UEFA Champions League: It’s Crunch Time Baby!


The business end is upon us as only 8 teams remain in the continental extravganza in which we are sure to get new European Champions come 1st of June

Throw away your smartphones, switch off your laptops, get all your work done quickly and make sure you’re free come the midweeks of April 10 and 11 and April 17 and 18, for the Champions League quarterfinals, are here and we have been treated to a delicious round of fixtures. There are the upstarts, the fallen giants, the favourites looking to march on and the dark horses all in there somewhere, looking to continue their journey towards the promised land come June 1st in Madrid.

As we football folks love nothing more to analyse and share our so-called ‘expert’ opinions, we at 12th Man have decided to do the same, so here’s a look at how the teams match up and which ones we think will advance to the semifinals…

Manchester United v Barcelona

The tie of the quarterfinals, with two superclubs with some of the best pedigree in club football and the history to match that, Barca and United are no strangers to each on the grandest stages.

Head to head record:

Played: 11; United wins: 3; Barca wins: 4; Draws: 4; Aggregate score: United 15-20 Barca

Biggest United win: 3-0, European Cup Winners Cup, March 21, 1984

Biggest Barca win: 4-0, Champions League, Nou Camp, November 2, 1994

Most recent meeting: Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United, Champions League final, 2011

Manager head-to-head

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ernesto Valverde have never before faced each other. Solskjaer has never managed against Barca; Valverde has never managed against United.

What gives Barcelona the edge

In most cases, the name of Leo Messi is enough to win half the game for the Catalans, such has been his form and reputation over the past decade and half! Valverde’s boys are also much more settled and has the recent winning pedigree that is required for all teams once the business end of any tournament begins.

Lastly, their recent record against the Red Devils has been fabulous, so that should give them a psychological head start come the first leg at Old Trafford.

What gives United the edge

Momentum is a weird entity in sport, and that is something that Solksjaer & Co have been riding since the Norwegian took over in December, and could continue to do so against their Spanish opposition as well.

The English giants have also broken a streak of record during the club legend’s temporary tenure, not least their Houdini act against PSG in the pre-quarters, and that should give them added confidence and pride that they can take on all comers, including the threat of Messi & Co.

Our verdict

Lightning does not strike twice, and that is something United fans have themselves acknowledged since the draw was made on Friday. Barca, on current form and paper at least, just seem to be a cut above this young United side, so they should end Solksjaer’s dream run in Europe, though the Red Devils will not make it one bit easy!

Liverpool v Porto

Unfancied yet dangerous, Porto making it this far has to warm the cockles of the neutrals, but they may have gotten the wrong end of the stick with a daunting tie against one of the legendary sides in European competition.

Head to head record:

Played: 6; Liverpool wins: 3; Porto wins: 0; Draws: 3; Aggregate score: Liverpool 12-2 Porto

Biggest Liverpool win: Porto 0-5 Liverpool, Champions League last 16 first leg, February 14, 2018

Biggest Porto win: Nil

Most recent meeting: Liverpool 0-0 Porto, Champions League last 16 second leg, March 6, 2018

Manager head-to-head

Played 2; Jurgen Klopp 1-0 Sergio Conceicao; Klopp v Porto: P2 W1 D1 L0; Conceicao v Liverpool: P2 W0 D1 L1

What gives Porto the edge

Their daunting home record and the stadium in itself, with its imposing build a boisterous and support always baying for the blood of the opposition.

They also have nothing to lose, being the lowest and most unfancied team left in the competition, and that could just help them play with a clarity and freedom that might unlock a couple of magical nights.

What gives Liverpool the edge

Form, pedigree and the squad to make them one of the favourites not only to progress but win the whole damn thing! Klopp has fostered a squad that is close-knit, plays for each other and has increasingly cultivated a reputation that precedes it, which is always a bonus.

Most crucially, and obviously, they have a squad that’s well balanced and which can hurt any oppositions with a cracking front three while also being strong enough at the back to shut out most opponents.

Our verdict

You just can’t look past the Reds in this tie, one of the least glamorous quarterfinals in the Champions League in a while. Liverpool should ease past any challenge posted by Porto, but the Portugese giants will surely take inspiration from the various comebacks that have been made this season on Europe, and the run of fellow unfancied teams like Tottenham and Ajax.

Tottenham v Manchester City

An all-English tie that harks back to the late noughties, when English sides regularly cropped up in the latter stages of this event to prove just how strong English clubs were on the continental stage at that point. How things have changed!

Head to head record:

Played: 74; Spurs wins: 31; Man City wins: 29; Draws: 14; Aggregate score: Spurs 95-109 Man City

Biggest Spurs win: Spurs 4-1 Man City, Premier League, September 26, 2015

Biggest Man City win: Man City 6-0 Spurs, Premier League, November 24, 2013

Most recent meeting: Spurs 0-1 Man City, Premier League, October 29, 2018

Manager head-to-head

Played 14: Mauricio Pochettino 2-8 Pep Guardiola; Pochettino v Man City: P12 W4 D2 L6; Guardiola v Spurs: P5 W3 D1 L1

What gives City the edge

A stronger squad, a manager in Guardiola who is legendary in these circles and also has the know-how of having won the competition multiple times before. City also seem to have peaked at the right time recently, and no team would like to face the Premier League champions on current form, as Schalke will attest to!

Crucially, there is a desire among the squad to finally prove themselves in Europe by winning the Champions League and achieve the stated aim of their owners, who have spent enormous amounts of cash to make the Cityzens a force to be reckoned with!

What gives Spurs the edge

As usual, the north London side has flown under the radar in Europe, but that does not mean they cannot be dangerous. Just ask the previously fearsome and high-flying Borussia Dortmund!

Spurs, and Pochettino, also have been tactically flexible and astute when it comes to facing the big teams, and that could be seen once again come the quarterfinals. If they can just keep their heads intact and play to their potential, then they could cause a major upset!

Our verdict

City have been on fire recently, and they look a good bet to make the semi-finals, despite facing one of the most difficult teams to break down in Europe. One gets the feeling that this tie could very well be decided by who plays better at home, for both have been phenomenal at home this season, but Spurs have slowed down just that much thanks to injuries and clear fatigue, so City should eke this one out!

Juventus v Ajax

The second-most important fixture perhaps in this round in terms of history and pedigree, but such things matter little on the pitch! Ajax have been a revelation in getting so far despite not being given even an iota of a chance to do so, but they face a monumental task in upsetting a side as established and settled as Europe!

Head to head record:

Played: 12; Ajax wins: 2; Juve wins: 8; Draws: 2; Aggregate score: Ajax 11-22 Juventus

Biggest Ajax win: Ajax 2-1 Juventus, UEFA Cup last 16 2nd leg, December 11, 1974

Biggest Juve win: Juventus 4-1 Ajax, Champions League semi-finals 2nd leg, April 23, 1997

Most recent meeting: Juventus 0-0 Ajax, Europa League 2nd round 2nd leg, February 25th, 2010

Manager head-to-head

Erik ten Hag has never before faced Juventus or Max Allegri; Max Allegri v Ajax – P4 W0 D3 L1

What gives Juve the edge

Like Barca, there is one name in their team that should win them half the game even before the two teams head down the tunnel! Cristiano Ronaldo is on a mission, that much we saw during his hat-trick against Atletico Madrid in the last 16, and the Champions League’s greatest goalscorer boasts a frankly ludicrous record in knockout games in the competition, so keeping him out over two legs will need a monumental task.

The Italian champions are also desperate to win an event in which they have horribly underachieved recently, hence the splurge on the Portugese superstar, and that motivation can be like a drug. They have the defence to shut out attacks, and it is just about their attack supplying enough bullets to break down a young and inexperienced Ajax line-up.

What gives Ajax the edge

Their youth, exuberance and technical ability has been brilliant to watch, and it would not be a surprise if the fallen European giants are the neutrals/romantics favourite to win the whole thing.

The confidence from eliminating three-time holders Real Madrid at their own turf will also spur them on to achieve even greater things, apart from the fact that this could be the last chance for a talented bunch to make their mark in Europe before the vultures come circling during the summer to pick from the best talents available and take them to pastures anew.

Our verdict

Juventus just seem to have too much experience and the required nous for Ajax, and they should progress relatively easily from this tie. Ronaldo’s ego will not allow him to settle for anything less than a crack at the title come June at the home of his former employers, so there is too much for the young Amsterdam club to overcome in order to qualify.

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