This is what my parents dreamed of when they sent me off to IIT, the finest educational institution in India - that I would make blindingly obvious statements about European club football. As obvious as it is, it still needs to be said because I know you were thinking about it, dreaming about it. After all who would not want the two best clubs in Europe to meet in the Champions League final. The best one can hope for this year is alas, a possible semi-final match up.
Winner QF 3 v Winner QF 1
Winner QF 4 vs Winner QF 2
I’m going to go in increasing order of predictive difficulty
Chelsea vs Porto: My pick is Chelsea
Everyone wanted to play Porto and Tuchel and crew won that lottery. Tuchel has faced much scorn for his ultra-defensive style of play but the ease with which Chelsea brushed aside La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid was impressive. Porto frankly have Juventus’ mistakes to thank more than themselves. They don’t have the attacking resources to really threaten Chelsea’s defensive fortress and are quite vulnerable on the counter attack and that will certainly be Chelsea’s style. They have an impressively speedy and most importantly youthful forward line of Werner, Ziyech and Havertz with Pulisic available as a sub. The three starting forwards looked like a synchronized swimming team in the way they combined to dismantle the defensive leaders of the La Liga. As experienced and savvy as Pepe is, at 38 he may well find himself a yard or two slower than these young tyros tearing up the pitch. The defensive quartet led by the lion-hearted Rudiger will fight tooth and nail to keep shots from being taken.
Expect Chelsea to win both legs.
Bayern Munich vs PSG: My pick is Bayern Munich
Everyone wanted to avoid Bayern but PSG lost that battle. These two wonderful teams will meet again merely 7 months removed from their last meeting in the finals of the 2020 edition. Bayern if anything look even stronger than they did last season. Lewandowski is in prime goal scoring form (40 goals across the Bundesliga and Champions League) and they have been fortunate to have a fully fit squad. Bayern have been absolutely ridiculously red hot. They have won their last six games and have poured in a stunning 22 goals in these last six games.
PSG on the other hand are weakened by the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva has also moved on from the back line. Even with a fully fit Neymar PSG could not make a dent on Bayern in the final last year so with Neymar missing or just returning from injury PSG will struggle against Bayern. More troubling for the French champions is that their recent form has been insipid at best. They looked out of sorts in their draw against Barcelona at home, a game which Barca may have well been up 3-1 or 4-1 with some more luck and better finishing. They have lost two of their last 5 Ligue 1 games including an absolute clunker of a performance in losing 1-2 to Nantes at Parc Des Princes. It is worth mentioning that Nantes is facing possible relegation at the bottom of the Ligue 1 table and to Monaco. This deathly combination of poor recent form and injuries to their star player make PSG very hard to bet on.
Expect Bayern to win both legs
Manchester City Vs Borussia Dortmund: My pick is Manchester City
Pep Guardiola’s men have been having an astonishing run of form with 27 wins, 3 draws and just one loss in their last 31 games since their 0-2 loss to the Spurs in late November. They have a nearly unassailable lead in the EPL and a nearly fully fit roster which has given Pep the luxury of resting and rotating a lot of his star players. In the recent FA cup QF against Everton for example, Kevin De Bruyne came on well into the second half and so did Riyad Mahrez. As many five players - Gundogan, Sterling, Mahrez, Jesus and Foden - have scored double digit goals this season across the four major competitions. When you combine this with the oppressive stranglehold City places on possession in true Pep style, and the rock solid defense they have, it is not hard to see why City are the odds on favorites to win it all in this edition of the Champions League. This year unlike prior years where the defensive line let Pep down against Lyon, Liverpool, their defense has been absolutely stellar. In all games since the start of February, City have scored an astonishing 38 goals and conceded only seven goals. All that said, Pep Guardiola has failed to win a Champions league when he does not have a certain L. Messi in his line up and it has been over 10 years since he held up the most cherished piece of silverware in club soccer. Both at Bayern and more recently at City his teams have never gone past the final four. So he better than anyone else knows that he cant take anything for granted.
Borussia are struggling in the Bundesliga, a full 18 points behind leaders Bayern Munich and have also conceded the most goals of any team in the top five. They play an expansive style of football which suits City. Their attack is very one dimensional with the goal scoring dominated by Erling Haaland who is an absolute tour de force and is the second highest goal scorer in Europe this season( 31 goals across Bundesliga and Champions League). If Dortmund are to win, Haaland will have to have two nights where he absolutely hands down plays the best soccer of his life AND all six of City’s goal scoring threats will need to be completely neutralized. Only a brave man will bet on that.
Real Madrid Vs Liverpool: My pick is Liverpool only for emotional reasons
This is definitely the toughest game to call. Both teams are quite different from the last time they met in the final of the 2018 edition. Ronaldo, Bale and Navas have moved on from Real Madrid. Liverpool have inarguably a better goal keeper now in Allison Becker but are also without their star center back Virgil Van Dijk.
Based on recent form and roster strength Real Madrid will be hard to bet against. Ramos is back, Benzema in absolutely red hot form and the famous mid-field of Modric, Kroos and Casemiro have been sensational. Kroos’ play leading up to the assist to Benzema in the most recent La Liga game against Celta Vigo is probably some of the best soccer the German has played in recent months.
For Liverpool it is a matter of honor. Liverpool have been absolutely dismal in the EPL and for the first time in many years face the prospect of missing out on not only Champions League but also the Europa league. They have crashed out of the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup. At this stage of the season, the Champions League is all they have left to play. There is also the matter of revenge for Mo Salah who met with a horrible end to his first Champions League final back in 2018 where he was judo tackled by Sergio Ramos into the ground and broke his shoulder. Can Juergen Klopp and his men summon enough fire in the belly to avenge their 2018 final defeat and the inglorious exit for Salah? For that reason and of course for my allegiance to Barca Blaugranes I pick Liverpool.
See you all on the other side of the quarterfinals.
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