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All set for the quarter-finals

Simon Hart explores the main talking points ahead of the Champions League quarter-finals, with a lot of past experience to draw on

Expect fireworks all-round, as the final eight standing resume their quest to scale European club football’s greatest summit. With some titanic battles looming – especially in Manchester and Madrid – there is a lot to look forward to.

We meet again

Reunions are on the agenda when the Champions League quarter-finals commence this week – not least with Wednesday’s contest between holders Real Madrid and Chelsea.

This tie is a repeat of a thrilling last-eight encounter last season, which featured a Karim Benzema hat-trick in the first leg in London when Madrid beat Chelsea for the first time (3-1), before an impressive, if ultimately unrewarded, fightback by the Blues in Madrid. There, to quote the Spanish sports daily AS, Madrid were “steamrollered for long periods” before proving “there's no team in the world with their survival spirit” in this competition.

To recall the specific details of that Santiago Bernabéu contest, Chelsea built a 3-0 lead on a night they had 28 shots (the most by any away side in a match in the 2021/22 Champions League) yet Madrid forced extra time through Rodrigo and won the tie thanks to another Benzema strike. That was on 12 April last year and by coincidence, this week’s first leg takes place on the same date. Yet not everything is the same.

True, in the white corner, Benzema, scorer of three goals in Madrid’s last-16 success against Liverpool, remains their greatest threat especially to English sides. Yet the blue corner offers one significant difference. Where 12 months ago Thomas Tuchel was the man pitting his wits against Carlo Ancelotti, on Wednesday it will be Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s caretaker manager since last week’s sacking of Graham Potter.

Roberto Di Matteo famously guided Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker boss yet Lampard’s first match at the helm since his first spell in charge ended in January 2021 offered no sign of any uplift – a 1-0 reverse at Wolves on Saturday that extended their winless run to four.

Lampard, a Chelsea player under Ancelotti, most now find a more successful formula for a team currently 11th in the Premier League. That said, the team from west London have won five of their last six Champions League fixtures and – indeed – lost only one of their last ten European matches against Spanish clubs (W5, D4).

Madrid lost too at the weekend as Villarreal inflicted their first home loss of the Liga campaign (2-3) though as we saw 12 months ago, European nights find Los Blancos in a difficult mood. Indeed they have won each of their last ten Champions League quarter-final ties, suggesting it will take something special for Lampard’s Chelsea to avenge events of a year ago.  

Tuchel returns to take on City

Tuesday night will bring another rematch of sorts with a Manchester City v Bayern München encounter which not only reunites Pep Guardiola with one of his former clubs but also gives us the sight of Thomas Tuchel in the visitors’ technical area, trying to plot the demise of City, just as he managed with Chelsea in the 2021 final in Porto (as well as in that same year’s FA Cup semi-final).

For Tuchel, this is the first Champions League assignment since he replaced Julian Nagelsmann as Bayern coach last month.

Bayern have won all eight games in this season’s competition to date, and kept seven clean sheets, so Tuchel has taken over a team with plenty of quality. So far he has overseen Bundesliga wins over Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg, sandwiching a cup exit against Freiburg. This will be his biggest test yet.

Bayern have lost only one of their last nine Champions League matches against English clubs (W7 D1) yet City are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since September 2018 and, in their current mood, represent a huge challenge.

Pep Guardiola’s men are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions – a sequence which includes the 7-0 rout of another German side, Leipzig, in the round of 16. Since then City have scored six, four and four goals respectively in wins against Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Indeed, with Benfica’s 16-game unbeaten run ended by Porto on Friday, the English champions are now on the longest undefeated streak (12 games) of the eight quarter-final contenders.

Big number

10 – Karim Benzema’s last 10 Champions League goals have all been scored against English clubs. [SH1] As for Erling Haaland, he has 10 from his last three games in all competitions, including his fabulous five-goal haul against Leipzig in the round of 16.

Free-scoring João Mário will be key for Benfica

Benfica out to end hoodoo

Benfica will be aiming to end a hoodoo of more than three decades when they host Inter in Tuesday’s other first-leg fixture. Since they last graced the European Cup final in 1990, the Eagles have contested five quarter-finals and lost each time (without winning a single match).

Yet their current form augurs well, with Benfica unbeaten in all 12 European matches played in 2022/23, qualifiers included (W10 D2). Moreover, aside from two 1-1 draws with Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, they have scored two or more goals in every game between the group stage and this juncture. Indeed, with 23 goals, they are the campaign’s second-highest scorers (23) and in João Mário they have a player with a goal in each of his last five Champions League games.

Inter, by contrast, are the lowest scorers (11) of the clubs still standing. On the positive side, they have showed defensive fortitude with five clean sheets in seven games; their team stats include a total of 36 blocks – more than any other side – while André Onana is the goalkeeper with the most saves (37).

In addition, the Nerazzurri have already eliminated one Portuguese side in FC Porto, riding their luck in a crucial 0-0 second-leg draw at the Dragão where Medhi Taremi struck the goal frame twice in the final moments. On their first appearance at this stage since 2011, they may need to repeat that mix of resilience and fortune given they kick off in Lisbon without a victory in six matches in all competitions.

An all-Italian affair

Inter are not the only team back in the last eight after some time: the same applies to neighbours AC Milan, last seen at this stage in 2012. In Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg, the Rossoneri will host Napoli in an all-Serie A affair which pits them against a team making their first appearance ever in the quarter-finals.

Napoli hold a 22-point advantage over Stefano Pioli’s fifth-placed side in Serie A yet Milan actually triumphed 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on 2 April, inflicting only Napoli’s third defeat of the season (and their heaviest since 2007).

On the flip side, when Napoli travelled to San Siro in September they won 2-1 – a more accurate reflection of the campaign so far for Luciano Spalletti’s men who are coasting towards a first Serie A title since 1990.

To focus on this competition, Napoli’s 25 goals make them top scorers at the time of writing. And they have struck three or more goals in six of their previous eight Champions League matches this season. On paper they are favourites, though seven-time winners Milan will go into the game with four successive shutouts behind them in Europe – not to mention the recent memory of that handsome victory in Naples just over a week ago.

Expect fireworks all-round, as the final eight standing resume their quest to scale European club football’s greatest summit. With some titanic battles looming – especially in Manchester and Madrid – there is a lot to look forward to.

We meet again

Reunions are on the agenda when the Champions League quarter-finals commence this week – not least with Wednesday’s contest between holders Real Madrid and Chelsea.

This tie is a repeat of a thrilling last-eight encounter last season, which featured a Karim Benzema hat-trick in the first leg in London when Madrid beat Chelsea for the first time (3-1), before an impressive, if ultimately unrewarded, fightback by the Blues in Madrid. There, to quote the Spanish sports daily AS, Madrid were “steamrollered for long periods” before proving “there's no team in the world with their survival spirit” in this competition.

To recall the specific details of that Santiago Bernabéu contest, Chelsea built a 3-0 lead on a night they had 28 shots (the most by any away side in a match in the 2021/22 Champions League) yet Madrid forced extra time through Rodrigo and won the tie thanks to another Benzema strike. That was on 12 April last year and by coincidence, this week’s first leg takes place on the same date. Yet not everything is the same.

True, in the white corner, Benzema, scorer of three goals in Madrid’s last-16 success against Liverpool, remains their greatest threat especially to English sides. Yet the blue corner offers one significant difference. Where 12 months ago Thomas Tuchel was the man pitting his wits against Carlo Ancelotti, on Wednesday it will be Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s caretaker manager since last week’s sacking of Graham Potter.

Roberto Di Matteo famously guided Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker boss yet Lampard’s first match at the helm since his first spell in charge ended in January 2021 offered no sign of any uplift – a 1-0 reverse at Wolves on Saturday that extended their winless run to four.

Lampard, a Chelsea player under Ancelotti, most now find a more successful formula for a team currently 11th in the Premier League. That said, the team from west London have won five of their last six Champions League fixtures and – indeed – lost only one of their last ten European matches against Spanish clubs (W5, D4).

Madrid lost too at the weekend as Villarreal inflicted their first home loss of the Liga campaign (2-3) though as we saw 12 months ago, European nights find Los Blancos in a difficult mood. Indeed they have won each of their last ten Champions League quarter-final ties, suggesting it will take something special for Lampard’s Chelsea to avenge events of a year ago.  

Tuchel returns to take on City

Tuesday night will bring another rematch of sorts with a Manchester City v Bayern München encounter which not only reunites Pep Guardiola with one of his former clubs but also gives us the sight of Thomas Tuchel in the visitors’ technical area, trying to plot the demise of City, just as he managed with Chelsea in the 2021 final in Porto (as well as in that same year’s FA Cup semi-final).

For Tuchel, this is the first Champions League assignment since he replaced Julian Nagelsmann as Bayern coach last month.

Bayern have won all eight games in this season’s competition to date, and kept seven clean sheets, so Tuchel has taken over a team with plenty of quality. So far he has overseen Bundesliga wins over Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg, sandwiching a cup exit against Freiburg. This will be his biggest test yet.

Bayern have lost only one of their last nine Champions League matches against English clubs (W7 D1) yet City are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since September 2018 and, in their current mood, represent a huge challenge.

Pep Guardiola’s men are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions – a sequence which includes the 7-0 rout of another German side, Leipzig, in the round of 16. Since then City have scored six, four and four goals respectively in wins against Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Indeed, with Benfica’s 16-game unbeaten run ended by Porto on Friday, the English champions are now on the longest undefeated streak (12 games) of the eight quarter-final contenders.

Big number

10 – Karim Benzema’s last 10 Champions League goals have all been scored against English clubs. [SH1] As for Erling Haaland, he has 10 from his last three games in all competitions, including his fabulous five-goal haul against Leipzig in the round of 16.

Free-scoring João Mário will be key for Benfica

Benfica out to end hoodoo

Benfica will be aiming to end a hoodoo of more than three decades when they host Inter in Tuesday’s other first-leg fixture. Since they last graced the European Cup final in 1990, the Eagles have contested five quarter-finals and lost each time (without winning a single match).

Yet their current form augurs well, with Benfica unbeaten in all 12 European matches played in 2022/23, qualifiers included (W10 D2). Moreover, aside from two 1-1 draws with Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, they have scored two or more goals in every game between the group stage and this juncture. Indeed, with 23 goals, they are the campaign’s second-highest scorers (23) and in João Mário they have a player with a goal in each of his last five Champions League games.

Inter, by contrast, are the lowest scorers (11) of the clubs still standing. On the positive side, they have showed defensive fortitude with five clean sheets in seven games; their team stats include a total of 36 blocks – more than any other side – while André Onana is the goalkeeper with the most saves (37).

In addition, the Nerazzurri have already eliminated one Portuguese side in FC Porto, riding their luck in a crucial 0-0 second-leg draw at the Dragão where Medhi Taremi struck the goal frame twice in the final moments. On their first appearance at this stage since 2011, they may need to repeat that mix of resilience and fortune given they kick off in Lisbon without a victory in six matches in all competitions.

An all-Italian affair

Inter are not the only team back in the last eight after some time: the same applies to neighbours AC Milan, last seen at this stage in 2012. In Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg, the Rossoneri will host Napoli in an all-Serie A affair which pits them against a team making their first appearance ever in the quarter-finals.

Napoli hold a 22-point advantage over Stefano Pioli’s fifth-placed side in Serie A yet Milan actually triumphed 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on 2 April, inflicting only Napoli’s third defeat of the season (and their heaviest since 2007).

On the flip side, when Napoli travelled to San Siro in September they won 2-1 – a more accurate reflection of the campaign so far for Luciano Spalletti’s men who are coasting towards a first Serie A title since 1990.

To focus on this competition, Napoli’s 25 goals make them top scorers at the time of writing. And they have struck three or more goals in six of their previous eight Champions League matches this season. On paper they are favourites, though seven-time winners Milan will go into the game with four successive shutouts behind them in Europe – not to mention the recent memory of that handsome victory in Naples just over a week ago.

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Expect fireworks all-round, as the final eight standing resume their quest to scale European club football’s greatest summit. With some titanic battles looming – especially in Manchester and Madrid – there is a lot to look forward to.

We meet again

Reunions are on the agenda when the Champions League quarter-finals commence this week – not least with Wednesday’s contest between holders Real Madrid and Chelsea.

This tie is a repeat of a thrilling last-eight encounter last season, which featured a Karim Benzema hat-trick in the first leg in London when Madrid beat Chelsea for the first time (3-1), before an impressive, if ultimately unrewarded, fightback by the Blues in Madrid. There, to quote the Spanish sports daily AS, Madrid were “steamrollered for long periods” before proving “there's no team in the world with their survival spirit” in this competition.

To recall the specific details of that Santiago Bernabéu contest, Chelsea built a 3-0 lead on a night they had 28 shots (the most by any away side in a match in the 2021/22 Champions League) yet Madrid forced extra time through Rodrigo and won the tie thanks to another Benzema strike. That was on 12 April last year and by coincidence, this week’s first leg takes place on the same date. Yet not everything is the same.

True, in the white corner, Benzema, scorer of three goals in Madrid’s last-16 success against Liverpool, remains their greatest threat especially to English sides. Yet the blue corner offers one significant difference. Where 12 months ago Thomas Tuchel was the man pitting his wits against Carlo Ancelotti, on Wednesday it will be Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s caretaker manager since last week’s sacking of Graham Potter.

Roberto Di Matteo famously guided Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker boss yet Lampard’s first match at the helm since his first spell in charge ended in January 2021 offered no sign of any uplift – a 1-0 reverse at Wolves on Saturday that extended their winless run to four.

Lampard, a Chelsea player under Ancelotti, most now find a more successful formula for a team currently 11th in the Premier League. That said, the team from west London have won five of their last six Champions League fixtures and – indeed – lost only one of their last ten European matches against Spanish clubs (W5, D4).

Madrid lost too at the weekend as Villarreal inflicted their first home loss of the Liga campaign (2-3) though as we saw 12 months ago, European nights find Los Blancos in a difficult mood. Indeed they have won each of their last ten Champions League quarter-final ties, suggesting it will take something special for Lampard’s Chelsea to avenge events of a year ago.  

Tuchel returns to take on City

Tuesday night will bring another rematch of sorts with a Manchester City v Bayern München encounter which not only reunites Pep Guardiola with one of his former clubs but also gives us the sight of Thomas Tuchel in the visitors’ technical area, trying to plot the demise of City, just as he managed with Chelsea in the 2021 final in Porto (as well as in that same year’s FA Cup semi-final).

For Tuchel, this is the first Champions League assignment since he replaced Julian Nagelsmann as Bayern coach last month.

Bayern have won all eight games in this season’s competition to date, and kept seven clean sheets, so Tuchel has taken over a team with plenty of quality. So far he has overseen Bundesliga wins over Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg, sandwiching a cup exit against Freiburg. This will be his biggest test yet.

Bayern have lost only one of their last nine Champions League matches against English clubs (W7 D1) yet City are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since September 2018 and, in their current mood, represent a huge challenge.

Pep Guardiola’s men are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions – a sequence which includes the 7-0 rout of another German side, Leipzig, in the round of 16. Since then City have scored six, four and four goals respectively in wins against Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Indeed, with Benfica’s 16-game unbeaten run ended by Porto on Friday, the English champions are now on the longest undefeated streak (12 games) of the eight quarter-final contenders.

Big number

10 – Karim Benzema’s last 10 Champions League goals have all been scored against English clubs. [SH1] As for Erling Haaland, he has 10 from his last three games in all competitions, including his fabulous five-goal haul against Leipzig in the round of 16.

Free-scoring João Mário will be key for Benfica

Benfica out to end hoodoo

Benfica will be aiming to end a hoodoo of more than three decades when they host Inter in Tuesday’s other first-leg fixture. Since they last graced the European Cup final in 1990, the Eagles have contested five quarter-finals and lost each time (without winning a single match).

Yet their current form augurs well, with Benfica unbeaten in all 12 European matches played in 2022/23, qualifiers included (W10 D2). Moreover, aside from two 1-1 draws with Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, they have scored two or more goals in every game between the group stage and this juncture. Indeed, with 23 goals, they are the campaign’s second-highest scorers (23) and in João Mário they have a player with a goal in each of his last five Champions League games.

Inter, by contrast, are the lowest scorers (11) of the clubs still standing. On the positive side, they have showed defensive fortitude with five clean sheets in seven games; their team stats include a total of 36 blocks – more than any other side – while André Onana is the goalkeeper with the most saves (37).

In addition, the Nerazzurri have already eliminated one Portuguese side in FC Porto, riding their luck in a crucial 0-0 second-leg draw at the Dragão where Medhi Taremi struck the goal frame twice in the final moments. On their first appearance at this stage since 2011, they may need to repeat that mix of resilience and fortune given they kick off in Lisbon without a victory in six matches in all competitions.

An all-Italian affair

Inter are not the only team back in the last eight after some time: the same applies to neighbours AC Milan, last seen at this stage in 2012. In Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg, the Rossoneri will host Napoli in an all-Serie A affair which pits them against a team making their first appearance ever in the quarter-finals.

Napoli hold a 22-point advantage over Stefano Pioli’s fifth-placed side in Serie A yet Milan actually triumphed 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on 2 April, inflicting only Napoli’s third defeat of the season (and their heaviest since 2007).

On the flip side, when Napoli travelled to San Siro in September they won 2-1 – a more accurate reflection of the campaign so far for Luciano Spalletti’s men who are coasting towards a first Serie A title since 1990.

To focus on this competition, Napoli’s 25 goals make them top scorers at the time of writing. And they have struck three or more goals in six of their previous eight Champions League matches this season. On paper they are favourites, though seven-time winners Milan will go into the game with four successive shutouts behind them in Europe – not to mention the recent memory of that handsome victory in Naples just over a week ago.

All set for the quarter-finals
Blog

All set for the quarter-finals

Simon Hart explores the main talking points ahead of the Champions League quarter-finals, with a lot of past experience to draw on

Expect fireworks all-round, as the final eight standing resume their quest to scale European club football’s greatest summit. With some titanic battles looming – especially in Manchester and Madrid – there is a lot to look forward to.

We meet again

Reunions are on the agenda when the Champions League quarter-finals commence this week – not least with Wednesday’s contest between holders Real Madrid and Chelsea.

This tie is a repeat of a thrilling last-eight encounter last season, which featured a Karim Benzema hat-trick in the first leg in London when Madrid beat Chelsea for the first time (3-1), before an impressive, if ultimately unrewarded, fightback by the Blues in Madrid. There, to quote the Spanish sports daily AS, Madrid were “steamrollered for long periods” before proving “there's no team in the world with their survival spirit” in this competition.

To recall the specific details of that Santiago Bernabéu contest, Chelsea built a 3-0 lead on a night they had 28 shots (the most by any away side in a match in the 2021/22 Champions League) yet Madrid forced extra time through Rodrigo and won the tie thanks to another Benzema strike. That was on 12 April last year and by coincidence, this week’s first leg takes place on the same date. Yet not everything is the same.

True, in the white corner, Benzema, scorer of three goals in Madrid’s last-16 success against Liverpool, remains their greatest threat especially to English sides. Yet the blue corner offers one significant difference. Where 12 months ago Thomas Tuchel was the man pitting his wits against Carlo Ancelotti, on Wednesday it will be Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s caretaker manager since last week’s sacking of Graham Potter.

Roberto Di Matteo famously guided Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker boss yet Lampard’s first match at the helm since his first spell in charge ended in January 2021 offered no sign of any uplift – a 1-0 reverse at Wolves on Saturday that extended their winless run to four.

Lampard, a Chelsea player under Ancelotti, most now find a more successful formula for a team currently 11th in the Premier League. That said, the team from west London have won five of their last six Champions League fixtures and – indeed – lost only one of their last ten European matches against Spanish clubs (W5, D4).

Madrid lost too at the weekend as Villarreal inflicted their first home loss of the Liga campaign (2-3) though as we saw 12 months ago, European nights find Los Blancos in a difficult mood. Indeed they have won each of their last ten Champions League quarter-final ties, suggesting it will take something special for Lampard’s Chelsea to avenge events of a year ago.  

Tuchel returns to take on City

Tuesday night will bring another rematch of sorts with a Manchester City v Bayern München encounter which not only reunites Pep Guardiola with one of his former clubs but also gives us the sight of Thomas Tuchel in the visitors’ technical area, trying to plot the demise of City, just as he managed with Chelsea in the 2021 final in Porto (as well as in that same year’s FA Cup semi-final).

For Tuchel, this is the first Champions League assignment since he replaced Julian Nagelsmann as Bayern coach last month.

Bayern have won all eight games in this season’s competition to date, and kept seven clean sheets, so Tuchel has taken over a team with plenty of quality. So far he has overseen Bundesliga wins over Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg, sandwiching a cup exit against Freiburg. This will be his biggest test yet.

Bayern have lost only one of their last nine Champions League matches against English clubs (W7 D1) yet City are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since September 2018 and, in their current mood, represent a huge challenge.

Pep Guardiola’s men are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions – a sequence which includes the 7-0 rout of another German side, Leipzig, in the round of 16. Since then City have scored six, four and four goals respectively in wins against Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Indeed, with Benfica’s 16-game unbeaten run ended by Porto on Friday, the English champions are now on the longest undefeated streak (12 games) of the eight quarter-final contenders.

Big number

10 – Karim Benzema’s last 10 Champions League goals have all been scored against English clubs. [SH1] As for Erling Haaland, he has 10 from his last three games in all competitions, including his fabulous five-goal haul against Leipzig in the round of 16.

Free-scoring João Mário will be key for Benfica

Benfica out to end hoodoo

Benfica will be aiming to end a hoodoo of more than three decades when they host Inter in Tuesday’s other first-leg fixture. Since they last graced the European Cup final in 1990, the Eagles have contested five quarter-finals and lost each time (without winning a single match).

Yet their current form augurs well, with Benfica unbeaten in all 12 European matches played in 2022/23, qualifiers included (W10 D2). Moreover, aside from two 1-1 draws with Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, they have scored two or more goals in every game between the group stage and this juncture. Indeed, with 23 goals, they are the campaign’s second-highest scorers (23) and in João Mário they have a player with a goal in each of his last five Champions League games.

Inter, by contrast, are the lowest scorers (11) of the clubs still standing. On the positive side, they have showed defensive fortitude with five clean sheets in seven games; their team stats include a total of 36 blocks – more than any other side – while André Onana is the goalkeeper with the most saves (37).

In addition, the Nerazzurri have already eliminated one Portuguese side in FC Porto, riding their luck in a crucial 0-0 second-leg draw at the Dragão where Medhi Taremi struck the goal frame twice in the final moments. On their first appearance at this stage since 2011, they may need to repeat that mix of resilience and fortune given they kick off in Lisbon without a victory in six matches in all competitions.

An all-Italian affair

Inter are not the only team back in the last eight after some time: the same applies to neighbours AC Milan, last seen at this stage in 2012. In Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg, the Rossoneri will host Napoli in an all-Serie A affair which pits them against a team making their first appearance ever in the quarter-finals.

Napoli hold a 22-point advantage over Stefano Pioli’s fifth-placed side in Serie A yet Milan actually triumphed 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on 2 April, inflicting only Napoli’s third defeat of the season (and their heaviest since 2007).

On the flip side, when Napoli travelled to San Siro in September they won 2-1 – a more accurate reflection of the campaign so far for Luciano Spalletti’s men who are coasting towards a first Serie A title since 1990.

To focus on this competition, Napoli’s 25 goals make them top scorers at the time of writing. And they have struck three or more goals in six of their previous eight Champions League matches this season. On paper they are favourites, though seven-time winners Milan will go into the game with four successive shutouts behind them in Europe – not to mention the recent memory of that handsome victory in Naples just over a week ago.

Penalty Pedigree

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Expect fireworks all-round, as the final eight standing resume their quest to scale European club football’s greatest summit. With some titanic battles looming – especially in Manchester and Madrid – there is a lot to look forward to.

We meet again

Reunions are on the agenda when the Champions League quarter-finals commence this week – not least with Wednesday’s contest between holders Real Madrid and Chelsea.

This tie is a repeat of a thrilling last-eight encounter last season, which featured a Karim Benzema hat-trick in the first leg in London when Madrid beat Chelsea for the first time (3-1), before an impressive, if ultimately unrewarded, fightback by the Blues in Madrid. There, to quote the Spanish sports daily AS, Madrid were “steamrollered for long periods” before proving “there's no team in the world with their survival spirit” in this competition.

To recall the specific details of that Santiago Bernabéu contest, Chelsea built a 3-0 lead on a night they had 28 shots (the most by any away side in a match in the 2021/22 Champions League) yet Madrid forced extra time through Rodrigo and won the tie thanks to another Benzema strike. That was on 12 April last year and by coincidence, this week’s first leg takes place on the same date. Yet not everything is the same.

True, in the white corner, Benzema, scorer of three goals in Madrid’s last-16 success against Liverpool, remains their greatest threat especially to English sides. Yet the blue corner offers one significant difference. Where 12 months ago Thomas Tuchel was the man pitting his wits against Carlo Ancelotti, on Wednesday it will be Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s caretaker manager since last week’s sacking of Graham Potter.

Roberto Di Matteo famously guided Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker boss yet Lampard’s first match at the helm since his first spell in charge ended in January 2021 offered no sign of any uplift – a 1-0 reverse at Wolves on Saturday that extended their winless run to four.

Lampard, a Chelsea player under Ancelotti, most now find a more successful formula for a team currently 11th in the Premier League. That said, the team from west London have won five of their last six Champions League fixtures and – indeed – lost only one of their last ten European matches against Spanish clubs (W5, D4).

Madrid lost too at the weekend as Villarreal inflicted their first home loss of the Liga campaign (2-3) though as we saw 12 months ago, European nights find Los Blancos in a difficult mood. Indeed they have won each of their last ten Champions League quarter-final ties, suggesting it will take something special for Lampard’s Chelsea to avenge events of a year ago.  

Tuchel returns to take on City

Tuesday night will bring another rematch of sorts with a Manchester City v Bayern München encounter which not only reunites Pep Guardiola with one of his former clubs but also gives us the sight of Thomas Tuchel in the visitors’ technical area, trying to plot the demise of City, just as he managed with Chelsea in the 2021 final in Porto (as well as in that same year’s FA Cup semi-final).

For Tuchel, this is the first Champions League assignment since he replaced Julian Nagelsmann as Bayern coach last month.

Bayern have won all eight games in this season’s competition to date, and kept seven clean sheets, so Tuchel has taken over a team with plenty of quality. So far he has overseen Bundesliga wins over Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg, sandwiching a cup exit against Freiburg. This will be his biggest test yet.

Bayern have lost only one of their last nine Champions League matches against English clubs (W7 D1) yet City are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since September 2018 and, in their current mood, represent a huge challenge.

Pep Guardiola’s men are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions – a sequence which includes the 7-0 rout of another German side, Leipzig, in the round of 16. Since then City have scored six, four and four goals respectively in wins against Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Indeed, with Benfica’s 16-game unbeaten run ended by Porto on Friday, the English champions are now on the longest undefeated streak (12 games) of the eight quarter-final contenders.

Big number

10 – Karim Benzema’s last 10 Champions League goals have all been scored against English clubs. [SH1] As for Erling Haaland, he has 10 from his last three games in all competitions, including his fabulous five-goal haul against Leipzig in the round of 16.

Free-scoring João Mário will be key for Benfica

Benfica out to end hoodoo

Benfica will be aiming to end a hoodoo of more than three decades when they host Inter in Tuesday’s other first-leg fixture. Since they last graced the European Cup final in 1990, the Eagles have contested five quarter-finals and lost each time (without winning a single match).

Yet their current form augurs well, with Benfica unbeaten in all 12 European matches played in 2022/23, qualifiers included (W10 D2). Moreover, aside from two 1-1 draws with Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, they have scored two or more goals in every game between the group stage and this juncture. Indeed, with 23 goals, they are the campaign’s second-highest scorers (23) and in João Mário they have a player with a goal in each of his last five Champions League games.

Inter, by contrast, are the lowest scorers (11) of the clubs still standing. On the positive side, they have showed defensive fortitude with five clean sheets in seven games; their team stats include a total of 36 blocks – more than any other side – while André Onana is the goalkeeper with the most saves (37).

In addition, the Nerazzurri have already eliminated one Portuguese side in FC Porto, riding their luck in a crucial 0-0 second-leg draw at the Dragão where Medhi Taremi struck the goal frame twice in the final moments. On their first appearance at this stage since 2011, they may need to repeat that mix of resilience and fortune given they kick off in Lisbon without a victory in six matches in all competitions.

An all-Italian affair

Inter are not the only team back in the last eight after some time: the same applies to neighbours AC Milan, last seen at this stage in 2012. In Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg, the Rossoneri will host Napoli in an all-Serie A affair which pits them against a team making their first appearance ever in the quarter-finals.

Napoli hold a 22-point advantage over Stefano Pioli’s fifth-placed side in Serie A yet Milan actually triumphed 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on 2 April, inflicting only Napoli’s third defeat of the season (and their heaviest since 2007).

On the flip side, when Napoli travelled to San Siro in September they won 2-1 – a more accurate reflection of the campaign so far for Luciano Spalletti’s men who are coasting towards a first Serie A title since 1990.

To focus on this competition, Napoli’s 25 goals make them top scorers at the time of writing. And they have struck three or more goals in six of their previous eight Champions League matches this season. On paper they are favourites, though seven-time winners Milan will go into the game with four successive shutouts behind them in Europe – not to mention the recent memory of that handsome victory in Naples just over a week ago.

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Expect fireworks all-round, as the final eight standing resume their quest to scale European club football’s greatest summit. With some titanic battles looming – especially in Manchester and Madrid – there is a lot to look forward to.

We meet again

Reunions are on the agenda when the Champions League quarter-finals commence this week – not least with Wednesday’s contest between holders Real Madrid and Chelsea.

This tie is a repeat of a thrilling last-eight encounter last season, which featured a Karim Benzema hat-trick in the first leg in London when Madrid beat Chelsea for the first time (3-1), before an impressive, if ultimately unrewarded, fightback by the Blues in Madrid. There, to quote the Spanish sports daily AS, Madrid were “steamrollered for long periods” before proving “there's no team in the world with their survival spirit” in this competition.

To recall the specific details of that Santiago Bernabéu contest, Chelsea built a 3-0 lead on a night they had 28 shots (the most by any away side in a match in the 2021/22 Champions League) yet Madrid forced extra time through Rodrigo and won the tie thanks to another Benzema strike. That was on 12 April last year and by coincidence, this week’s first leg takes place on the same date. Yet not everything is the same.

True, in the white corner, Benzema, scorer of three goals in Madrid’s last-16 success against Liverpool, remains their greatest threat especially to English sides. Yet the blue corner offers one significant difference. Where 12 months ago Thomas Tuchel was the man pitting his wits against Carlo Ancelotti, on Wednesday it will be Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s caretaker manager since last week’s sacking of Graham Potter.

Roberto Di Matteo famously guided Chelsea to the 2012 Champions League title as caretaker boss yet Lampard’s first match at the helm since his first spell in charge ended in January 2021 offered no sign of any uplift – a 1-0 reverse at Wolves on Saturday that extended their winless run to four.

Lampard, a Chelsea player under Ancelotti, most now find a more successful formula for a team currently 11th in the Premier League. That said, the team from west London have won five of their last six Champions League fixtures and – indeed – lost only one of their last ten European matches against Spanish clubs (W5, D4).

Madrid lost too at the weekend as Villarreal inflicted their first home loss of the Liga campaign (2-3) though as we saw 12 months ago, European nights find Los Blancos in a difficult mood. Indeed they have won each of their last ten Champions League quarter-final ties, suggesting it will take something special for Lampard’s Chelsea to avenge events of a year ago.  

Tuchel returns to take on City

Tuesday night will bring another rematch of sorts with a Manchester City v Bayern München encounter which not only reunites Pep Guardiola with one of his former clubs but also gives us the sight of Thomas Tuchel in the visitors’ technical area, trying to plot the demise of City, just as he managed with Chelsea in the 2021 final in Porto (as well as in that same year’s FA Cup semi-final).

For Tuchel, this is the first Champions League assignment since he replaced Julian Nagelsmann as Bayern coach last month.

Bayern have won all eight games in this season’s competition to date, and kept seven clean sheets, so Tuchel has taken over a team with plenty of quality. So far he has overseen Bundesliga wins over Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg, sandwiching a cup exit against Freiburg. This will be his biggest test yet.

Bayern have lost only one of their last nine Champions League matches against English clubs (W7 D1) yet City are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since September 2018 and, in their current mood, represent a huge challenge.

Pep Guardiola’s men are on an eight-game winning streak in all competitions – a sequence which includes the 7-0 rout of another German side, Leipzig, in the round of 16. Since then City have scored six, four and four goals respectively in wins against Burnley, Liverpool and Southampton. Indeed, with Benfica’s 16-game unbeaten run ended by Porto on Friday, the English champions are now on the longest undefeated streak (12 games) of the eight quarter-final contenders.

Big number

10 – Karim Benzema’s last 10 Champions League goals have all been scored against English clubs. [SH1] As for Erling Haaland, he has 10 from his last three games in all competitions, including his fabulous five-goal haul against Leipzig in the round of 16.

Free-scoring João Mário will be key for Benfica

Benfica out to end hoodoo

Benfica will be aiming to end a hoodoo of more than three decades when they host Inter in Tuesday’s other first-leg fixture. Since they last graced the European Cup final in 1990, the Eagles have contested five quarter-finals and lost each time (without winning a single match).

Yet their current form augurs well, with Benfica unbeaten in all 12 European matches played in 2022/23, qualifiers included (W10 D2). Moreover, aside from two 1-1 draws with Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, they have scored two or more goals in every game between the group stage and this juncture. Indeed, with 23 goals, they are the campaign’s second-highest scorers (23) and in João Mário they have a player with a goal in each of his last five Champions League games.

Inter, by contrast, are the lowest scorers (11) of the clubs still standing. On the positive side, they have showed defensive fortitude with five clean sheets in seven games; their team stats include a total of 36 blocks – more than any other side – while André Onana is the goalkeeper with the most saves (37).

In addition, the Nerazzurri have already eliminated one Portuguese side in FC Porto, riding their luck in a crucial 0-0 second-leg draw at the Dragão where Medhi Taremi struck the goal frame twice in the final moments. On their first appearance at this stage since 2011, they may need to repeat that mix of resilience and fortune given they kick off in Lisbon without a victory in six matches in all competitions.

An all-Italian affair

Inter are not the only team back in the last eight after some time: the same applies to neighbours AC Milan, last seen at this stage in 2012. In Wednesday’s other quarter-final first leg, the Rossoneri will host Napoli in an all-Serie A affair which pits them against a team making their first appearance ever in the quarter-finals.

Napoli hold a 22-point advantage over Stefano Pioli’s fifth-placed side in Serie A yet Milan actually triumphed 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on 2 April, inflicting only Napoli’s third defeat of the season (and their heaviest since 2007).

On the flip side, when Napoli travelled to San Siro in September they won 2-1 – a more accurate reflection of the campaign so far for Luciano Spalletti’s men who are coasting towards a first Serie A title since 1990.

To focus on this competition, Napoli’s 25 goals make them top scorers at the time of writing. And they have struck three or more goals in six of their previous eight Champions League matches this season. On paper they are favourites, though seven-time winners Milan will go into the game with four successive shutouts behind them in Europe – not to mention the recent memory of that handsome victory in Naples just over a week ago.

Penalty Pedigree

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