Wednesday, 4/10 Champions League Quarterfinals Preview

Tuesday Recap:

  • Liverpool beat Porto 2-0 with two early first half goals by Keita and Firmino. They controlled the match from start to finish and didn’t allow Porto to get anything going offensively. As I said in my preview, Porto aren’t used to playing without the ball and it clearly showed on Tuesday. They now have a huge scoreline to make up in the second leg at home in Portugal.
  • Spurs beat City 1-0 thanks to a Heung-Min Son goal in the 78th minute. An early Sergio Aguero penalty could have changed the game but it was saved brilliantly by Lloris and it sparked a belief in Spurs. After that penalty, the energy on the pitch and in the stadium was beyond intense. It was physical, fast, loud and a complete joy to watch, as Spurs now go to Manchester with a one-goal lead and can seal their path to the semifinals with a draw or win in Leg 2.

This Season’s Record: 181-154-42 (+4.1 Units)
4/9 UCL Quarterfinals: 1-1 (-0.1) Units)

Wednesday, April 10th
UEFA Champions League
3:00 pm EST

Juventus @ Ajax – As most people know by now Ajax got through to the Quarterfinals by beating Real Madrid twice in the Round of 16, a feat that can’t be taken lightly. Juventus meanwhile came back from down 2 goals to Atletico Madrid thanks to a second leg hat trick from Cristiano Ronaldo. They’re two teams that have historic pasts, similar playing styles but somehow still feel very different.

Let’s start with Juventus, who will be returning their star Ronaldo after he missed their last three games due to a hamstring injury he picked up over the international break. Allegri already said he is going to start and it should provide an immediate boost to a team who are already coming off of a big win against Milan over the weekend. But this match isn’t as simple as ‘they return Ronaldo, have more quality and are in good form so they should win’. They have to shake off some away demons in the champions league as they’ve lost their last two Champions League away matches, at Young Boys in the group stage and Atletico Madrid in Leg 1 of the Round of 16. They’ll have to go to a very tough place to play in the Johan Cruyff Arena and face an Ajax team who have been brilliant at home this year, and as we learned on Tuesday with both away teams losing, that is very tough.

I think their undoing could be trying to force the ball to Ronaldo, who is just getting back to the squad and the sole reason they’re in the Quarterfinals. He’s also the most decorated Champions League player ever, so it wouldn’t doubt me if did they try to force feed him the ball whenever they could. If instead they can balance their attack and switch the play constantly to spread the Ajax defense out, I think they’ll be successful in finding Ronaldo more organically. Switching the play should also free him more space unless he is man-marked or shadowed, which in turn would free up the likes of Dyabala and Mandzukic. I don’t think his re-addition to the lineup will hurt them, but only if they feel the need to run everything through him on offense. It will be crucial for the supporting cast to step up if he’s either not 100% or marked the whole match.

Ajax went undefeated at home in the group this year and their only home loss in the Champions League was in the first leg to Real Madrid, where they could’ve easily gotten a result with how well they played. Since they lost to Madrid at home, you’d think they’d have trouble against high-quality opposition right? Wrong. This is a team that stood toe to toe with Bayern twice, drawing them 3-3 and 1-1 in the Group Stage this season. The only issue I have is whether or not they can contain Ronaldo both in the air and on the counter attack, where he’s thrived this season on Juve. They need to make sure he never goes unmarked especially as he’s entering the box as he’s the biggest aerial threat they’ll possibly ever face. If they stay disciplined in their marking, they should be able to force Juve to run their offense through someone else. But as I said before, they must balance between shadowing him and cutting off his passing lanes, as they don’t want to free up the rest of the Juve attack.

I think Ajax will be up to the task here at home, knowing this is the last year that this young core has to make an impact before they all move on to bigger clubs. Their defense is good enough to stop quality opponents and even if they need to get into a shootout, they have the offensive firepower to match most clubs. But this Juventus team rarely plays in a hurry and I expect them to keep this low scoring, especially since it’s the first leg. Juve are in no rush to win the tie right now, as they know they’ll be bringing it home in the second leg and any result here would do. Ajax meanwhile know they can’t just take it to Juve, as they need to be a bit more careful than the Italians. I think both teams would settle for a draw, but it’s imperative that Ajax try to keep a clean sheet in order to have a chance on the away goals tiebreaker. This is why I’m going to take the under and the draw. I think it could be a 1-1 draw or a low-scoring win for either team and Ajax will live to fight another day. Under 2.5 goals (-115) and Draw (+225).

FC Barcelona @ Manchester United (TV: TNT) – Woaahhh nelly do we have a good one here too. Manchester United have slipped into a poor run of form and will now have to beat one of the best teams in the world and arguably the best player of all time to turn it around. Luckily for them they should be fearless, (well most of them), since they’ve already pulled off a miracle this year. But this one might be a little different than that tie and I’ll get into why.

United have lost three of their last four matches, two to Wolves and one to Arsenal. It’s not as much that they’ve lost but more how they’ve lost. Their defense has been their biggest problem as they haven’t gotten a clean sheet since the Liverpool game in February (eight matches). They’ll now have to face a Barcelona team who not only have the best player in the planet who happens to be in the form of his life, but also one that just came off of a win against Atletico Madrid, who are one of the best defensive teams in the world. This Barca team has also scored 20 goals in their last six matches (an average of 3.3). If United want any sort of chance of getting a result out of the first leg, they’ll need to stop that deadly attack.

But their defensive strategy is both a blessing and a curse as they’ve been successful sitting back, absorbing pressure and countering against most teams in the Premier League, but that’s also where Barcelona thrive. United will need to find some sort of a balance between absorbing pressure and countering, much like how Spurs did on Tuesday against City. United will also have to deal with preventing Barca’s skill players (Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Coutinho) from dribbling through them, something they’ve had trouble with all season. Obviously this is asking the impossible out of guys like Smalling, Jones and/or Lindelof, but if they want any chance of winning they’ll need to be the ones to stop that front three.

For Barcelona, this match is a bit easier to break down. It should be business as usual for them as they’ll likely see the majority of the ball and chances, which plays right into their comfort zone. What Barca did this weekend to Atletico will be much like what they’ll want to do to United. Yes Atletico had a red card but I do see some similarities in what I expect to see on Wednesday. 64% possession, twice the shots, twice the passes and twice the chances created. They’ll have Messi both dropping in deep to receive the ball and when they have sustained possession, he’ll be sitting just outside the box ready to strike. He has over 40 goals this season, the most combined goals and assists this season by over 12 points (Messi has 45 goals/assists and Mbappe has 33) and loves to beat United and English opposition in the Champions League. In fact he’s won two Champions League Finals against United alone, scoring a goal and winning Man of the Match in each one. This is the exact moment, at Old Trafford under the lights, that he will thrive in. I genuinely don’t see how United can stop him, let alone the rest of the team. If it’s not Messi who’s making the United backline look silly, it will be Suarez, Dembele or Coutinho.

I don’t see United getting points out of this and I think Messi and Barcelona will take the first leg comfortably. FC Barcelona (-0.5, -105).

That’s all for Wednesday’s preview! Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page and to follow on Twitter and Instagram!

Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.

Twitter: @nicodegallo
Instagram: @canikickitblog

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Nico

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