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The Last Eight: Assessing each of the Champions League’s quarter-finalists

The UEFA Champions League’s last eight has been finalised as the competition reaches its latter stages.

For just the second time in history there are two nations with three representatives in the quarter-finals, with both La Liga and the Premier League dominating the last eight line-up.

Bayern Munich are the final German side in the competition and are among the favourites to be crowned Champions League winners, whilst Benfica are the sole representation from outside Europe’s top-five league after eliminating Ajax.

 

Ahead of the quarter-final draw, we assess the remaining eight teams in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League.

Atletico Madrid

  • Manager: Diego Simeone.
  • Key player: Jan Oblak.
  • Previous best: Runners-up (3) – 1974, 2014, 2016.
  • Last season: Last-16.
  • Odds: 16/1.

Always awkward opponents on this stage, Atletico Madrid have rarely convinced in this season’s competition but once again find themselves in the Champions League’s quarter-finals.

Diego Simeone’s side finished as runners-up to Liverpool in the group stages, requiring a dramatic win at Porto in the final round of fixtures to seal qualification to the knockouts.

Manchester United were beaten over two legs in the last 16 with the club’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford resembling Simeone’s side of old, digging deep defensively, riding their luck, and using a smattering of the dark arts to ensure progress.

Atletico – despite their Spanish league title success last season – are not quite the force of old, but will provide a tricky tie for whoever is paired with the La Liga side in the last eight.

After a disappointing start to the season domestically, Atletico have won their last four league games and could be finding form at an ideal time.

Bayern Munich

  • Manager: Julian Nagelsmann.
  • Key player: Robert Lewandowski.
  • Previous best: Winners (6) – 1974,1975, 1976, 2001, 2013, 2020.
  • Last season: Quarter-final.
  • Odds: 7/2.

Bayern Munich will enter the quarter-finals among the favourites to reach the final, having recovered from a disappointing first leg performance to thrash Red Bull Salzburg 7-1 in their last-16 return.

Julian Nagelsmann’s side have scored prolifically this season with the former RB Leipzig coach having opted for an uber-attacking approach, with the Bavarians the leading scorers among Europe’s top five leagues with 77 goals from 26 Bundesliga fixtures.

Robert Lewandowski leads the scoring charts both at home and in Europe, with the Poland international having scored 43 goals in all competitions already this season – including 12 in just eight Champions League appearances.

With the likes of Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry providing the support, the German giants will take some stopping in their pursuit of seventh European crown.

Benfica

  • Manager: Nélson Veríssimo.
  • Key player: Darwin Nunez.
  • Previous best: Winners (2) – 1961, 1962.
  • Last season: Third qualifying round.
  • Odds: 66/1.

Benfica are the rank outsiders with the bookmakers to win the Champions League this season, having upset the odds to beat an impressive Ajax side in the last-16.

The Portuguese side have reached this stage for the first time since the 2015/16 season and have not progressed beyond the last eight since finishing as European Cup runners-up in 1990.

That defeat to AC Milan was the fifth time Benfica have been beaten in the final of this competition since the glory days of their 1960s vintage who won back-to-back European titles.

Not since Porto in 2003/04 has a team from outside Europe’s top five leagues won the Champions League, whilst just three – Porto, PSV (2005) and Ajax (2019) have reached the semi-finals since the turn of the millennium.

Darwin Nunez will lead Benfica’s hopes of a European upset this season with the 22-year-old forward having scored 26 goals in all competitions this season.

Chelsea

  • Manager: Thomas Tuchel.
  • Key player: N’Golo Kante.
  • Previous best: Winners (2) – 2012, 2021.
  • Last season: Winners.
  • Odds: 8/1.

Thomas Tuchel’s turnaround of Chelsea led to a shock Champions League triumph last season, with the west Londoners beating Manchester City in an all-Premier League final.

Chelsea were not considered among the favourites to be crowned European champions in 2021, but their success was built on a resolute defence that conceded just four goals in their 13 Champions League fixtures.

Real Madrid remain the only side to have defended the trophy in the Champions League era and N’Golo Kante – outstanding in last season’s knockout rounds – will be crucial to Chelsea’s hopes of replicating that achievement.

Much will depend on the situation unfolding off the pitch, however, with the latest EU sanctions placed on owner Roman Abramovich making their campaign uncertain.

Liverpool

  • Manager: Jurgen Klopp.
  • Key player: Virgil van Dijk.
  • Previous best: Winners (6) – 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005, 2019.
  • Last season: Quarter-final.
  • Odds: 3/1.

Liverpool reached the knockout rounds with a flawless group stage record, making a mockery of pre-tournament ‘Group of Death’ suggestions to breeze into the last-16.

Inter Milan were beaten over two-legs to reach this stage, securing a place in the last eight despite a home defeat to the Italian champions at Anfield, having earlier won 2-0 at the San Siro.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are 3/1 second favourites and have crucial experience in the latter stages, twice reaching the final under the German’s management and winning the Champions League in 2019.

Liverpool have won their last nine games in the Premier League – conceding just two goals in the process – and will be a side to avoid in the last-eight draw. The arrival of Luis Diaz from Porto further added to their options in January and the Reds now boast a depth of attacking talent to trouble teams.

Manchester City

  • Manager: Pep Guardiola.
  • Key player: Kevin De Bruyne.
  • Previous best: Runners-up – 2021.
  • Last season: Runners-up.
  • Odds: 2/1.

Manchester City came agonisingly close to ending their crusade towards an elusive European Cup last season, reaching a maiden final before a disappointing defeat to Chelsea.

The Premier League champions are again the tournament favourites and hopes will be high that lessons have been learned from past disappointments.

It’s now over a decade since Pep Guardiola last won the Champions League and he will be determined to right those wrongs this season, with City having cruised into the quarter-finals with a 5-0 aggregate win over Sporting Lisbon.

City’s first-leg performance against Sporting emphasised their credentials as potential champions, becoming the first team in UCL history to lead an away game by 4+ goals at half-time in the knockout stages of the competition.

Top of the Premier League, favourites in Europe, and also in the last eight of the FA Cup, a treble of trophies is not beyond the realms of possibility for arguably the continent’s most talented side.

Real Madrid

  • Manager: Carlo Ancelotti.
  • Key player: Karim Benzema.
  • Previous best: Winners (13) – 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018.
  • Last season: Semi-final.
  • Odds: 9/1.

Real Madrid produced a dramatic fightback to beat Paris Saint-Germain and reach the quarter-finals, trailing 2-0 on aggregate with less than half an hour to play before Karim Benzema’s hat-trick turned the tie around.

Benzema remains the key to the hopes of the record 13-time winners, with no player in Europe’s top five leagues having been directly involved in more league goals (33) than the Frenchman this season.

The 34-year-old has fine support in the shape of Vinicius Junior, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season at the Bernabeu to live up to his billing as one of world football’s most exciting talents.

David Alaba and Eder Militao have ensured the Sergio Ramos-Raphael Varane axis has hardly been missed, but can Real Madrid – still dependent on the ageing Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield – return to the top of European football and repeat their quartet of successes between 2014 and 2018?

Villarreal

  • Manager: Unai Emery.
  • Key player: Gerard Moreno.
  • Previous best: Semi-finals (2006).
  • Last season: DNQ (Europa League winners)
  • Odds: 50/1.

Villarreal scored three late goals in a chaotic conclusion to their last-16 tie with Juventus, securing a 3-0 win in Turin to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2008/09.

Unai Emery guided The Yellow Submarine to Europa League success and has specialised in Europe’s secondary competition, winning the trophy on four occasions with Sevilla and Villarreal.

The Spaniard will now hope his underdogs can make an impression in the Champions League, but Villarreal will begin the quarter-finals as huge outsiders with only Benfica greater odds to win the trophy.

Gerard Moreno’s return to fitness will be crucial with the 29-year-old having scored 30 goals in all competitions last season. He has 10 from 14 starts in 2021/22, but returned with a penalty after coming off the bench against Juventus after missing the club’s last five fixtures with a calf problem.

Read – Iconic: Five of the greatest hat-tricks in Champions League history

Read Also – Noughties Nines: The irrepressible, David ‘El Guaje’ Villa

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