By The Rex Factor
The UEFA Champions League features virtually all of the top clubs in the world in international soccer each year, and it refuses to disappoint most seasons. Six goals was not enough over two legs to get Manchester City to the quarterfinals, and that’s just one wonderful example of what it takes to keep European dreams alive into April.
In the end, eight deserving sides got through the first knockout stage to progress to the April 11 and 12 quarterfinals, and the matchups are as sexy as most anyone could have hoped following last Friday’s draw.
Juventus are on their way to winning the Serie A crown in yet another coronation in Italy. The five-time defending Serie A champs will entertain Barcelona in the first leg on April 11; these two sides met in the 2015 final in Berlin. Barca hoisted the trophy in a 3-1 triumph. Former Barca stalwart Dani Alves plays for Juventus now and the Brazilian fullback will return to the Camp Nou in the second leg on April 19. The two-time defending Spanish champions advanced in the most improbable fashion, scoring three times after the 88-minute mark in the second leg at home against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16. The Catalonians overcame a 4-0 first leg defeat with a 6-1 triumph at the Camp Nou to progress, 6-5.
The other tie scheduled for those two days features Borussia Dortmund and AS Monaco. If you’re a fan of offense, then these 180 minutes are for you. Monaco top the table in France’s Ligue 1 and have done it with lethal amounts of goal-scoring. Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain have scored 60 goals, tied for second – and miles behind the 87 netted by Monaco in 30 Ligue 1 games this season. Meanwhile, Dortmund broke a tournament record by scoring 21 goals in the six group stage games of the Champions League in 2016. The Germans then reversed a 1-0 loss at Benfica by mauling the Portuguese side 4-0 in the return leg at home. Dortmund hosts the initial leg in the first-ever competitive tie between these sides.
The games played on April 12 and 18 are a much tougher ordeal, with less recovery time in the middle of a busy season. The four sides participating those days are Atletico Madrid, Leicester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
The championship trophy has been hoisted 16 times combined between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and those two meet in one of the most anticipated quarters in the history of this event. The first game will be in Munich, and each side has won five times against the other in the 10 knockout ties where they’ve met. Munchen has won half of the 22 wins all-time between the sides, with Real winning nine. The two draws and the other 20 results have all come in European Cup competition, though these sides did meet in New Jersey in a pre-season friendly last August (1-0 Real Madrid was the final). Little else needs to be said, as anyone who likes and respects the game will be watching with earnest when these two giants square off two times in seven days.
The other quarterfinal is likely the forgotten one – Atletico Madrid isn’t having a great season in La Liga and are well behind both Barca and Real Madrid. Leicester City is having an even worse one in England; the 5000-to-1 miraculous champions of last season sit in 15th and recently fired coach Claudio Ranieri after a 2-1 first leg round of 16 loss at Sevilla. But Leicester was able to rally at home to knock out Sevilla and will fancy their chances against another Spanish side. The Foxes have also won three straight in Premier League play to escape any talk of an unthinkable relegation. The first game of the tie is in Madrid, where Atletico is unbeaten (five wins, five draws) against English sides.