The UEFA Champions League has reached its final eight and following the quarter-final draw we’ve looked at the headlines set to dominate.
Guardiola makes Bayern return
Pep Guardiola recently conceded that his time at Manchester City will be judged on the club’s success in Europe, as the Spaniard looks to end their wait for an elusive European title. Guardiola has failed in his pursuit of the Champions League since arriving at the Etihad in 2016 and if the Spaniard is to lead City to success this season, he will have to do it the hard way.
The Champions League draw has not been kind to the Premier League champions, who will face Bayern Munich in a mouthwatering quarter-final tie.
1 – This will be Pep Guardiola's first meeting with Bayern Munich since leaving the club. His only managerial games against them came in the 2008-09 Champions League quarter-finals, knocking them out with Barcelona en route to lifting the trophy. Reunion. pic.twitter.com/uhQaoxS6sV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 17, 2023
Guardiola’s former side have navigated a difficult run to reach this stage with ease, progressing from a ‘Group of Death’ containing Barcelona and Inter Milan with six straight wins, before beating Paris Saint-Germain home and away in the last 16.
Bayern lead the Bundesliga in their pursuit of an 11th consecutive Bundesliga title and the German champions boast a squad packed full of talent and experience in this tournament. Julian Nagelsmann’s squad contains the bulk of the side who won the Champions League in 2019/20, while forward Sadio Mane won this competition at Liverpool.
Of all the draws in the last eight, this was perhaps the one Guardiola would have most wanted to avoid.
Can Chelsea topple the continental kings?
Chelsea have been handed a difficult assignment of their own, as Graham Potter’s side meet holders Real Madrid in the last eight.
The west Londoners secured a second leg comeback to beat Borussia Dortmund in the last round, but a meeting with Real Madrid presents a different challenge. The European champions have reached at least the semi-finals in ten of the last 12 seasons, a run which includes five Champions League triumphs since 2014 alone.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side eliminated Chelsea at the same stage last season, as part of a memorable run of comebacks and chaos that ended in a record-extending 14th European crown. However, Chelsea boast an impressive record against Real Madrid in Europe, having lost just one of their seven games against Los Blancos.
1 – Chelsea have only lost one of their seven games against Real Madrid in European competition – indeed, they have the lowest percentage of losses against Real Madrid (14%) of any side to have played them 5+ times in Europe. Thorn. pic.twitter.com/IxBYBm0jGe
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 17, 2023
The Spaniards will start as favourites, but Chelsea have shown shoots of improvement under Graham Potter of late. Each of Chelsea’s two Champions League success have come when little was expected of the Blues.
Draw opens up for dark horse Napoli
Napoli have captured the imagination of Europe this season with some brilliant football under Luciano Spalletti.
The runaway league leaders in Serie A, Napoli are closing in on a first Scudetto since 1990 and have emerged as contenders for the Champions League. The Italians breezed past Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0 on aggregate to reach the last eight for the first time and the draw for the quarter-finals has opened up a potential run to the final.
Napoli so far in the Champions League:
✅ 12 games unbeaten at the Diego Maradona Stadium 🇮🇹
✅ 25 goals scored so far, more than any other team
Can they make it to the final? 🏆 pic.twitter.com/kIF71UnTZA
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 17, 2023
Napoli will meet AC Milan in an all-Italian quarter-final, before the winners face Benfica or Inter Milan in the last four. Having avoided the tournament favourites on the opposite side of the draw, Napoli have a real chance to continue their run and reach the decider.
With Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia firing and Kim Min-Jae providing presence at centre-back, Napoli will start their clash with Milan as favourites. The title all but secured and a genuine chance of reaching the Champions League final, there might be some party in Naples this summer.
A semi-final Derby della Madonnina?
Napoli might be pushing for a maiden success in this competition, but AC Milan and Inter Milan will have ambitions of returning to former heights. It’s the first time since 2005/06 that Italy have had three quarter-finalists and the draw has opened up the prospect of an all-Milan affair in the semi-finals.
AC Milan might be 20 points behind Napoli domestically, but have a strong record against their compatriots in European competition. Milan are unbeaten in five games against Italian clubs in the Champions League, a run which includes beating Juventus on penalties in the 2003 final.
For the first time since the 2005/06 season, both AC Milan and Inter Milan have reached the #UCL quarter-finals 🇮🇹
Two Italian giants back to their best in Europe 🔥 pic.twitter.com/YDjhG4Xn1j
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) March 14, 2023
Their city rivals Inter will take on Benfica in the last eight and will hope their strong defensive record can earn progress to the last four. Inter lead the Champions League for clean sheets (5) this season and shut out Portuguese opposition in Porto across two legs in the last 16.
Benfica are expected to pose a more difficult challenge however, having topped a group containing PSG and Juventus before thrashing Club Brugge 7-1 over two legs to reach this stage.
Should both Milan sides progress, it could lead to another huge Derby della Madonnina in the Champions League. AC Milan progressed from both previous derby encounters in the Champions League, with the first on away goals when the teams met in the 2002/03 semi-finals.
The teams met again in the quarter-finals in 2004/05, with the tie abandoned in the second leg amid crowd trouble. The game was halted in the 73rd minute after Inter fans threw flares onto the pitch, one of which hit AC Milan’s Dida, and created some iconic imagery.
On this day in 2005:
A UEFA Champions League quarter-final between Inter Milan & AC Milan was abandoned when a flare hit Milan goalkeeper Dida
It gave us this iconic photo of Marco Materazzi & Rui Costa pic.twitter.com/W7NvguE0AT
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) April 12, 2020
Milan – leading the tie 3-0 at the time it was abandoned – were awarded a 3-0 win for the second leg and progressed 5-0 on aggregate.
Benfica have reached the Champions League quarter-finals for a second successive season, with the Portuguese league leaders having compiled an impressive European campaign.
The traditional giants and a free-scoring Napoli side have taken much of the headlines, but Roger Schmidt’s side will be quietly confident of reaching a first semi-final in the Champions League era.
Benfica have lost just once in 43 fixtures across all competitions this season, including during a Champions League group stage that saw The Eagles finish above Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.
Can we talk about Benfica’s 🆑 run so far this season? 🤯 pic.twitter.com/uYqQbdr2Jc
— 433 (@433) March 7, 2023
In Goncalo Ramos and Antonio Silva the club possess two of the most coveted young talents in European football, with Schmidt’s side a cohesive attacking unit with the talent to trouble the Italian sides on their half of the draw.
A first European Cup final in 33 years is not beyond Benfica, who will compete alongside Serie A’s three representatives to reach Istanbul. It is a quarter-final draw which is set to give the 2023 Champions League final a refreshing look.