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Four talking points ahead of the Champions League quarter-finals

Four talking points ahead of the Champions League quarter-finals, featuring Arsenal’s old nemesis and Real Madrid’s scars from last season.

Arsenal meet old nemesis – can Kane save Bayern’s season?

Arsenal return to the Champions League’s quarter-finals for the first time in over a decade, where a familiar foe awaits. The North London side’s recent record against Bayern Munich is well documented, with some humbling and heavy losses across the last decade.

In the Bayern ranks will also be a player who has tormented the Gunners in past encounters. Harry Kane scored 14 league goals in 17 appearances during a record-breaking career at North London rivals Tottenham, before departing to sign for the German champions last summer.

He became the first footballer in Europe’s top five leagues to breach 50 goals involvements in all competitions over the weekend, though his remarkable individual record has not transferred to domestic success for the Bavarians. Bayern’s 11-year stranglehold on the Bundesliga is all but over after four defeats in their last eight, including back-to-back losses to Borussia Dortmund and FC Heidenheim in their last two.

Arsenal will start as favourites at the Emirates on Tuesday night and the onus will be on Kane to salvage his side’s season. It will be a tough task against an Arsenal defence in solid form, with only Juventus (24.91) posting a lower Expected Goals Against (xGA) than the Gunners in Europe’s top five leagues this season (25.27). Bayern, however, are the top scorers (79) across those five divisions.

Rodrygo comments show Manchester City scars

Real Madrid and Manchester City meet in a rivalry growing in familiarity. After contesting semi-finals in each of the last two seasons, European football’s traditional and current heavyweights collide in the Champions League’s knockout rounds again.

After Real Madrid edged an epic tie in 2021/22, Manchester City exacted revenge in stunning fashion last season. Their 4-0 win at the Etihad in the semi-final second leg was arguably the greatest ever Champions League performance from an English club – and appears to have left scars with the Spanish side.

“This was an opponent that, to be honest, we didn’t want to face,” Real Madrid winger Rodrygo said this week.

“And they think the same as well: they didn’t want to play against us. It’s a game that everyone expects to be the final, but it’s going to be now. Man City are very good, but our team is also very strong. It’s going to be good to meet them again.”

“Without a doubt,” he continued on whether City are the toughest possible opponent. “They’re the Champions League winners, they’re the world champions, today they’re the best team in the world, so we have total respect for them.

“There are no bad or medium [City] players. There’s no player you can think of like: ‘This one I’m going to press because he isn’t good and he will give us a goal or a great chance.’ They have a very good control of the game and of the ball. It’s a very beautiful game, a very difficult team. It’s very annoying to play against them but I believe in our team.”

Real Madrid’s love affair with this competition means there is rarely doubt in the minds of Los Blancos on any stage. Their crushing exit at the hands of the Citizens last season, however, looks to have left its mark.

Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona too close to call

Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona meet in a clash between two teams who have been difficult to predict this season. PSG have continued their domestic dominance in Ligue 1, remaining unbeaten since mid-September, though have been up and down in the Champions League.

An unconvincing, albeit tough, group stage saw PSG squeeze through before Kylian Mbappe inspired their last-16 win over Real Sociedad. Mbappe remains the x-factor for this side despite his career with the club rapidly reaching its conclusion.

Barcelona, meanwhile, lag behind Real Madrid in their defence of La Liga. However, the Catalans have found form in recent weeks and five consecutive clean sheets bode well ahead of a trip to the Parc des Prices. Statistically, this appears impossible to call. The 12 previous meetings between the teams have been evenly split, with four wins each and four draws.

Meanwhile, PSG and Barcelona rank second (65.4%) and third (65%) for average possession this season, with only Manchester City seeing more of the ball in Europe’s top five leagues. Their numbers for goals (65 and 61) and average shots per game (15 and 15.7) are also eerily similar.

As is often the case under the lights in the Champions League, individual brilliance could settle this one.

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Brandt can unlock Atletico defence

Julian Brandt has perhaps never quite reached the levels expected upon his initial emergence. Such was his potential at Bayer Leverkusen, Jurgen Klopp was understood to have preferred Brandt’s signing over Mohamed Salah for Liverpool in 2017. The decision to go for the latter proved wise, with Brandt’s career having been one of inconsistencies.

The 27-year-old’s form has again been patchy this season, though when on-song he has been one of the best in the Bundesliga. He has a league-leading 11 assists for Borussia Dortmund, level with fellow Bundesliga stars Alejandro Grimaldo and Leroy Sane as the top creators in Europe’s top five leagues.

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Three assists in his last four league games have seen Brandt return to form of late and Dortmund will be hoping he can pick the lock of an Atletico Madrid backline this week.

The Spaniards frustrated Inter Milan over two legs before triumphing on penalties in the last round and often represent stubborn opposition on this stage. Having avoided arguably the four favourites on the other side of the quarter-final draw, Atletico Madrid and Dortmund will both have cautious ambitions of reaching this season’s final.

Read – The lowest Premier League points totals needed for Champions League qualification

See more – Premier League Team of the Week – Matchday 32

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