Half of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists have been determined. The final four participants will advance to the last eight this week with three of the four ties still up for grabs.
Bayern Munich has a commanding 5-0 lead on Besiktas, so the German champions are likely through. However, the other six sides should be involved in some dramatic second legs in the round of 16.
Every side will feel confident entering their games for a variety of reasons. But every strength has an inverse.
With this in mind, here is an argument and a counter for each team’s chances at progressing to the next round.
Point: Coming off a massive 2-1 win over Liverpool on Saturday, Manchester United will be riding high. Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford were fantastic in the first half, plus Eric Bailly was outstanding in his return. Paul Pogba was absent due to a minor injury, but should be back for this match. Additionally, Sevilla failed win all three away matches in the group stage, conceding eight goals in that span.
Counter-point: Manchester United’s incisiveness and directness going forward evaporated in the second half against Liverpool. Sevilla’s Ever Banega and Franco Vazquez also have the ability to unlock defences with one killer through ball. The latter was especially brilliant in the first leg in Seville, which ended in a 0-0 draw. Los Rojiblancos will be comfortable to sit deep, frustrate United and counter with those technically gifted players at their disposal.
Point: Banega was central to almost every chance created by Sevilla in the first leg. If not for poor finishing by Luis Muriel and Joaquin Correa, Las Sevillistas would’ve won the first leg. Goalkeeper David De Gea made a few outstanding saves, so the Spaniards can exploit Man United’s defence again with its pace and dynamic off-the-ball movement.
Counter-point: Sevilla’s defence has been ridiculously error prone all season. Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno executed some cunning runs between centre-backs Gabriel Mercado and Clement Lenglet on Saturday in a 2-0 victory. Lenglet was slow to react, timed his tackles poorly or failed to outrun Moreno. United can utilize Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial or Alexis Sanchez to overrun the backline.
Point: Roma’s attack has dramatically improved in recent weeks. A 4-2 win over Napoli in Serie A demonstrated textbook counter-attacks against a side that utilizes a fast-paced, one-touch system. Cengiz Under has recorded six goals in his last seven games and was a fantastic outlet out wide versus Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg, a 2-1 win for the Ukrainians. However, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman are more sharp on the ball, which is crucial against a complete midfielder like Fred.
Counter-point: The flanks are still a slight weakness for Roma. Ismaily, Marlos and Bernard had tons of freedom out wide in Ukraine, which will surely be a strategy replicated by coach Paulo Fonseca. Goalkeeper Alisson’s performance will be the deciding factor, just like most of the Giallorossi‘s matches this season.
Point: Fred’s free kick clinched the 2-1 victory for Shakhtar in the first leg, yet that was not a typical dominant performance from the Brazilian midfielder. It was long balls from centre-back Yaroslav Rakitskiy that stretched the Roma defence, along with the wingers.
Counter-point: Roma utilized a press to trouble the Shakhtar defence. This led to Under’s goal in the first leg. Even beforehand, the front three was winning headers and consistently penetrating the backline. Crucial blocks from defenders and saves by Andriy Pyatov kept the match scoreless. There is a lack of pace at the back, which has to be a concern for Fonseca.
Point: A 1-1 draw at home in the first leg means Chelsea has to score to progress. Starting Olivier Giroud could boost its chances. When Hazard starts as a false nine, he drops deep and that keeps him out of the dangerous areas in the final third. Playing off a striker means Hazard can be more influential around the box. The same applies to Willian, who has five goals in his last six games.
Counter-point: A similar strategy from the first leg may be utilized. The system requires a mistake-free game, a structured defence and quick counters. One misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen led to Lionel Messi’s vital away goal. Barca clearly has the attacking quality to pounce on any error, even when Los Cules are not at their best.
Point: Barcelona’s 4-4-2 system with a diamond midfield is significantly different from their usual 4-3-3. Paulinho or Andres Iniesta make vertical runs that draw centre-backs out of position. Chelsea was disciplined enough in the first leg to prevent this from happening, until a press forced the mistake from Christensen. Stopping Luis Suarez’s runs are next to impossible, so if Barca is given one opportunity, the Uruguayan – and Messi – can pounce.
Counter-point: Paulinho, a key player for Barca this season, has struggled. He’s coughed up possession and misplaced passes which have led to great chances for the opposition. Those vertical runs have been primarily executed by the Brazilian. If he’s still sloppy on the ball, it’ll be easier for Chelsea to contain the Barcelona attack.