Barca’s form has dipped, but still favoured vs. Atletico


Barcelona and Atletico Madrid highlight the Champions League quarterfinals. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

The 2015-16 UEFA Champions League resumes this week with the second leg of the quarterfinals.

Sportsnet’s soccer panel of broadcasters, writers and pundits offer their picks and predictions below…

Gerry Dobson, Sportsnet: What are we going to do with you, Manchester City? You struggle to find your form, then you start demolishing teams in the Premier League, and then you come up with that strong performance in Paris last week to forge a respectable and somewhat surprising 2-2 draw in the opening leg.

But then you struggled and looked very ordinary in your 2-1 win over West Brom on the weekend. Two steps forward, one step back. So again I ask, what are we to do with you, Man City? Once again there will be no Vincent Kompany, but if they are firing on all cylinders it shouldn’t matter.

Meanwhile, Laurent Blanc has plenty of problems. Injuries and suspensions will force his hand. He did his best to rest key players on the weekend in Ligue 1. But he’s up against it and he knows it. City have those crucial away goals, but with Ibrahimovic on the pitch, anything is possible. Just ask him.

Prediction: Manchester City wins 2-1 to advance.

James Sharman, Sportsnet: Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga form has belied its showing in Champions League. Therefore, another so-so draw this past weekend should be anything but a harbinger of what to expect against Real Madrid.

Last week, Wolfsburg was quite superb in shocking Real 2-0. Julian Draxler was the best player on the field, as the Germans excelled in pushing forward while defensively they left it all out there. Real, aside from Gareth Bale, were poor, but managed to bounce back with a 4-0 win over Eibar on Saturday.

The Bernabeu awaits, and despite Wolfsburg’s performance last week, I still see Real going through. These are the games built for Cristiano Ronaldo. It might go to extra-time, but a second shock is unlikely.

Prediction: Real Madrid wins 3-0 in extra time to advance.

MORE ON CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Watch: Ronaldo puts Real Madrid on his back || Champions League takeaways: De Bruyne indispensable to Man City || Sportsnet soccer panel’s picks and predictions || Dortmund the key to Bayern’s European success? || Photo Gallery: The quarterfinal matchups || Photo gallery: 8 players to watch in the quarterfinals || Is this Ibrahimovic’s last shot at winning the Champions League? || Champions League takeaways: Luis Suarez saves Barcelona || The two very different sides of Wolfsburg

Noah Love, It’s hard to say what was worse about Fernando Torres’s red card performance at Camp Nou last week: that it allowed Barcelona back into the match, or that Torres took himself out of a fixture in which he has traditionally performed very well. That the Spaniard had the first goal in the first leg suggests he could have had a real impact on both the rest of that game and in the return match at the Vincente Calderon.

That’s not to say Atletico shouldn’t have some measure of confidence heading into the second leg. Diego Simeone’s squad has been cruising in recent La Liga fixtures, while Barcelona has only taken a single point from its last three matches. It’s important to remember Barca has played more football than any other team on Earth in the last 365 days. This has a tendency to catch up to Champions League winners late in the season, and the truth is Barcelona does look a bit fatigued.

And yet, as long as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets start, the Catalans have to be considered the favourites. Even if form has dipped in recent weeks, this is a team that can beat you in seven or eight different ways, and Barca doesn’t even have to win this one.

Prediction: A 1-1 draw; Barcelona advances.

Thomas Michalakos, It has been slightly over a quarter of a century since Benfica last qualified for the semifinals. The mountain to climb isn’t as steep as many would have predicted following Bayern Munich’s 1-0 first-leg victory, but that’s not to say the Estadio Da Luz will be in a celebratory mood after 90 minutes on Wednesday.

It took two minutes for Arturo Vidal to open the scoring for Bayern last week before the reigning Portuguese champions effectively snuffed out the mighty Bavarians’ attack-minded unit. It was a unique twist to a match-up that the majority of analysts expected to be effectively over heading into Lisbon.

Everything hinges on Benfica keeping the visitors off the score sheet. Benfica trio Jonas, Pizzi and Kostas Mitroglou have been lights out this season, filling the back of the net domestically and abroad. The idea of the hosts scoring two goals on home soil isn’t a hard sell. However, in no way do I believe Rui Vitoria can out-coach Pep Guardiola. The likes of Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski, Douglas Costa and Franck Ribery won’t be silenced in consecutive matches.

Prediction: Bayern Munich wins 2-1 to advance.

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