2014-2015 Champions League Quarter Finals Predictions
By Gabriel Munoz-Morris
With the majority of the tournament now behind us, we enter the portion of the tournament where all of the teams have some shot, no matter how improbable, of winning. Every year the quarter finals are a mixture of teams that have been there so many times it makes you wonder how they have not gotten bored with the tournament and teams that were pleasant surprises in previous rounds. This year is no different as the eight teams that have advanced to the quarter finals are sure-ins like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and FC Bayern as well as a few teams that have been enjoying recent successes like Atletico Madrid, PSG, and Juventus. The last two teams who have made it are by far the most surprising: FC Porto and Monaco. These two have made it this far because they have managed to put two solid sides together. Where other teams have name brand talent, these sides have eleven workhorses on the field (apart from Monaco’s center forward Berbatov). The match-ups, having been drawn a couple of weeks ago should be interesting all around as all eight teams have had ample time to study their opponents. The following are my predictions for the series winners and my reasoning.
FC Bayern – FC Porto
I am taking the safe, and frankly obvious, bet here and choosing FC Bayern to take this series. The Germans are a very well oiled machine that can put away 7 comfortably at home. That kind of offensive power makes them a true Goliath against FC Porto’s very David-esque team. This is not the 2004 Champions League where FC Porto had a solidly built squad with a couple of players who could make the difference between a team like FC Bayern and themselves seem meaningless. Bayern have a deep squad with multiple options at almost every position. Guardiola has also experimented all season long with different line-ups for different scenarios. If Porto want to win this series they will have to play very organized defense at home and hope to put one by Neuer. If they manage that, then they must go to Munich and shut down Bayern’s midfield. If Porto concedes first, the series is over.
AS Monaco – Juventus
As much as I want Monaco to upset the Italians and advance a French side to the semi finals, I know that Juventus simply has a better team. The best part of the French side’s starting eleven is their midfield where they break apart opposing team’s attacks and quickly construct their own. The problem for the French side is that they are facing one of the most physically sound midfields left in the tournament. In front of that midfield, Juventus have several options to look to when it comes time to finish a play. Tevez does not stop pressuring opposing teams’ defenses all game long, which will eventually wear down Monaco’s back line. Mistakes will be made and they will decide the series. For Monaco to win the series they need to play outstanding defense in the first leg and shut down Juventus’ play creation. If they can manage a draw in Turin then they will have a chance to decide the series at home. Besides a win, a 2-2 draw would benefit the French side the most in Turin. This allows them to win or tie by less than 2-2 at home and keep going.
PSG – FC Barcelona
My heart is telling me that Barcelona will come together and win this series but the French side have demonstrated (as recently as the group stages) that they have shed their fear of the Champions League and are ready to make a push for the cup. PSG’s main difficulty for the first leg is the loss of some of their key players (most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic). Luckily for PSG, the first leg is at home and they have an opportunity to take a slight lead with them to Barcelona. The reason that PSG are going to win this series is that the Barcelona defense is simply not good enough to withstand PSG’s counter attacks for 180 minutes. The Barcelona defense only manages to hold together against smaller teams most of the time. PSG, with all of their offensive firepower, are not a small team. They will slash through the Barcelona defense at least once in Paris and probably once in Barcelona. The area of focus for Barcelona coach Luis Enrique should be his defense. Barcelona will be without Dani Alves for the first leg, which means that the team will have to get creative at right back if they even chose to play with four defenders. Up top it will be no picnic for Messi Suarez and Neymar (MSN). The French side have developed an abundance of stopping power and will use all of it against the fast paced passing game that Barcelona bring with them wherever they go. For Barcelona to win, everything, especially their defense, will need to click. If their defense can hold then they can go as far as they want this year. They are certainly not lacking star power up top.
Atletico Madrid – Real Madrid
If Sergio Ramos had not scored in overtime last year in Lisbon then this would be very easy to call. Real Madrid would be clear favorites. As Diego Simeone said, Real Madrid have more talent player to player than Atletico do. Real also have one of the two best players in the world. Say what you will about Cristiano Ronaldo but he does make a difference on a game no matter how well he is guarded. Real Madrid’s talent and money will be no good compared to Atletico’s hatred of the memory of Lisbon. To lose a final the way Atletico did is exponentially worse than by being out-played for 90 minutes. I believe that the passion and determination of the Atletico players will carry them to the semi finals. They are an annoyingly difficult team to beat in a two game series because they have created a fortress at the Vicente Calderon and have no shame when playing in front of 90,000 opposing fans. To win Real will have to keep their heads and not fall into Simeone’s traps. Real Madrid’s defense needs to stay out of trouble with the referee and not let the Ateltico fans get to them in the first leg. Back at home, they will need to pressure Atletico into making a mistake. If Atletico comes out too riled up, like they did against Barcelona in the Spanish cup, then Real just need to play their quick hybrid passing/running game and get in behind the Atletico wide outs. The problem is that Atletico is completely unpredictable. Simeone will have a new bag of tricks to unleash on the Real players this week and some may just work. They certainly seem to have worked a couple of months ago when Real went home with a resounding 4-0 loss in league. This series really come down to psychology. Whatever team keeps their wits for the full 180 minutes will win it.
I hope to see eight wonderful games in the quarterfinals this season and know that the best teams will eventually make it to the semi finals. Once we have four semifinalists then I will weigh in on the matchups and recap how each team got there. People often forget that what you have done so far is just as important as what you still have left to do. Here is to hoping that my predictions for this round come true!