truth, Tottenham's injuries aided them in the last round, particularly in the first leg in the San Siro when Redknapp was forced to select a midfield that included the excellent Brazilian Sandro, Wilson Palacios and Steven Pienaar, allowing Spurs to hit Milan on the counter-attack.

Quite how Redknapp will line up against a Madrid side, which is superior to Milan in almost every department, remains to be seen. The likelihood is that the Spurs' approach will be very much along the lines of what was seen in the San Siro, regardless of what Harry says about his side "only knowing how to play one way". They will be boosted by the likely return of Gareth Bale who is a useful weapon if you want to play on the counter-attack.

The perceived wisdom is that Tottenham have got the better of the draw by playing the second leg at White Hart Lane, but there is certainly an argument for being at home in the first leg where, buoyed on by a home crowd, Spurs could attempt to expose the weaknesses in Madrid's defence where Ricardo Carvalho's legs are creaking.

If Tottenham can keep in the tie with a draw or even a narrow defeat in Madrid then they will hope to expose those weaknesses in the red-hot atmosphere of White Hart Lane in 10 days.

Keeping the likes of Mesut Ozil (pictured), Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo, if he recovers from injury, quiet on Tuesday in the Bernabeu might be easier said than done.

INTER v SCHALKE

The defending champions have every reason to believe that, having waited 45 years to win the trophy, they are now going to reach the last four in successive seasons.

Inter's manager, Leonardo, has liberated a squad that behaved like a teenager throwing a hissy fit under the more oppressive regime of Rafael Benitez but in truth this Inter side is a totally different beast to last season.

Were it not for some hopelessly inept finishing by Bayern Munich then Inter would be watching the latter rounds on television. Leonardo's men survived an onslaught purely through chance, but showed resolve to eventually make it through.

Wesley Sneijder (pictured) is back playing for himself after Benitez tried to make the Dutch international adapt to his team-above-individual philosophy, and selfishness is a trait which would seem to suit the Dutch playmaker. With Samuel Eto'o and Macedonia's Goran Pandev also in good form, and Diego Milito returning to fitness, it makes for a potent attack. Centre-back Lucio is suspended for the first leg and will be missed.

Bizarrely for a team which has exceeded all expectations in the Champions League this season, Schalke have parted company with manager Felix Magath since they eliminated Valencia.

Magath has been replaced by the enterprising Ralf Rangnick, who managed the club for a year in 2004 before achieving success with Hoffenheim.

Rangnick has been in charge for less than three weeks and for two of those the majority of his squad were on international duty so his influence is negligible.

With Raul and Jefferson Farfan impressing, Schalke have built a campaign on sturdy, if unspectacular, away performances and impressive home displays. Rangnick may not have been involved in those performances, but he will ask for more of the same against Inter.

BARCELONA

v SHAKHTAR DONETSK

casual observers may think Barcelona have got the easiest of all the last-eight opponents, but it is likely that Shakhtar Donetsk have caused Pep Guardiola a few sleepless nights.

The Spanish champions are in a lose-lose situation while the Ukrainians can head to the Nou Camp, where they won on their last visit in 2008, free from expectation, although that is unlikely to make them in any way cavalier.

There's very little more to be said about Barcelona's devastating foursome of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi (pictured) and David Villa other than, at times, they have a tendency to overdo their mesmeric passing game and, if Nicklas Bendtner was as good a player as he thinks he is, then they would be out.

Shakhtar are likely to sit deep so much will depend on Barca's ability to be more clinical in front of goal, another area of their game that was sloppy against Arsenal.

If your entire game plan against Guardiola's side is based on sitting back then you will be destroyed so Shakhtar will look to make inroads of their own through the lively Brazilian trio of Douglas Costa, who could well be lining up at Old Trafford next season, Willian and Luiz Adriano.

They have been hugely impressive this season, while the former Arsenal striker Eduardo has regained his goal touch. Shakhtar's biggest difficulty will be servicing them with the ball.

CHELSEA v

MANCHESTER UNITED

The level of pre-match scrutiny that usually accompanies an all-English Champions League tie has been lessened somewhat by the distraction of the international break and it's a diversion that both Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti must have welcomed.

Quite how the tie will play out is almost impossible to call, but anyone expecting a glut of goals or chances at either end is likely to be disappointed.

Chelsea have regained form in recent weeks and have secured some impressive results, including coming from behind to beat United at Old Trafford. However, Fernando Torres remains Ancelotti's biggest conundrum. His game is clearly suited to playing as a lone striker, as he did during his time at Liverpool and with Spain where his goalscoring record is markedly better when David Villa is not in the team, yet the Spaniard's form is such that it would be a huge gamble to leave Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka on the bench and rely on Torres to get the goals needed to progress.

David Luiz, who has been more of a goal threat than Torres following their big money January moves, is ineligible and he will be a loss for Chelsea. And so it is in midfield where Chelsea will hope to prosper, with Ramires impressive in recent weeks. Ferguson is likely to go for five here to prevent being overrun.

United's away form in the league has been appalling with just four wins in 15 games (prior to yesterday's trip to West Ham), but this could be a cagier affair than most Premier League games. Wayne Rooney (pictured) or the Mexican striker Javier Hernandez could well have a crucial role in a tie that may go down to the wire.

EVAN FANNING

Sunday Indo Sport

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