Tuesday 1st April
Manchester United v Bayern Munich
This is arguably the biggest game of the quarters as two giants of the European stage battle it out for a place in the semi-final.
The two clubs met in one of the most dramatic European Cup finals back in 1999, with Manchester United trailing by one goal to nil with only added time left to play. Bayern Munich fans and players were already half celebrating their victory, but the Red Devils then managed to score twice in the space of two minutes to overturn defeat and snatch the trophy from Bayern Munich.
However, the Red Devils’ fortunes have taken a turn for the worse this season and they will need all the spirit and fighting power of the team of 1999 if they are to overcome a Bayern team that is arguably the best in Europe at the moment.
The Bavarians won an unprecedented treble last season and have moved up a gear under new coach Pep Guardiola. They won the Bundesliga with a record seven games still to play last week, winning a record 19 games in a row during the process.
How they got here
Despite struggling at home in the EPL, Manchester United have done extremely well in Europe this season. The Red Devils sailed through their group undefeated winning four of their six games. In the round of 16 they were made to sweat when they lost 2-0 away to Olympiakos, but they managed to turn the tie around in the 2nd leg winning 3-0 at home thanks to a hat-trick by Robin van Persie to progress to the quarters for the first time since 2011.
The reigning European champions have picked up from where they left off last season, blitzing past all on comers. Bayern coasted through their group, winning all but their final game in the group stage, which they lost 2-3 at home to Manchester City. In the round of 16 they faced Arsenal, who made Bayern look human for the first 20 minutes of the game. However, a missed penalty by Mesut Ozil coupled with the sending off of keeper Wojciech Szczęsny all but ended any hope for the Gunners and Bayern easily ran out winners, winning the first leg 2-0, before drawing the second leg in Germany 1-1.
The England international was rumored to have been unhappy and close to leaving Manchester United last summer, but stayed and has been United’s best player this season scoring 17 goals in all competitions, including two in the Champions League. However, it is not just Rooney’s goal scoring that has been vital to United this season, but also his ability to create goals—Rooney is top of the assist charts in the Champions League this season, creating seven goals.
Regarded as a ‘nearly man’ for so long, Arjen Robben finally put that tag to bed when he scored the winning goal in the Champions League final last season. Despite being an integral part of Bayern’s success last season many thought the Dutch wingers days were numbered when new coach Pep Guardiola was appointed. However, Robben has thrived under Guardiola and is having another great season, he has scored 18 goals in all competitions and is Bayern’s top creator in the Champions League with 3 assists.
Bayern edge the head-to-head encounters with 3 wins over United’s 2, and 4 draws. The Bavarians also edge the last encounter at the same stage of the competition in 2011, when they beat United on goals difference after winning the 1st leg 2-1 at home before losing the 2nd 3-2 away.
Both sides have key players missing through injury and suspension with Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and Bayern Munich defender Dante both suspended, while United forward Robin van Persie and Bayern Midfielder Thiago Alacanatra both miss out with injuries.
Bayern have been the outstanding team in Europe this season and will start this game as overwhelming favorites, especially as Manchester United are enduring a turbulent season.
The Bavarians like to suffocate teams into submission with their high-pressing and possession style of soccer, and will no doubt try to stamp their authority on the game from the start.
United have not been anywhere near their free flowing best this season, but what has really cost them is their lack of steel when defending. The Red Devils have just been too easy and soft to play against and it has cost them dearly. Against Bayern they will have to accept they won’t have the ball for long periods of the game and instead concentrate on making the game compact and hard for Bayern to play with rhythm. Bayern like to press high up the pitch and pen teams in, which leaves them vulnerable to balls in behind, so United may find joy on the counter.
However, I don’t think United really have the players to defend doggedly, get in the opposition’s faces and make life difficult, and that is why I can’t see them getting a result against this strong Bayern side.
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
Another mouthwatering game lays in wait for soccer fans around the globe with an all-Spanish encounter as Barcelona lock horns with Atletico Madrid.
These two clubs lead the way in Spain with Atletico only a single point ahead of their rivals Barcelona at the top of La Liga. The Los Rojiblancos (The Red and Whites) have been this season’s surprise package in Spain and Europe, sweeping aside all that have come their way.
Barcelona, meanwhile, have had a mixed season. They started magnificently, but tax scandals and a few defeats have got people saying they no-longer have what it takes to win big tittles, though recent wins over Manchester City and Real Madrid appear to suggest otherwise.
How they got here
Barcelona topped their group comfortably dropping just five points in the process. They then went to Manchester in the round of 16 and saw off Man City with a sublime display winning 2-0. The 2nd leg in Barcelona was a closer affair with Barca once again the victors winning 2-1.
Atlectico stormed through the group stages, drawing just one and winning the rest as they topped their group with 16-points. In the round of 16 they faced the mighty A.C Milan, but they didn’t let Milan’s European pedigree daunt them. Atlectico beat Milan 1-0 in Italy before thrashing them 4-1 in Spain to make it to their first quarterfinal since 1997.
The Argentinean maestro has supposedly had a poor season and is now only the second best player on the planet. However, the 26-year-old has still scored 36 goals in 36 games this season, including 8 in the Champions League. Injuries have disrupted his form, but Messi is looking back to his best and if Atletico give him a sniff of a chance you can be sure he will take it.
The big forward has been in spectacular form this season and was at the center of a tug of war battle between Brazil and Spain. Costa was born in Brazil but never played there professionally, he was called up for two friendly games in 2013 and actually played in one replacing Fred as a substitute. However, he wasn’t called up for the Brazil squad during last summer’s Confederations Cup and when he gained Spanish Citizenship in 2013, he surprized many by accepting the invitation to play for Spain.
These two sides have never met in a European competition, but Barca are far ahead in the domestic meetings with 60 victories compared to Atletico’s 19.
Their last Camp Nou encounter in La Liga brought a 4-1 win for Barcelona in December 2012. Radamel Falcao gave Atlético a 30th-minute lead but the hosts hit back through Adriano, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi (2).
Barcelona are still the kings of tiki-taka soccer and have looked impressive in recent weeks with victories over Manchester City and Real Madrid. However, their central defense still looks weak and they don’t appear to be pressing and hurrying teams as much as they did during their peak.
Atletico have been tremendous this season and play in the same vain as their Manager Diego Simone played. Los Rojiblancos (The Red and Whites) play with a high tempo and will no doubt try to stop Barcelona getting into their passing rhythm.
Barcelona are at home and may be forced to come out and attack, however, I think they will be wary of conceding a goal and may play a bit more cautiously than they usually do. Atletico probably will try and keep it tight and hope to steal an away goal. I expect the game to be high intensity and tight, but I think Barca will just edge it.