The Champions League resumes this week with the first-leg matches in the quarterfinals, which are dominated by English and Spanish teams and include a couple of surprises among many of the usual heavyweights.
A look at the four matches in the last eight:
BENFICA vs. LIVERPOOL
To many, Liverpool landed the plum draw in the last eight, with Benfica the big outsider having reached this stage for the first time in six years. It strengthened the belief that maybe a quadruple of major trophies really is possible for the English team, which has already won the English League Cup, is into the FA Cup semifinals and trails Manchester City by just one point in the English Premier League. That Liverpool will play the second leg at Anfield, the scene of so many famous European nights, made Jurgen Klopp’s team an even bigger favorite as the club looks to become European champion for a seventh time. Two-time European champion Benfica is hoping for a repeat of its upset against Liverpool in 2006, when it eliminated the English club 3-0 on aggregate in the round of 16. The teams also met in the 2010 quarterfinals, when Liverpool advanced 5-3 on aggregate. Benfica midfielder Adel Taarabt is expected to return to the squad after recovering from a muscle injury.
MANCHESTER CITY vs. ATLÉTICO MADRID
Get ready for a contrast of styles at Etihad Stadium, with the free-flowing, possession-based approach of Pep Guardiola’s City clashing with the counterattacking, defensively obstinate mode preferred by Diego Simeone’s Atlético. The coaches are unapologetic about their way of playing and it has brought them great success — indeed, their teams are current champions of their countries — but Guardiola and Simeone have found winning the Champions League a step too far over the past decade. Guardiola’s last title was with Barcelona in 2011 and this is his sixth try at City, which has yet to win the biggest prize in European soccer. Atlético has lost three times in the European final, including twice to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016. The team is back in Manchester, having beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford last month to advance from the last 16. Simeone may be without one of its main central defenders after José María Giménez got injured in the final minutes of the team’s 4-1 win over Alavés in the Spanish league on Saturday, when former Liverpool striker Luis Suárez scored twice in the second half coming off the bench.
CHELSEA vs. REAL MADRID
Chelsea is attempting to retain the title to the backdrop of an off-field crisis. Chelsea is for sale after its billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, was sanctioned by the British government for his close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin following the invasion of Ukraine. Chelsea’s future is up in the air — the preferred new owner should be known sometime this month — and the players have been doing their best to keep their focus on the field, with back-to-back wins over Lille in the last 16 achieved with the minimum of fuss. Indeed, Chelsea has lost only once amid all the unrelenting takeover talk — to Brentford on Saturday. Real Madrid will provide a much tougher challenge than Lille, though. The 13-time European champion lost to Chelsea in the semifinals last season, when it still couldn’t play at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium because of renovation work and the coronavirus pandemic. Karim Benzema, who led Madrid to a historic comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, remains red hot after scoring both goals for the club in a win over Celta Vigo on Saturday to solidify the team’s lead in La Liga.
VILLARREAL vs. BAYERN MUNICH
Well on its way to a 10th consecutive Bundesliga title, Bayern Munich hopes to crown the season with its seventh European title and its second in three years. It’s Bayern record 20th quarterfinal. The Bavarian powerhouse is already eyeing the semifinals as it would be a major surprise if Villarreal, currently seventh in Spain, was to stop the German side’s progress. The teams met before in the group phase in 2011, when Bayern won both games by a combined score of 5-1. Julian Nagelsmann’s team warmed up for Wednesday’s visit to Spain’s east coast with a 4-1 win at high-flying Freiburg – the second consecutive game in which it scored four goals – while Unai Emery’s Villarreal slumped to its second consecutive Liga defeat at second-to-last Levante after losing to Cádiz in its previous game. Emery didn’t rest many of his regular starters. Villarreal, which won the Europa League last season, is trying to return to the Champions League semifinals for the first time since 2006.