There are eight teams left in the UEFA Champions League and the quarterfinal matchups have been set! The first leg of the quarterfinals is scheduled for April 14-15 (with the second leg on April 21-22).
The three main favorites, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, are all still alive, and won’t have to square off until at least the semifinals.
In the quarters, Barca will face PSG; Bayern Munich will meet Porto; and Real will have to contend with arch-rival Atletico Madrid in a repeat of last year’s final.
In the last pairing, Juventus faces Monaco.
If you’re going to wager on the quarterfinals, my advice is to find the team(s) with momentum, but don’t overlook sheer roster strength. After all, true upsets are difficult in two-game series.
Here are my picks for all four quarterfinals matchups, complete with the current odds for the two-game series:
PSG (+229) vs. FC Barcelona (-300) – April 15 and 21
Despite the fact that these teams met twice in the Group Stage – with each winning at home – Barcelona are the heavy favorites in the quarterfainls. Why? They have a deeper, more skilled roster and also more experience in the Champions League.
But I’m not giving up on the upset. The Blaugranas don’t like to be attacked, and PSG has all the tools to make life uncomfortable for the current La Liga leaders.
As Barca manager Luis Enrique noted, “They’re very dangerous and we have a lot of respect for them. We have experience from the group stage, with a win and a defeat. After beating Chelsea, they showed they’re a strong candidate to win the competition.”
PSG playmaker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be around in the first leg after he was expelled against Chelsea in the Round of 16, but he will be back for the second game in Barcelona.
Barca are on a tear in La Liga, but I’m not sold on the fact that they are the best side here, certainly not at -300.
My pick: PSG (+229).
FC Porto (+450) vs. Bayern Munich (-700) – April 15 and 21
Porto routed Basel 5-1 on aggregate in the Round of 16 and will give Bayern Munich’s defense a real test in this two-game series, especially at home.
“Porto has a great team and a beautiful stadium,” Bayern manager Pep Guardiola said. “They are very strong physically and attack with a lot of pace, but in the quarterfinals you can’t expect an easy match.”
But the Portuguese side is still a longshot to win, as noted by their +450 odds. Bayern is one of the top two or three clubs in the world right now, and have too much power on their roster for Porto to contend with.
The German squad went 5-0-1 in the Group Stage and then massacred Shakhtar Donetsk 7-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16 (though they drew the first game 0-0).
These teams have met four times before and Bayern Munich has yet to lose (2-2-0). won two, and the other two games were draws. There isn’t a lot of value in Bayern (-700), but it still looks like the better option here.
My pick: Bayern Munich (-700).
Atletico Madrid (+160) vs. Real Madrid (-200) – April 14 and 22
Real Madrid can’t be happy with this draw. If there’s a team the Merengues struggle with, it’s their cross-town rivals.
Atletico stuffed Real Madrid 4-0 the last time they met in La Liga; they’ve also beaten Real in four of their last five games (4-1-0).
“It is easy to analyze this game because Atletico were better in every facet of the game,” said Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti after the 4-0 setback. “They fought more, had more quality on the ball, had better organization, everything. It is the worst game we have played since I have been a coach.”
Real have fallen to second in La Liga and did not look their best in the Round of 16, beating Schalke 2-0 away, but then suffering a surprise 4-3 setback at home to narrowly advance 5-4 on aggregate.
Despite that backdrop, Real Madrid and the embarrassment of riches remain the favorite. Part of the reason is that Atletico did not look convincing in their Round of 16 matchup either, falling 1-0 to Bayer Leverkusen away, winning 1-0 at home, and then squeaking through to the next round on penalties (3-2).
In my view, even though Real have not been playing well of late, they simply have too many weapons to bow out at this stage.
My pick: Real Madrid -200.
Juventus (-275) vs. AS Monaco (+210) – April 14 and 22
Juventus are trying to bring Serie A‘s reputation back from the doldrums, and they arguably have the best draw of the quarterfinals, squaring off against Monaco. Juve has dominated domestically over the last four seasons, but they haven’t been able to find success in the Champions League, leading many to question the strength of the once mighty Serie A.
But Juve have every reason to be confident heading into the quarterfinals. They dominated Borussia Dortmund 5-1 on aggregate in the Round of 16, led by Argentinian playmaker Carlos Tevez, and they should be back at full strength come April (with midfielders Paul Pogba and Andrea Pirlo set to return).
Monaco, meanwhile, tied Arsenal 3-3 on aggregate in their Round of 16 match, but advanced on the strength of an away goal. The disparate results in the last round have the Italians sitting as heavy favorites. But the team isn’t looking past Les Rouges et Blancs.
“People think we’re already in the semis, but it’s not like that at all,” Tevez told reporters at the Juventus Stadium. “Every game is difficult, and Monaco is [a] strong [opponent] and we mustn’t underestimate them. Maybe I would have preferred to play against Barcelona or Real Madrid.”
Notwithstanding Tevez’s protestations, Juve are indeed the stronger team and should be full value for the win.
My pick: Juventus -275.
Check back once the semifinal matchups are set for more Champions League odds and predictions!
(Photo credit: El Coleccionista de Instant (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo may appear cropped.)