The UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists will be finalised this week as we prepare for the final last-16 ties, the week’s action including both Manchester United and Chelsea.
United welcome Atletico Madrid to Old Trafford for the second leg of their tie with the Spanish champions, with the score poised at 1-1 following Anthony Elanga’s late equaliser at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Chelsea are in control against Lille as the holders search for progress, but the current chaos surrounding the west Londoners has provided Thomas Tuchel with a challenging situation.
Elsewhere Ajax and Benfica meet again after a thrilling first leg in Portugal, whilst Juventus and Villarreal are also level ahead of their return clash in Turin.
Ahead of the week’s Champions League action, we look at the major talking points surrounding the sides in action.
Ronaldo finds form ahead of Atletico return
Cristiano Ronaldo produced a stunning individual performance at the weekend to send a message to his doubters this season, scoring a brilliant hat-trick against Tottenham to ensure Manchester United remain in the race for a top four finish.
Ronaldo had scored just once in his past ten appearances heading into the clash with the North Londoners, but delivered a display of devastating finishing to find his form at a perfect time for the Red Devils.
We are Man. United! Let’s do this together! Let’s go, Devils! 🙏🏽💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/tyVGsnCyHh
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) March 14, 2022
The 37-year-old boasts a fine career record against Atletico with 25 goals and nine assists from 36 appearances against the Spanish side, though he was largely anonymous during the first leg as he found himself starved of service in Spain.
Ronaldo remains the Red Devils’ best hope of progress and creating chances for the Champions League’s record scorer will be central to their hopes against an Atletico side who will be prepared to dig deep and defend at Old Trafford.
Diego Simeone’s side could be without a host of senior players for the clash, however, with Geoffrey Kondogbia, Daniel Wass, Sime Vrsaljko, Mario Hermoso, Matheus Cunha and Thomas Lemar set to miss out, whilst Yannick Carrasco is suspended.
Tuchel a credit to Chelsea amid current chaos
Thomas Tuchel has proven an ideal figurehead for Chelsea in a turbulent period for the club, speaking eloquently on the chaotic situation that has unfolded following the sanctions place on Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
The German has vowed to remain with the west Londoners until the end of the season at least, as he bids to focus on football and navigate the most challenging of periods at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel has not shied away from difficult questions on the situation and has reiterated his desire to support his squad, staff and the fans, overseeing back-to-back wins against Norwich and Newcastle since the announcement of the government sanctions.
🗣️ "We can go by plane. If not, we go by train. If not, we go by bus. If not, I drive a seven-seater!"
Thomas Tuchel is letting nothing stop him from getting to Lille for Chelsea's midweek Champions League fixture… 🚌pic.twitter.com/1AYxWknWvp
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) March 13, 2022
The club’s current predicament is a far cry from this stage of last season, as Chelsea upset the odds to emerge as Champions League winners under Tuchel.
Chelsea travel to face Lille on Wednesday evening with a two-goal advantage from the first meeting and the Blues are strong favourites despite facing a side who have not conceded a goal since that first encounter last month.
Chelsea’s future and ownership will become clearer in the coming weeks, but for now, the west Londoners are in good hands when it comes to the man in the dugout.
Ajax and Benfica fly flag for Europe’s outsiders
There will be representation from outside of Europe’s top five leagues in the Champions League’s last eight, as Ajax and Benfica compete to reach the quarter-finals.
The two teams share six European Cup triumphs between them, but the modern era has seen sides from outside Europe’s major leagues struggle to make an impression in the Champions League’s latter stages.
On just three occasions has a team from outside England, Italy, Spain, Germany or France reached the semi-finals since the turn of the millennium, with Porto’s shock success in 2004 the sole time a team from outside those leagues has been crowned European champions.
Sebastien Haller has now scored 32 goals this season 🤯 pic.twitter.com/8yU6WjetCV
— GOAL (@goal) March 11, 2022
Ajax are the most recent non-top-five team to reach the last four (2018/19) and the Eredivisie champions have the talent to trouble the elite again this season, having enjoyed a flawless group stage campaign before a 2-2 draw with Benfica in the first leg of their last-16 tie last month.
Sebastien Haller – who scored at both ends in the first leg – will again be key for Erik ten Hag’s side, with only Robert Lewandowski having outscored the Champions League debutant this season.
Turin fortress can aid Juventus chances
Juventus remain a team in transition but the Turin side have a strong chance to reach the Champions League’s quarter-finals for the first time since finishing as runners-up in 2017.
Max Allegri’s side have found momentum following a 1-1 draw with Villarreal in the first meeting, extending their unbeaten run to 12 games in all competitions and winning each of the last four.
Juventus have not been beaten at home in 2022 and have conceded just four goals in seven games at the Allianz Stadium, statistics that bode well ahead of their second leg with an inconsistent Villarreal team missing several senior stars.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) March 14, 2022
Dusan Vlahovic took just 32 seconds to score on his Champions League debut last month and the Serbian – signed in a €70m deal from Fiorentina in January – has started well at Juventus with four goals from seven starts.
Juventus are outsiders for silverware both domestically and in Europe this season, but will be confident of advancing to the last eight after a strong run of recent form.