We evaluated the first four UEFA Champions League quarterfinalists after they went through, but now that we know all eight of the teams left in the tournament and know the four pairings it makes sense to revisit the matter of previewing the matchups and predicting who is likeliest to advance to the semifinals. A lot of the usual suspects are included in the mix, though there are still a couple of underdogs that could make noise and shake things up.
So let’s waste no time and dive right in to the four showdowns that will play out over the first fortnight of April. Click through to see how the teams in each draw match up against one another, and our picks to move on.
Barcelona v. Atletico Madrid
The first showdown in this year’s Champions League quarterfinals is an all-Spanish affair, with defending champions Barcelona taking on Atletico Madrid at home in the first leg on April 5 and heading to the capital for the return match on April 13. Barcelona has won the last six encounters between these two clubs dating back to January 2015, but Atletico has the confidence of having knocked off the blaugrana in the Champions League quarterfinals two years ago on their march to the 2014 final. Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique will match wits in what promises to be a cerebral, hard-fought encounter between the top two teams in La Liga.
Barcelona absolutely dominated Arsenal in the Round of 16, crushing the Gunners 2-0 in London in the first leg and following it up with an emphatic 3-1 victory at Camp Nou to move through 5-1 on aggregate. The defending champions have now scored 20 goals in the competition against just five allowed, showing an ability to turn on the pressure on the counterattack at will and a defensive solidity that permits the team to press forward quickly. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez each have six goals at this point in Champions League play and have combined with Neymar to devastating effect in one of Europe’s most dangerous attacks. They have to take on Real Madrid immediately before the first leg against Atletico, but given that they are nine points clear in domestic competition the Catalans can still focus more fully on their European title defense.
Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, needed to survive an instant-classic penalty shootout just to get past PSV Eindhoven after the two teams played two scoreless draws over 210 minutes of the two legs and extra time. Simeone’s squad has been even stingier than Barcelona, allowing just three goals in their eight Champions League matches to date, and they will have to follow a similar script to their 2014 upset of the Catalans if they hope to make it back to the semifinals. Antoine Griezmann and Saul Niguez provide the best chance for the team to nab opportunistic goals against a stout Barcelona defense, though their back line will be tested by Messi, Neymar, and Suarez just as they were in September and January in La Liga play. It will require one of the club’s best defensive performances of the year and luck on the other end of the pitch to have a chance of advancing.
Ultimately, though, the club that has managed to run away with another league title is likely to notch its seventh straight win over their fellow Spanish juggernaut. Barcelona has simply been too good in this competition, and they present a far deeper challenge than PSV could offer. Atletico probably isn’t going to force two more scoreless draws, and they don’t have the offensive depth to survive a shootout against their Spanish counterparts.
Barcelona advances 4-1 on aggregate