LONDON (AP) — The Champions League talking points ahead of the first-leg matches in the quarterfinals:
MANCHESTER CITY VS. BORUSSIA DORTMUND
While City could hardly be in better shape, Dortmund has been plunged back into uncertainty and self-doubt. City, the runaway Premier League leader, headed into April still on track for an unprecedented “quadruple” of major trophies this season and has won 26 of its last 27 games in all competitions. The Champions League will be the toughest title to claim and there will be much focus on the approach Pep Guardiola takes for the game, with the Spanish coach often accused of overthinking his tactics on the big occasions. Dortmund’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League were dealt a major blow by the 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, which left Edin Terzić’s team seven points behind fourth-place Frankfurt with seven rounds of the Bundesliga to go. Speculation over star striker Erling Haaland’s future has added to the concerns, with City among the many clubs reportedly interested in the Norway international. Dortmund failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition would add to the likelihood of Haaland’s departure. He is the Champions League’s top scorer this season with 10 goals.
It is a meeting between two of the aristocrats of European soccer — they have won the competition 19 times between them — and they come into the quarterfinals in good form. Madrid, a 13-time champion, is unbeaten in all competitions since Jan. 30 and is back in the title race in the Spanish league, not least because of the brilliant form of striker Karim Benzema. The Frenchman has scored nine goals in his last seven games, including against Atalanta in the Champions League’s last 16. Liverpool’s improvement has been more recent — and chiefly due to the return of Fabinho to central midfield after a spell filling in at center back as well as Diogo Jota after injury. The soon-to-be-deposed English champions have kept clean sheets in their last three games but there are still concerns about their defense, especially at center back where understudies Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips are holding the fort. Real Madrid will remain without the injured Sergio Ramos, but there’s a chance Eden Hazard may return to the squad after another injury layoff.
BAYERN MUNICH VS. PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
With a ninth consecutive Bundesliga title almost certain, Bayern Munich can turn its full attention to defending its Champions League crown. Bayern opened a seven-point gap in the Bundesliga with a win over closest rival Leipzig on Saturday and promptly set its sights on Wednesday’s visit from PSG. Parisian Kingsley Coman scored the only goal as Bayern beat the French team in last year’s final, and he may have to do it again with top striker Robert Lewandowski out with a knee injury. Leon Goretzka stepped up with the winner against Leipzig, with Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich both involved. All three have been outstanding this season and will be tasked with making up for Lewandowski’s absence. PSG will be without its two best midfielders. Marco Verratti has contracted the coronavirus for the third time and the tough-tackling Leandro Paredes is suspended for the first leg. Danilo Pereira and Idrissa Gueye could find themselves under a lot of pressure to stop Bayern from dictating the game, so PSG’s wide players will probably have to drop back and help out.
PORTO VS. CHELSEA
Porto is the most surprising team in the last eight after eliminating Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus in the round of 16. The Portuguese club is trying to make it to the semifinals for the first time since winning the European trophy in 2004. It also was a quarterfinalist in 2019, being eliminated against eventual champion Liverpool. Chelsea has drastically improved since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as manager in January. It was unbeaten in 14 games under the German — including back-to-back wins over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League’s last 16 — until a stunning 5-2 loss to lowly West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Saturday. Chelsea had previously conceded only two goals in Tuchel’s tenure. Defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante is set to miss the game after sustaining a knee injury during the international break.