Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE quarter-finals of the Champions League are on the horizon and we have some treats in store this week. There is only one English team left in the competition and the champions Leicester seem to have found their grove since sacking Claudio Raneiri and replacing him with Craig Shakespeare.
I was very critical of the club at the time of the sacking but I will hold my hands up and say the decision has been vindicated because of their results since. Craig Shakespeare won his first five matches in charge of Leicester City, only suffering his first defeat at the weekend away to Everton when he made five changes to his regular starting line-up.
The players seem to have shown up for matches since Raneiri left and they are in great form going into their Champions League quarter-final tie against Atletico Madrid.
It’s going to be a very tough ask for Leicester to beat Atletico but they love being the underdogs and there will be no pressure on them going into the game as they have already exceeded expectations in this season’s Champions League.
The first leg is in Madrid so if Leicester can get a carbon copy of their result in the first leg away to Sevilla in the last round – losing 2-1 – I think they will be very happy going home. I think Diego Simeone’s side will be too strong over the two legs and the will end Leicester’s hopes of adding the Champions League to the fairytale Premier League title last season.
Monaco have been rewarded for knocking Manchester City out with a tie against Borussia Dortmund. This Monaco side look very exciting and they boast some of the best young talents in Europe like Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho and, most notably, Kylian Mbappe who have all lit up the Champions League this year.
Monaco won’t be able to keep hold of all those players in the summer so this will be their best chance of winning the trophy since they reached the final in 2003 and were beaten by Jose Mourinho’s Porto.
Dortmund might not be as good as the one that reached the Champions League final in 2013 but they finished top of a group which included Real Madrid and they also have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has scored seven already in this season’s Champions League.
I think Monaco will prevail over two legs providing their defence is stronger than it was in the previous round.
Barcelona pulled off probably the greatest escape in the history of soccer in the last round against PSG and I think they will go all the way to the final, even though Juventus stand in their way.
Even though Barca aren’t as good as they have been in previous years, and they have lost two of their last five games, they are still favourites for this tie. Juve’s biggest issue is that the Italian league isn’t as strong as it once was so they don’t get tested as often as they would like to. The same can be said of the Spanish league but Barca, Atletico and Real Madrid are all a step above Juve.
The final tie is the game of the round and it sees Real Madrid play Bayern Munich. This will be a great game to watch as it pits two fantastic attacking sides together so expect a few goals over the two legs.
Real are the reigning champions and they will be keen to retain their title in Cardiff in June but they face a stiff task. Bayern are probably the best team in Europe now but they need to add another Champions League title to cement this team’s legacy and I think that this year is going to be their year.
Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm are retiring at the end of the season and I’m sure their team-mates will want them to end their careers with another Champions League title to their names.
Both players are retiring too early, in my opinion, especially Lahm who is only 33 and is probably the best right-back of his generation.
I hope he makes a U-turn on his decision because he has a lot more to offer both Bayern and football.

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