This week brings about the return leg of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. Action is coming fast and furious after a short break following the Round of 16 matches, and C.J. Radune and Joel Forquer of PrimeSportsNetwork.com break down the matchups.
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This week the teams still remaining in UCL play will have to be especially careful in balancing their commitments to domestic leagues in the face of back-to-back European competition days. This stage of the campaign creates weary players, which can lead to injuries and lapses in concentration. Those factors could prove to be decisive in determining what teams advance, and which are left to fight for next year’s competition. Compound this with the away goal dynamic and rules for advancement, and it’s safe to say that fans are in for an exciting ride.
Benfica (H) vs. Bayern Munich (A)
Bayern Munich was the happier of these two sides as the pair headed to the dressing rooms at halftime in the first leg match. Bayern was ahead thanks to an Arturo Vidal goal in just the second minute, with half of their wish to keep a clean sheet firmly intact. The second half proved to be a possession game for Bayern. The efficient Germans held the majority control just as they had in the first half to close out a valuable 1-0 win, shutting down Benfica’s hopes of taking an away goal back to Portugal. Though Benfica was able to post 10 total shots, just one of them was on target, and that was the downfall on a night that their Champions League dreams began to unravel.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- Bayern – Philip Lahm D – Bayern’s possession at home last week helped the team consolidate its early lead in the match to take an aggregate advantage to Portugal. If the Bayern defense is capable of stifling the Benfica attack again, which will be more difficult away from home, Bayern will coast into the semifinals of this year’s tournament. Lahm has a tremendous amount of big-game experience, and his cool head and clinical defending should be a highlight of this week’s match.
- Benfica – Jonas F – Benfica’s game plan for the second-leg match against Bayern will be to attack. The Portuguese side cannot advance without scoring goals. Jonas was limited to just two shots in Munich, and hasn’t had more than three in a UCL match so far this season. He needs to be more prolific this week, and the team should be throwing passes his direction throughout the match. With their backs against the wall I expect Benfica to give Jonas more chances in front of goal, and that could present enticing upside for fantasy players building their rosters this week.
Joel’s Players to watch:
- Bayern – Robert Lewandowski F – Like Muller, my player to watch last week, Lewandowski has a knack for being in the right place at the right time inside the box and finding the back of the net. Scoring just one away goal would substantially increase the likelihood that Bayern advances to the semifinals, and with his 25 Bundesliga and eight Champions League goals this season, Lewandowski is the most likely man for the job.
- Benfica – Jardel D –While Benfica will certainly be keen on launching attacks at Manuel Neuer, they will have to be impervious on defense as well. Conceding just one away goal would raise the hurdle for advancement substantially, as the Portuguese side would have to win the leg by netting three goals in order to advance. Central defender Jardel will need to put forth his best performance to stop the bleeding. The Brazilian leads the squad in interceptions (26), clearances (40), and shots blocked (4) in eight Champions League appearances.
Atletico Madrid (H) vs. Barcelona (A)
Fernando Torres was the main talking point in Tuesday’s first-leg showdown between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. The two Spanish clubs locked horns with Torres putting Atletico’s fellow La Liga hosts down a goal in the 25th minute against the run of play. The striker then went on to pick up two yellow cards in a six-minute span that saw him ejected from the match with 10 minutes remaining in the first half. That left the team to play with 10 men, and he is now ineligible to play the second leg at home this week. That lapse enabled Luis Suarez, one of our players to watch, to even the score with a shot from close range. The Barcelona forward then struck again just 11 minutes later to put the visitors down and secure a valuable home win. However, with an away goal in hand, Madrid may fancy their chances of sneaking through this week at home in Madrid.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- Barcelona – Marc-Andre ter Stegen G – Barcelona has a one-goal advantage in their quest for the semifinals. If they keep Atletico from scoring at home they can cruise into the penultimate stage of this competition. The pressure will be on away from home, and Barcelona hasn’t delivered many clean sheets. They pulled off an important shutout against Arsenal and need another one this week to limit any chances Atletico may have. Stegen will be front and center and needs to be at his best this week to boost Barcelona through to the next round.
- Atletico – Antoine Griezmann F – Griezmann remains my Atletico player to watch in the second leg. With the absence of fellow striker Fernando Torres, the Frenchman will need to carry the attacking weight of his team at home. The away goal Torres gave the team puts them firmly in contention to upset Barcelona, but they won’t be able to do that if Griezemann misfires. He has four goals from nine UCL matches so far and had three shots against Barcelona. He should be taking more opportunities this week.
Joel’s Players to watch:
- Barcelona – Dani Alves D – The Brazilian right back has picked up an assist in each of Barcelona’s prior two Champions League matches. In the first leg of the quarterfinals, he boasted 90% pass accuracy, played three key passes, whipped in 10 crosses, and accumulated five tackles without receiving a yellow card in a Man of the Match performance. Alves’ combination of defensive prowess and ability to provide assists to the Catalan strikers make him a dynamic player and one to watch in the second leg match.
- Atletico – Jan Oblak G – Oblak has failed to keep a clean sheet in his last three competitive matches. However, he is still one of Europe’s elite goalkeepers, having only conceded 20 total goals in 40 competitive matches this season, earning 19 clean sheets along the way. Oblak will need to perform at his best to prevent Barcelona from scoring a crucial away goal. If Oblak is able to register a clean sheet and his side bags a goal, Atletico will advance to the semifinals on the away goal rule.
Manchester City (H) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (A)
In what was anticipated to be the most exciting pairing of the quarterfinals, Manchester City and PSG proved it was a clash to watch in the first half. The teams sparred, with PSG enjoying greater possession and chances, until City scored through Kevin De Bruyne after Joe Hart saved a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty. Unfortunately for City that goal just opened the door for Ibrahimovic to redeem himself with an equalizer just three minutes later. The teams remained deadlocked at the half. PSG pulled ahead from a corner at the hour mark only to be levelled again by Fernandinho in the 72nd minute. The two away goals have City feeling confident as they head home for the second leg, but PSG proved in the last round that they can come to England to dispatch Premier League teams from their path.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- PSG – Zlatan Ibrahimovic F – PSG’s biggest personality had a somewhat off night at home last week. He had a penalty saved by Joe Hart, but redeemed himself with a strike later in the match. He will need to do better and bury the chances he gets this week in Manchester. If their star striker falters PSG will succumb to English opposition and crash out of the Champions League. The road gets more difficult from here, but Ibrahimovic can be counted on to lift his teammates.
- Manchester City – Joe Hart G – Simply keeping PSG off of the scoresheet would put City through to the semifinals. Hart made a return from a calf injury last week to feature in goal, and one wonders what the score may have been had he sat out. The City defense could still be stronger were it not for injuries, but Hart will have to make due. City have only delivered one clean sheet in this season’s competition, a 0-0 draw with Dynamo Kyiv, and one this week against the Parisians would be the biggest result of the season for the Citizens.
Joel’s players to watch:
- PSG – Adrien Rabiot M – The Parisians will need to score in order to have a chance at advancing to the semifinals due to the two away goals City buried in the first leg. Rabiot has been quiet for most of the season but has recently been in great form. In his last five competitive matches, he scored three goals and registered one assist. Rabiot will certainly be busy in the midfield, especially with seasoned central defender David Luiz out on a yellow card suspension. He will have to play well on both sides of the ball in order for PSG to advance to the semifinals.
- Manchester City – Kevin de Bruyne M – City looks like a new team with de Bruyne back on the pitch. He has a goal in each of the two matches he has played since his return from a knee injury that kept him on the sidelines for 63 days and 12 matches. In the first leg, de Bruyne bagged a goal on two shots and played four crosses. Look for the Belgian to make a big impact in the return leg match at home.
Real Madrid (H) vs. Wolfsburg (A)
The exhilaration of playing one of the biggest matches in club history at home to Real Madrid inspired Wolfsburg to jump out to a two-goal lead early in the first leg. It was Real Madrid that made the error to enable Ricardo Rodriguez to put home the first strike from a penalty in order for that to happen, though. Despite being behind, Real Madrid was clearly in control of the ball but hemorrhaging on defense. Real Madrid’s attack went into full force in the second half. They dominated possession, chances at goal, and had a potential goal ruled out. The effort was still not enough, though. The Spanish giants fell to a disappointing two-goal gap and will work to salvage their hopes at home knowing they need to score a minimum of two goals to keep that dream alive.
C.J.’s players to watch:
- Wolfsburg – Diego Benaglio G – Keeping a clean sheet against Real Madrid is no simple feat, but Benaglio did just that last week. He will find repeating that effort more difficult in Spain, but if the German team can stick to their game plan and not come undone at the back, Benaglio could be his team’s launch pad into the semifinals. Madrid will be attacking with all of their might this week, just as they did last week. The Swiss keeper only endured three Madrid shots on target in the first leg, but that number will increase in the return fixture. He needs to be on his toes and could end up as the player of the match if he can keep the shots from breaking his goal line.
- Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo F – Ronaldo lost striking partner Karim Benzema in the first half last week against Wolfsburg, and that could have enabled the German side to focus more on him instead. Whatever the reason was, Ronaldo failed to come to the salvation of Madrid. His four total shots were among the fewest he has taken in any match in the competition so far, and has to worry Madrid. The simple fact is that Madrid has to score multiple goals this week. Ronaldo is the most likely of any layer to do that, so expect Madrid to be in all-out attack mode this week.
Joel’s Players to watch:
- Wolfsburg – Naldo D – The Brazilian defender made a welcome early return from a shoulder injury to start against the Spanish titans in the first leg. He accumulated three interceptions, three clearances, and blocked one shot to help the Wolves stun Real Madrid at home. Naldo and the rest of the defense will have to contend with what is sure to be a ferocious Real Madrid attack. Fantasy owners can rely on Naldo to clear balls out of the box, as he leads the team with 4.2 clearances per game in 23 Bundesliga appearances and 3.4 clearances per game in seven Champions League appearances.
- Real Madrid – Gareth Bale M – In the first leg match, Bale took five shots and put zero on target. He will simply have to be more accurate in the return leg, and he will certainly be in line to have plenty of chances, as Real Madrid needs at least two goals to save the tie and keep their semifinal hopes alive. Despite his poor shot accuracy in the first leg, he led the team with 10 crosses and four key passes, and he will need to replicate that dynamic performance on the Bernabeu pitch.
Tune in to Prime Sports soccer this Saturday at 3 p.m. ET when Ben Carlotti of Oulala.com joins C.J. Radune and Joel Forquer of PrimeSportsNetwork.com to offer fantasy football advice and an overview of the week’s second-leg quarterfinal matches.