After the draw provided a mixed bag of opponents in the Round of 16, it looked likely that the Champions League quarter-finals would feature at least one English club. But surely not all five. While no team was condemned by their leg one result—and Manchester City and Liverpool all but booked their tickets to the next round—the remaining three clubs have plenty of work to do to continue the Premier League’s historic campaign in this season’s competition.
With Antonio Conte’s side struggling to find their form of late, a tie with five-time champions Barcelona seemed to be coming at exactly the wrong time. Heading into the first leg at Stamford Bridge, the team had lost three of their previous five matches in all competitions. Though their two most recent matches ended in routine victories, the dip in form saw Chelsea eliminated from the League Cup and drop to fourth in the table, a solitary point above Tottenham. Inconsistent form coupled with Barça’s stellar campaign thus far pointed to a victory for the La Liga outfit. Yet things are rarely straightforward when these clubs meet. Tuesday’s 1-1 first leg proved no exception.
Conte’s selection of Eden Hazard over Álvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud in a central role—eliminating the outlet of a target man—seemed to prefigure a long night of defending for his side. While Barça dominated possession, as expected, Chelsea were dynamic on the break. Willian, in particular, shone. An inconsistent starter, he was tremendous with the ball at his feet. But for the woodwork, he might have had two first-half goals. The Brazilian deservedly opened the scoring in the second half. While the Blues proved difficult to break down, a mistake in the defense allowed Lionel Messi to grab the equalizer. With an away goal in the bag, Barcelona head back to the Camp Nou with the advantage. But the ability Chelsea showed to neutralize Barça’s biggest weapons and get at their backline means this tie is far from over.
The Reds went in to the first leg of their tie with Porto in a rich vein of form. With only two losses in all competitions since the end of October, the club won their qualifying group and surged to third in the Premier League table. Their opponents, however, were in the midst of their own purple patch. Still undefeated in the league this season, and with an advantage in their Portuguese cup semifinal, the two-time winners had every reason for optimism.
Despite their fine form this year, Porto were thoroughly outclassed in the first leg, losing 5-0. Behind Sadio Mané’s hat-trick, Liverpool ran wild. The Reds’ five away goals take their total to 28 in the competition, topping the scoring table. Not only embarrassed on their home field, Porto are now surely out of the competition. Even against a defense as porous as Liverpool’s, scoring five goals without reply is a Herculean task—made even more so by Porto’s own defensive woes. In their first European match since Philippe Coutinho left the club, Liverpool demonstrated, as they did in the league, that they are still a formidable team.
The quality of City’s play this campaign requires little elaboration. With a possible quadruple haul of trophies still on entering the away leg of their tie (City since eliminated from the FA Cup), the club met Basel in the most lopsided matchup of the round. The Swiss side’s form has dipped this campaign, and their run of eight consecutive league titles is in serious jeopardy. Not the ideal time for the club to welcome the class of the Premier League to the St. Jakob-Park.
City displayed all the attacking prowess that has been the hallmark of their play this year, leaving town 4-0 winners. Putting the tie to bed inside 25 minutes, the Sky Blues netted a trio of finely worked goals. Kevin de Bruyne pulled the strings in midfield, teeing up Ilkay Gündogan to head home from a corner, and setting the table for Bernardo Silva’s second. Sergio Agüero lashed home from the edge of the box to wrap up the first-half scoring. Gündogan’s second on 53 minutes provided enough of a cushion for Pep Guardiola to rest Raheem Sterling and de Bruyne for the majority of the second half. It may also prove sufficient advantage for the manager to sit some key players in the home leg on March 7th.
Despite maintaining second spot in the league table, as well as advancing to the FA Cup quarter-finals, United’s 2018 form has been spotty. Adding Alexis Sánchez in January has failed to inspire the team’s offensive performances, though the club still maintain a league-best defensive record. Their matchup with Sevilla pits the winners of the last four Europa League titles against one another. The Spanish club are a quintessential cup side. Five-time Europa League champions, five-time Copa del Rey champions (with a chance for a sixth title this year), Los Rojiblancos save their best for knockout competitions.
A 0-0 first leg draw in their Round of 16 clash provided brief flashes of excitement, but little sustained quality. Sevilla, with the onus to attack as the home side, put United under more consistent pressure, forcing eight saves—two of real quality—out of David de Gea. United mustered little in attack. Mourinho backers might see it as a canny European away performance; detractors as another labored effort in which the side was bailed out by a world-class goalkeeper. Either way, the tie is set up nicely for the return leg at Old Trafford.
Spurs’ reward for topping a group featuring Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund was a last-16 matchup with Juventus, runners-up in two of the last three years. Tottenham’s recent domestic form has been anything but consistent: draws against teams in bottom half of the table sandwiched between wins over Manchester United and Arsenal. Back-to-back FA Cup replays against lower level opposition has not helped either. Juventus have dropped only two points in the league since the end of November, sitting second in the league, one point behind Napoli. The Old Lady also hold a one-goal advantage in their Coppa Italia semifinal, still chasing the illusive treble.
The tie looked as if it would be over not long after it began. Juventus went two goals up inside ten minutes and threatened to run riot. But Spurs weathered the storm, regrouped, and began to create chances of their own. After squandering a golden opportunity, Harry Kane pulled one back on 35 minutes. Gonzalo Higuaín clattering his second penalty of the night off the crossbar shortly before the half may have been the defining moment on the night. As Juve sat back, Spurs grew in confidence, equalizing from a Christian Eriksen free-kick after 71 minutes. Juventus will hope to have several key players who missed out back for the return leg, but Tottenham have every reason to fancy their chances.