All eyes on Barca-Bayern duel as PSG, Man City eye rare semi-final spot

The Uefa Champions League quarter-finals get underway in Lisbon on Wednesday, four months later than scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike the usual two-legged ties, the Champions League this season has been forced to turn into single-legged matches at the quarter-final and semi-final stage in order to complete the competition, all behind closed doors.

Here’s a look at what to expect in each tie in the ‘Final Eight’ of this season’s competition:

Atalanta vs PSG – Stern test awaits Neymar and Co

Venue: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon

Date: August 13, Thursday (0030 IST)

Form guide: Atalanta: D-W-D-W-L; PSG: W-W-W-W-D

Head-to-head record: First meeting

On paper, Paris Saint-Germain should beat Atalanta. After all, Neymar’s annual salary of around 36 million euros ($42.5m) is believed to be equivalent to Atalanta’s entire wage bill.

Read: Can Neymar inspire an injury-hit PSG to the Champions League trophy?

However, PSG have yet to convince at the business end of the Champions League since the Qatari takeover of the club nearly a decade ago and have not been beyond the quarter-finals in that time.

PSG in Champions League/ European Cup

Season Result
1986-’87 First round
1994-’95 Semi-finals
1997-’98 Group Stage
2000-’01 Second group stage
2004-’05 Group stage
2012-’13 Quarter-finals
2013-’14 Quarter-finals
2014-’15 Quarter-finals
2015-’16 Quarter-finals
2016-’17 Round of 16
2017-’18 Round of 16
2018-’19 Round of 16

Indeed, they had not won a knockout tie in four years before eliminating Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 in March, just before the coronavirus pandemic forced football around the world to stop.

They also have major selection issues here, with midfield maestro Marco Verratti injured, Angel Di Maria suspended and Kylian Mbappe not expected to start because of an ankle problem.

That piles more pressure on Neymar, while Atalanta come with the pressure off and the determination to win for their home city of Bergamo, which suffered the full devastating impact of the coronavirus more than just about anywhere in Europe.

This is their first-ever Champions League campaign, but they have just finished third in Serie A for the second year running and scored a remarkable 98 goals in their 38 matches.

Colombian duo Duvan Zapata and Luis Muriel scored 18 each, but Josip Ilicic has been their main threat in Europe – he scored all four goals when Atalanta won 4-3 at Valencia in March to eliminate the Spaniards 8-4 on aggregate.

Ilicic will miss the tie though after travelling back home to Slovenia for personal reasons.

Read: Only Italian club left in Champions League, Atalanta shoulder hopes of virus-hit Bergamo

RB Leipzig vs Atletico Madrid – Will it finally be Simeone’s year?

Venue: Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon

Date: August 14, Friday (0030 IST)

Form guide: RB Leipzig: D-W-L-D-W; Atletico: D-W-W-D-W

Head-to-head record: First meeting

Runners-up in 2014 and 2016, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are targeting a third final in seven seasons having dumped out holders Liverpool in a last-16 tie completed in March.

Atletico’s preparations for Lisbon hit a snag when two players, Angel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko, tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend and were quarantined. However, no further cases were detected following another round of testing ahead of the team’s flight to Portugal.

Atletico finished the season strongly, going 11 games unbeaten since La Liga’s return to seal third place. In total, they are undefeated in 18 matches dating back to the start of February.

There’s a belief that stars are aligning for Atletico Madrid who surprised everyone with their defeat of Liverpool. Simeone’s men have more than played their part in the Champions League in the previous few seasons and perhaps deserve a trophy.

Moreover, both Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo who have been their nemesis in the last few years are out of this season’s competition. For all of RB Leipzig’s good work this season, Atletico certainly start as favourites.

Atletico Madrid in UCL since 2013-’14

Season Result
2013-’14 Lost 4-1 to Real Madrid in the final, Cristiano Ronaldo scored
2014-’15 Lost 1-0 on aggregate to Real Madrid in quarter-finals
2015-’16 Lost to Real Madrid in the final on penalties
2016-’17 Lost 4-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid in semi-finals, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick
2017-’18 Knocked out in group stage, won Europa League
2018-’19 Lost 3-2 to Juventus in R-16, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick

RB Leipzig are appearing in the Champions League knockout phase for the first time, but the club’s ambitions suffered a substantial blow following the sale of top scorer Timo Werner to Chelsea.

The Germans swept 2019 runners-up Tottenham aside in the previous round although coach Julian Nagelsmann must now find a way to replace the 34-goal void left behind by Werner.

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich – The clash of the titans

Venue: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon

Date: August 15, Saturday (0030 IST)

Form Guide: Barca: W-W-L-W-W; Bayern: W-W-W-W-W

Head-to-head record: Matches: 11, Bayern wins: 6, Barcelona wins: 2, Draws: 3

These are the only two former European champions left in the competition, with five titles each, making this the tie of the round. Undoubtedly.

Barcelona beat Bayern when the sides last met in the semi-finals in 2015, but this time a repeat of the outcome, when the teams clashed in the 2013 semis somehow, seems more likely.

Then Bayern ran riot, winning 7-0 on aggregate. They come to Lisbon fresh from completing a German league and cup double and having won their last 18 games in a row.

The two teams have, of course, dominated European football in the last decade. Since 2006, only twice has a semi-final line-up not featured either of the two teams – 2007 and 2017. Five out of the ten finals in the last decade have had either of the two sides.

The contest is also tipped as the battle between Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.

In Lewandowski Bayern have Europe’s most fearsome striker – he has scored 53 goals this season, including 13 in the Champions League, more than anyone else.

Data check: How Robert Lewandowski has been at the heart of Bayern Munich’s Champions League charge

Messi’s tally of 31 goals too is not bad. In terms of direct impact, Lewandowski has netted 16 winners this season compared to Messi’s 11.

The Argentine is 33 now, yet still the best player by some distance in the Barcelona side. Questions remain about the quality of those around him, and coach Quique Setien is under huge pressure after the Catalans lost out to Real Madrid for the Spanish title.

Robert Lewandowski vs Lionel Messi

Robert Lewandowski Lionel Messi
Matches 44 43
Goals 53 31
Assists 8 25
Goal involvement Every 63 minutes Every 65 minutes

The other prominent battle, although not directly on the pitch, will be between the two goalkeepers. Germany’s top two keepers – Manuel Neuer and Marc Andre Ter Stegen will go head-to-head in the two goals.

The duo has exchanged verbal duels over the course of the season over the No 1 goalkeeping position for the German national team. Neuer currently holds that place but Ter Stegen has consistently threatened his position with some fine displays this season.

Man City vs Lyon – Golden chance for Guardiola’s men

Venue: Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon

Date: August 16, Sunday (0030 IST)

Form Guide: Man City: W-L-W-W-W; Lyon: W-W-W-L-L

Head-to-head record: Matches: 2, Man City wins: 0, Lyon wins: 1, Draws: 1

Pep Guardiola is looking to end a near decade-long wait for another Champions League title after getting the better of Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid last week.

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City’s best performance in the competition remains a run to the semi-finals in 2016, but the Premier League side are among the chief contenders to lift the trophy on August 23.

City will be well aware of the dangers posed by Lyon, who took four points off them in last season’s group stage. Striker Sergio Aguero is unlikely to play again this term due to a knee injury although Gabriel Jesus has scored five times in his past seven games in the Argentine’s absence.

City, like PSG have been the underachievers in the competition for the last few seasons, having exited the competition at the quarter-final stage on the last two occasions.

Manchester City in UCL/ European Cup

Season Result
1968-’69 Round 1
2011-’12 Group Stage
2012-’13 Group Stage
2013-’14 Round of 16
2014-’15 Round of 16
2015-’16 Semi-finals
2016-’17 Round of 16
2017-’18 Quarter-finals
2018-’19 Quarter-finals

Lyon are pinning their hopes of returning to Europe next season on winning the Champions League after a miserable and truncated domestic campaign in which they ended seventh.

However, the long lay-off has allowed key man Memphis Depay to return from a torn cruciate knee ligament, and it was his penalty that saw Lyon eliminate Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on away goals.

Here are the key moments from the game

There are obvious favourites in three out of the four quarter-finals in the Champions League this season but that also brings into a chance of an upset. While all eyes will be on the big Barca-Bayern clash, the other three ties promise to be equally mouth-watering.

(With inputs from AFP)

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