The resumption of the UEFA Champions League comes with four incredible ties in the quarter-finals. Eight clubs will be looking to punch their ticket into the semi-finals, but only four will advance. Will some of the European giants fall in this stage of the competition? I break down all four matchups and predict who will go through in the end below!
Benfica (POR) vs. Inter Milan (ITA):
A handful of European giants remain in this competition, but one team that may not be getting enough respect is Benfica. The Portuguese club dominated Club Brugge in the Round of 16, winning 7-1 across two legs. Benfica has an abundance of attacking talent, even with Darwin Núñez leaving for Liverpool in the summer. The combination of Gonçalo Ramos, João Mário and Rafa Silva has accounted for 14 goals in the Champions League thus far.
People forget that Enzo Fernández, now a member of the Chelsea midfield, was part of this Benfica team just a few months ago. Many of the players within their squad have played in this competition for a number of years, giving them invaluable experience that they can use to their advantage moving forward. This is a group that got to the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season, losing to Liverpool 6-4 on aggregate. Benfica let a few key players leave in the recent transfer window, but they are still a real threat at this stage of the tournament.
Inter Milan sneaked by FC Porto in the Round of 16, winning 1-0 over two legs. The only goal was scored by Romelu Lukaku in the first leg at the San Siro, which proved to be enough in the end. The Italian club is way off the pace in the league, currently sitting fifth in the Serie A table with 51 points through 29 games. Manager Simone Inzaghi has Inter right where they belong in this competition, but the expectation should be to advance further.
Argentinian striker Lautaro Martínez is going to be one of the key players for Inter in this tie. The 25-year-old has a club-high 17 goals in all competitions this season, although just one of them has come in the Champions thus far. Martínez needs to be at his best in order for Inter, especially when it is unknown as to who will play alongside him. A case can be made for Edin Džeko or Lukaku.
These two squads are at a very similar level, so the margin for error is going to be slim. This tie will be won or lost in the midfield. If Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Nicolò Barella and Marcelo Brozović are dominant in possession, Inter will be in great shape. In the same way, though, Benfica will gain control if Florentino Luís and Fredrik Aursnes are well-organized. Both teams have every chance to advance, but Benfica will pull off the upset, denying an all Italian semi-final.
Score Prediction: Benfica 3-2 Inter Milan
Manchester City (ENG) vs. Bayern Munich (GER):
Manchester City have been known for falling short in the Champions League under the management of Pep Guardiola. The Premier League side has had some of the best squads in the world over his 6.5 years at the club, yet they have no European silverware. In a year where some of the big teams (Liverpool, PSG, Juventus) underperformed in this competition, Manchester City have thrived. Will this finally be the campaign where the Citizens put it all together and get over the hump?
The signing of Norwegian striker Erling Haaland has completely changed the way Manchester City plays. Guardiola played with a false nine last season, rotating the likes of Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling in that spot. It certainly worked for them, given that they still won the Premier League title. But it was only a matter of time before the club decided they wanted more of a presence at the striker position. The 21-year-old not only has 30 goals in 27 league matches, but he also has 10 goals in seven Champions League matches. Haaland is in the form of his life, making him the best striker in the world on form.
Haaland is great, but so is the rest of the Manchester City squad. The combination of Kevin De Bruyne, İlkay Gündoğan and Rodri has been sensational, providing the perfect amount of balance. Manuel Akanji has come straight into the team and played really well alongside Rúben Dias and Nathan Aké in the defense. Manchester City may be trailing Arsenal in the Premier League, but don’t get it twisted. This team has what it takes to win the Champions League, but this tie may prove to be their biggest test yet.
Bayern Munich shocked the footballing world when they decided to sack Julian Nagelsmann on Mar. 24, despite being in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and just one point behind Borussia Dortmund in the league. The German giants have chosen to replace him with Thomas Tuchel, a manager who previously beat Manchester City in the Champions League Final with Chelsea. Changing managers at this point in the season is always a huge gamble, but this one could pay off in the long-term for Bayern.
Many questioned if the team could score enough goals without Robert Lewandowski leading the line. Instead of directly replacing him, Bayern chose to sign Sadio Mané and rely on wingers like Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané to find the back of the net. It certainly helps that Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has chipped in with 17 goals in all competitions, including four in the Champions League.
While all of those players are important in their own right, 20-year-old attacking midfielder Jamal Musiala is the most important player in this squad. The German international is already one of the best number 10s in the world at such a young age. His ability to pick out the perfect pass or make the run that puts him through on goal is incredible. If Musiala can find those spaces in this tie, Manchester City may be in some trouble.
Manchester City are the better all-around team, but Bayern Munich has a manager in Thomas Tuchel who understands what it takes to beat Pep Guardiola in this competition. The first leg is at the Etihad Stadium, so the pressure will be on Manchester City to win that game convincingly. Bayern has a squad that can go toe to toe with anyone in Europe, but Erling Haaland will prove to be the best player over the two legs, helping Manchester City reach the semi-finals.
Score Prediction: Manchester City 5-3 Bayern Munich
Real Madrid (SPA) vs. Chelsea (ENG):
The reigning champions of this tournament are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the third consecutive season. Real Madrid earned their place in the final eight with a convincing 5-2 win against Liverpool (at Anfield, of all places) in the first leg of the Round of 16. Very few teams have been able to do that in recent years, which shows how impressive Carlo Ancelotti’s team is. Real Madrid came from behind to beat Chelsea in the quarter-finals last season. Will they have a similar result against the English side this time around?
Los Blancos are led by 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who has been limited to 404 minutes in the Champions League this season. Real Madrid desperately needs him on the pitch in order to reach their ceiling. Otherwise, their attack can look lifeless without a presence at the number nine. Vinícius Júnior and Federico Valverde will play alongside Benzema, both of which can stretch out the defense with their electrifying pace.
There is no title race in La Liga for Real Madrid (13 points about FC Barcelona), so all of their focus should be on this competition. Ferland Mendy is the only notable player out through injury, so there are no real excuses for this group to not advance further. Real Madrid have been the most dormant team in this competition for over a decade now. I would be shocked if they fail to make it to the semi-finals, especially considering the current run of their opposition.
This season has been one of ups and downs at Stamford Bridge, yet Chelsea find themselves in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The Blues are now on their third manager of the campaign, as Thomas Tuchel (now at Bayern Munich) and Graham Potter have been sacked by the club. I think many were surprised to see former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard take over as a caretaker manager, given his lack of success with Everton earlier in the season. Despite all of their changes on the touchline, this team is talented and has the offensive firepower to threaten any opponent on the counter-attack.
Lampard has only managed one game since his return to the club, a 1-0 loss at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Chelsea started a front three of João Félix, Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling in that match. While Lampard does have numerous forwards he can go to, that trio should start against Real Madrid. Félix is certainly the most important of those three, given his unique skill set. The Portuguese international has a good combination of pace and agility, which allows him to dribble by defenders. Chelsea will need the best out of Félix over 180 minutes if they want any chance of advancing.
Chelsea’s forwards have received quite a lot of criticism this season, but most of my questions heading into this tie revolve around the back four. Thiago Silva is back in training after missing the last six weeks with a knee injury? Will Lampard go to the Brazilian international, despite his lack of match fitness. If not, the pairing should be Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana, two centre-halves that have played very few minutes alongside each other.
There is no denying that this season has been far from straightforward for Chelsea. The team is playing under its third manager since August, but again, that should not take away from how talented their squad is. If Lampard can hit 11 right, Chelsea have enough to give Real Madrid a run for their money. As good as an upset sounds here, I don’t see a scenario where Benzema and Vinícius have trouble scoring against this defense.
Score Prediction: Real Madrid 5-2 Chelsea
AC Milan (ITA) vs. Napoli (ITA):
A matchup between the current Serie A champions and a team that is just a few months away from winning the league. Does it really get any better than this in the Champions League? It may not be the headline tie, but AC Milan versus Napoli is going to be a great watch across two legs. Italian football has three clubs in the quarter-finals, which has not happened in quite a while in this competition.
AC Milan showed their dominance in the Round of 16, holding Harry Kane and Tottenham Hotspur scoreless across two legs. Milan’s only goal in the tie came from Brahim Díaz, just seven minutes into the first leg. While one goal was enough to keep them through against Tottenham, that won’t fly against maybe the best team in the world at the moment in Napoli. Stefano Pioli’s team needs to be clinical in the box in order to really threaten in this tie.
23-year-old forward Rafael Leão is the name to watch out for in this AC Milan squad. The Portuguese international has 11 goals and eight assists in all competitions this season, although he has only found the back of the net once in the Champions League. Leão can get by any defender with his pace and dribbling, which is certainly something he needs to display against Napoli.
On the other end of the pitch, Fikayo Tomori and Simon Kjær will have their hands full against the Napoli frontline. Yes, Victor Osimhen will be out for the first leg at the minimum, but Napoli still have enough to threaten the two centre-halves. AC Milan must be clinical on the attack, but their back four may be just as important, if not more, critical to their success.
As I mentioned above, Napoli has probably been the best team in Europe from start to finish this season. Their dominance in Serie A (16 points ahead of second-placed Lazio) along with their level of play in the Champions League has been outstanding. Napoli may not have as many well-known players as some other clubs, but that should change with the way they have performed throughout the campaign.
Osimhen has been a key player for them, but maybe the biggest surprise across Europe is Georgian international Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. Napoli signed the 22-year-old from FC Dinamo Batumi in the Erovnuli Liga (the top division in Georgia) for €10-12 million in the summer. Kvaratskhelia, contributing with 14 goals and 14 assists in all competitions.
Napoli has three really well-rounded midfielders in André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Piotr Zieliński and Stanislav Lobotka. Kim Min-jae and Amir Rrahmani have been excellent in the back. The list goes on for the number of players at Napoli that have thrived this season. Manager Luciano Spalletti has done a magnificent job with this group, and they deserve to be one of the favorites to win this edition of the Champions League.
Nine days ago, AC Milan went to Diego Armando Maradona Stadium and defeated Napoli 4-0 away from home. Take what you want from that league match, but I see Napoli using that as fuel to take Milan out of the Champions League. Both of these teams have done well to get this far in the competition, and I could see AC Milan making this quite interesting. But it is too hard to go against Napoli with the way they are playing at the moment.
Score Prediction: Napoli 4-2 AC Milan