Saturday 21 April 2018

Champions League preview and predictions - Only one home side look set for first leg win

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 31: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring the second goal of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between Sevilla CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on March 31, 2018 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 31: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring the second goal of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between Sevilla CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on March 31, 2018 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

With the Champions League quarter-finals kicking off this evening, Independent.ie's Kevin Palmer previews the four big ties getting underway this week:

TUESDAY

JUVENTUS v REAL MADRID

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri confessed he did not want to be drawn against a Real Madrid side returning to prime form, as he suggested his side are underdogs heading into this tie.

"There are two teams I did not want to face in the quarter-finals," admitted Allegri.

"One is Barcelona and the other is Real Madrid, who are clear favourites to win the tournament like they did for the last two years. They took a few months off and now they are starting to play seriously."

Tottenham exposed Juve’s weaknesses as they were unfortunate to lose 3-2 on aggregate in the last round, with the first leg in Turin vital to Allegri’s side if they are pull off an upset victory.

ONE TO WATCH: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Reports of Ronaldo’s demise as a top tier performer have been banished with his spectacular scoring form in 2018 and he always rises to the occasion in the Champions League.

Verdict: A 2-2 draw will suit Real Madrid.

SEVILLA v BAYERN MUNICH

Manchester United’s incompetence was cited as the primary reason why Sevilla pulled off a shock win against at Old Trafford last month, with Vincenzo Montella’s side failing to convince the doubters that they can go further in the Champions League.

Bayern’s serene progress into the quarter-finals was capped by their emphatic victory against Besiktas in the last-16, yet their coach Jupp Heynckes has warned his side against complacency in what may be a mismatch against their Spanish opponents.

"They are a really good team," Heynckes said of Sevilla.

"If you watched them play against United, even after the 1-0 lead they noticed that United needed two goals and they played really good football. We can’t afford to celebrate already."

ONE TO WATCH: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

This Polish marksman has been linked with a move away from Bayern in recent weeks and in the current transfer market, his value would be extravagant.

Verdict: Bayern to establish a stranglehold in the tie with an away win.

WEDNESDAY

BARCELONA v ROMA

Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco has insisted his team need to focus on halting more than just Lionel Messi when they take on Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

"Stopping Messi? I haven’t talked about one player in particular, we have to stop all of Barcelona," stated Di Francesco.

"They have the best player in the world, but we can do it. We must respect Barcelona, not be afraid of them."

The Spanish league leaders are in good form as they set their sights on stopping rivals Real Madrid from winning three Champions League titles in succession, yet their enduring reliance on Messi’s brilliance may be a concern later in the competition.

ONE TO WATCH: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

This former Liverpool striker has broken the 20-goal barrier in La Liga again this season, but he has not been at his best and will want to put that right in the Champions League.

Verdict: Barca to get the job done in the home leg.

LIVERPOOL v MANCHESTER CITY

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola may alter his tactical approach for the first leg of this intriguing all-Premier League tie, with his most recent visit to Anfield proving to be a chastening experience for his all-conquering side.

As Liverpool moved into a 4-1 lead amid a thrilling display of attacking football in January, the home side had chances to add to their advantage, with the final 4-3 scoreline flattering the visitors despite their late rally.

Now Guardiola could encourage the kind of composed approach his side displayed in their 1-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in September, with City’s class likely to shine through in this tie so long as they overcome their Anfield examination.

ONE TO WATCH: Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

The two top players in English football go head to head in this clash and De Bruye will look to get the better of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.

Verdict: A 1-1 draw will leave the tie perfectly poised for the second leg.

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