Treble-chasing Manchester City will be wary of Liverpool: Uefa Champions League talking points
Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus are the other teams chasing trebles ahead of the first leg of the quarter-final clashes this week
All Smiles for the Treble-Chasing Quartet
The Uefa Champions League may yet present a full collection of semi-finalists confident of turning a domestic double into something rare and precious.
The last-eight ties, to be played this week and next, has the Serie A frontrunners, the Premier League pacesetters, the Bundesliga bosses and the Primera Liga’s leaders all kept apart. And each of Juventus, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona can feel content about how they maintained their local ambitions at the weekend ahead of their continental tasks.
Bayern made a chillingly ominous declaration of intent by utterly dismantling Borussia Dortmund, supposedly the second-strongest force in German football, 6-0 at the Allianz, ahead of their trip to Sevilla. Their lead in the Bundesliga, with six matches to go, stands at 17 points over second-placed Schalke, and the 2013 treble winners are also in this month’s German Cup semi-finals.
Meanwhile, Juventus had a thoroughly satisfactory Saturday night, even if they conceded their first league goal in all of 2018. They won 3-1 against AC Milan – who Juve will meet in the Coppa Italia final in May – after seeing Napoli, their closest pursuers in Serie A, drop points. The four-point lead the Italian champions now hold in a taut race puts them in a stronger position than they have been all season.
As for City, well, their 3-1 victory at Everton puts them one win away from sealing the English crown, and although they are out of the FA Cup, they have already seized the League Cup, and so talk of a treble – perhaps a treble can be whispered, all the more so if they take a positive result from their Champions League quarter-final first leg at Liverpool.
Saturday’s frantic, gripping 2-2 draw at Sevilla, who Barca will meet again in the Copa del Rey final, felt a little like a win given Barca, who host Roma on Wednesday, were 2-0 down with 88 minutes gone. It kept their unbeaten record in the Primera Liga intact, and they would have to drop more than a point per match compared with second-place Atletico not to win the Spanish league. This they hope might be the first trophy of a record third Europe-Liga-Copa treble in the space of a decade.
Cuadrado at the ready
Among the many pleasing aspects of Juve’s win over Milan was the return to action of Juan Cuadrado, the winger.
Cuadrado had been out with a groin problem since December, and the impact of his introduction as a substitute on Saturday surprised even manager Massimiliano Allegri. “He’s not always that effective coming off the bench,” Allegri noted.
Cuadrado put Juve 2-1 up with 11 minutes to go, with a rare header 11 minutes from full time.
Cuadrado will relish any minutes he can get against Real Madrid on Tuesday. Few had an unhappier European Cup final than him the last time these clubs met, in Cardiff last June.
The Colombian came on just after Casemiro had put Madrid 3-1 up. He was booked six minutes later and sent off 12 minutes after that. He felt wronged by the second yellow card, and particularly the theatrical reaction to Cuadrado’s stepping on his toe of Madrid captain Sergio Ramos in the incident that brought the second booking.
Cuadrado versus Ramos is a potential clash to keep an eye on.
Samper interview: Barca's unlucky midfielder ready to suffer to fulfill his dream
Nervous over Nainggolan
“He is the Ninja, so he might surprise us,” Roma manager Eusebio di Francesco said hopefully after his club’s 1-1 draw at Bologna.
He was referring by nickname to his warrior midfielder, Radja Nainggolan, who limped off early in the game, with the sort of muscular problem that puts into severe doubt his participation in Wednesday’s showdown at Camp Nou.
Advantage Barcelona then, as their most combative figure in midfield, Sergio Busquets, appears to be making a good recovery from the fitness problems he has suffered since the win over Chelsea in the last-16 tie.
Anfield Aura, and Omens
Champions League ties pitching domestic rivals against one another are the ties most clubs want to avoid. So pity Liverpool, who are 18 points behind Manchester City, Wednesday’s opponents, in the Premier League table?
Not necessarily. No English club has a better record of beating City in the Premier League this season – they did it once, the only City league defeat – and no English club has more experience tackling English rivals in Europe.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have all been knocked out of European competitions by the five-time European champions this century.
Sevilla be warned. The Bayern who take the field in Andalusia on Tuesday have hit four goals or more four times in their last seven fixtures.
The six they put past Dortmund on Saturday was their second 6-0 home win on the trot.
Updated: April 1, 2018 03:55 PM