UCL Preview: A heavyweight clash in Madrid, PSG’s open wounds and Kane’s return to his favourite hunting ground


The Champions League returns this week – and with the intensity dialled up another notch.

After a stellar Round of 16, with two crunch ties going to penalties, we enter the endgame for Europe’s biggest football tournament with a vastly different picture to just a month or so ago.

The ties are set for this week and next, with first legs that take in London, Paris and Madrid, twice, before dispersing across Europe.

We’ve lost all our Italians – arrivederci, Inter & Napoli ­– leaving us with three Spanish sides, two English, two German and a sole French representative, if they aren’t Qatari these days anyway.

Let’s get into it.

Arsenal v Bayern, Wednesday April 10, 5am, live on Stan Sports

It’s easy to paint this as the Harry Kane return game, with the former Tottenham striker returning to North London to face his old foes at what was always one of his happiest hunting grounds.

Though there was a childhood photo of Kane in a Gunners jersey, he scored 14 times against Arsenal in his Spurs career, making him the all-time top scorer in that rivalry.

He makes his first visit as a Bayern player knowing that the Champions League is all that he has left to win in 2023/24 at club level.

Leverkusen can pick up the Bundesliga title with a win this weekend and FCB are already out of the Pokal, meaning it’s this or bust.

Kane must wonder about the other ten blokes: he’s scored 32 in 28 since moving to Bavaria, including 12 in his last 12, but has seen his team fall away badly.

Arsenal might present the toughest task yet, too. Mikel Arteta’s defensive unit might well be the best in the world and this tie will hinge on the ability of Bayern to break them down.

If they don’t, then Arsenal will surely have too much. They could do with building a lead, however, because Bayern may be a wounded animal back in Munich and know they’ll have nothing to lose.

All roads lead to London ???? The last eight are set, and the Quarter-Finals kick off next Wednesday!

↳ UCL Quarter-Finals. Kick Off Wednesday from 4:35am AEST. Every match, only on Stan Sport. Exclusive & Ad-free. Live & On Demand.#StanSportAU #UCL pic.twitter.com/lZYETAL8D6

— Stan Sport Football (@StanSportFC) April 4, 2024

Real Madrid v Manchester City, Wednesday April 10, 5am, live on Stan Sports

This could easily be the final, but instead we get it as early as the quarters. It’s the tournament’s two most dominant sides of recent years, with the reigning champions City travelling to Madrid to take on the most successful club in the Champions League.

Real have had a weekend off to prepare – La Liga paused for the final of the Copa del Rey – but that might not actually help them that much.

While rest is great at this time of year, los Merengues would have liked to have got some minutes into the legs of Eder Militao, their centre back who is returning from an ACL injury, but were unable to and now will likely leave him out.

Vini Junior, their star attacker, was forced to miss the weekend before with a suspension and, combined with the international break, hasn’t stepped onto a field since Brazil’s fixture with Spain three weeks ago.

Compare and contrast with City. They are in the guts of a title race in the Premier League, and this will be their fourth game in just ten days.

Their concern had been over the form of Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne, both of whom were left out by Pep Guardiola last midweek against Aston Villa, but the pair returned to goalscoring form in the weekend’s victory over Crystal Palace and should be good to go in the Bernabeu.

Turning tragedy to motivation, Eduardo Camavinga is on the cusp of more history with Real Madrid

↳ UCL Quarter-Finals. Real Madrid v Man City, Wednesday from 4:35am AEST. Every match, only on Stan Sport. Exclusive & Ad-free. Live & On Demand.#StanSportAU #UCL pic.twitter.com/nbd0Ww1Kr0

— Stan Sport Football (@StanSportFC) April 6, 2024

PSG v Barcelona, Thursday April 11, 5am, live on Stan Sports

The Parisians are all but home and hosed in Ligue 1, but all is not rosy in the City of Lights.

Manager Luis Enrique has been moving star striker Kylian Mbappe in and out of the side ever since he announced that he will leave the club at the end of the season, clearly preparing for life after him early.

But Mbappe remains the club’s talisman and will undoubtedly play here. If PSG are to win the Champions League, which remains the overarching goal of their Qatari owners, then it comes through Kylian.

They needed a late goal from Mbappe to get a point at lowly Clermont Foot at the weekend, but rotated heavily in that fixture to have as many fresh legs on deck as possible for the visit of Barca.

The Catalans have been a bete noire for PSG, and the famous remontada comeback of 2017, when the French side won 4-0 at home then lost 6-1 away, including three goals after the 88th minute, has hung over the club as an example of how they can’t compete at the very highest level of European football.

This Barca aren’t a patch on that era, which included Leo Messi and Neymar, both of whom PSG later signed, but have been on a decent run of late and, like Bayern, they have nothing else to play for and, like Real, got last weekend off.

They haven’t lost in nine games, won seven of those and haven’t so much as conceded a goal in five, so the onus will be on the Parisians to break Barca down.

From humble beginnings to the European stage ???? Mikel Arteta’s journey continues in next week’s QF.

↳ UCL Quarter-Finals. Arsenal v Bayern, Wednesday 10 April from 4:55am AEST. Every match, only on Stan Sport. Exclusive & Ad-free. Live & On Demand.#StanSportAU #UCL #Arsenal pic.twitter.com/GijGQD1kxX

— Stan Sport Football (@StanSportFC) April 3, 2024

Atletico Madrid v Borussia Dortmund, Thursday April 11, 5am, live on Stan Sports

The tournament’s two darkest horses could not have wished for a better draw than to get each other.

Moreover, with the way that UEFA splits the bracket for the semis, both know that the winner of this tie will face either PSG or Barca, a much more appealing prospect than any of Arsenal, City, Read or Bayern.

Atleti rode their luck at times to defeat Inter, especially in the first leg, but snuck through on penalties thanks to a display that showed all the nous and fighting spirit that they have made their trademark in the last decade under Diego Simeone.

Like the other Spanish sides, they are well rested, but were smashed by Barcelona at home off the back of their draining Round of 16 victory and are in a fight with Athletic Club Bilbao to even play in the Champions League again next year.

Their opponents are in a similar boat in Germany, sitting level with RB Leipzig for the final spot in the Bundesliga, but can take confidence from their win over Bayern two weeks ago, albeit tempered by a weekend defeat to third placed surprise package Stuttgart.

BVB rely on their home supporters just as much as Atleti do, so expect them to be cautious and home to take something back to Westphalia with them. It’s all on the Spanish side to make the running in the first leg.

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