So we are now at the last eight stage.
All the talk after the round of 16 (6 out of 8 correct for me btw – http://www.biggishmouthblog.com/europes-premier-cup-competition-returns-eight-quick-mention-europa-league/) – was about how the there are no more English clubs left in the tournament (actually in European competition as a whole). SO WHAT I say – let’s just move on Europe is much more than what’s happening on these shores – there are four mouth-watering match ups to occupy our minds this April and here is my little preview and predictions of course.
ATLETICO MADRID v REAL MADRID
WOW!!!!!!! Not only a repeat of last years final, where Atletico were within a minute of winning the trophy (for what would have been a La Liga and Champions League double) before a Sergio Ramos equalizer and then a Real surge drove them onto the sacred Decima. You could say it was honours even then between the Madridistas last season, but this one has seen the Red and Whites of the Spanish capital dominate their more illustrious neighbours. They have met on six occasions and are unbeaten. Winning the Spanish Super Cup, knocking them out of the Copa del Rey and doing the double over the Bernabeu boys in the league including a 4-0 thrashing at the Vicente Calderon in February. You would think Diego Simeone’s team would be a shoo in for this tie, however there is something about Europe’s premier cup competition that brings out the best in the current holders – especially with a manager like Carlo Ancelotti who has won the tournament on three occasions. Yes like any derby it will be tight but I have a feeling that Real Madrid will come through and take revenge for all their beatings from the their city rivals this season. Draw at the Calderon then Real will win at the Bernabeu in their quest to become the first team to successfully defend the Champions League.
JUVENTUS v MONACO
An intriguing quarter final match up between two teams who have made the finals of the tournament in times gone by and they will both feel they have a great chance to make it to a first semi-final for some time in Juve’s case 12 years and Monaco’s 11 years. The Bianconeri are on the verge of a fourth successive Serie A title as they dominate in their own country, but they have struggled in Europe only going as far as the quarter finals since their last final appearance in 2003. After their standard slow start they have got stronger culminating in a convincing round of 16 victory against Dortmund especially impressing in the second leg 0-3 victory. Monaco have been spectacularly solid they topped their group – scoring just four goals (conceding just one mind). Their performance against Arsenal at the Emirates was a surprise, taking full advantage of The Londoners naivety – but it was well deserved, though maybe just maybe their real level was more on show in the second leg where Arsenal dominated them to the extent that the French side looked more vulnerable than at any time in the competition – continually giving the ball away in dangerous areas and clearly struggling under a Gunners onslaught. They survived and went through on away goals. For me this will be a very cagey game, we have seen the two sides of Monaco in the last round so I expect a very narrow Juventus win in the first leg and come the second with Monaco having to chase at least one goal, I can see Juventus picking them off like they did to Dortmund away and going through to the semis and maybe just maybe a return to the glory days of the late 90s.
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN v BARCELONA
If the clash between the Madrid giants is the main course match – this one is a nice little starter. PSG’s reward for ousting Chelsea – well it isn’t really a reward is it – having to face the current form team of Europe in Barcelona. PSG have been brilliant throughout the tournament and showed against Chelsea they are now a team that has now added some substance to their style. After a barren season in 2013/14 and a poor run during the autumn people were quick to say that Barcelona had lost their edge – more fool them I say as they top La Liga, are in the Copa del Rey Final and in the last eight of the European Cup for the eighth season in succession and that was after six consecutive seasons of at least making the semi-finals – not bad hey. The teams have already met in this years competition with the French team winning 3-2 in Paris and Barcelona exacting revenge to top the group with a 3-1 victory in the Nou Camp. Just the odd goal difference in those matches and I see something similar happening here but probably in both games. Barcelona to best the French team in two tight matches.
PORTO v BAYERN MUNICH
To the Portuguese side this provokes memories of the 1987 European Cup Final when Porto won the competition for the first time when two late goals secured the trophy and delirium in Portugal’s second city. They have since won it under the guise of some bloke called Jose Mourinho (I wonder what happened to him :-D) in 2004 and since then they have only reached the last eight on one occasion in 2009. They have looked strong this year and as we stand are the only unbeaten team left in the competition and will be no pushovers. Bayern have arguably been the best team in Europe over the last four years with two final appearances (one victory) and a semi-final one last year. The thing is though because of their complete dominance domestically they (and especially their manager, Pep Guardiola) are actually judged on their performances in the Champions League. They have flattered a little bit to deceive since returning from their winter break but their 7-0 second leg thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk showed that when they hit their strides not many teams can live with them. This will be a tight contest, but I feel Bayern’s superior quality within the team especially in midfield and up front will be the decisive factor. Porto will look to get a lead in the first leg (they would need one if they harbour any hopes of making the semi-final) which may play into the Germans hands and I feel that the current Bundesliga champions will prevail with wins in both legs.
And just so the Europa League fans do not feel like they are losing out here are my predictions for their quarter finals
CLUB BRUGGE v DNIPRO – A tight low scoring affair I suspect. The Belgians to sneak it in extra time and / or away goals.
DYNAMO KIEV v FIORENTINA– Two classy teams up against each other. Fiorentina to sneak it by securing a draw in the Ukraine and finishing the job off at home.
SEVILLA v ZENIT ST PETERSBERG – A clash of styles for me. Sevilla love attacking, Zenit love defending. The Spanish holders will be looking for a victory before the trip to Russia. Too close to call – I can see a draw in the first match with the Spanish side prevailing in Russia on away goals.
WOLFSBURG v NAPOLI– The Germans are the only creditable (barely mind) threat to Bayern in their country, Napoli are stuttering in their own domestic league. Wolfsburg to prevail in two high scoring games.
Remember don’t think the Europa league matches mean nothing – the winners get into the Champions League so all four are well worth following in my opinion.
Let me know what you think – you can also tweet me @biggishmouth or go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth
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