2018 Champions League Picks: Quarterfinals

  • The first leg of the 2017-18 Champions League quarterfinal takes place on April 3rd and 4th
  • Last year’s finalists, Real Madrid and Juventus, will meet once again
  • The two remaining English Clubs, Liverpool and Manchester City, will duke it out for a spot in the final four.

The domestic leagues are wrapping up while the Champions League approaches its apex. The smoke has cleared and we’re down to just eight clubs competing for Europe’s most coveted prize. Juventus and Real Madrid clash again in a rematch of last year’s final. Liverpool and Man City meet for a showdown between two English heavyweights. And Bayern Munich and Barcelona breathe a sigh of relief as they both draw relatively easy opponents.

Where does the betting value lie?

Juventus (+150) vs Real Madrid (+180)

Tuesday, April 3rd, at Juventus Stadium

“I hope to avoid both Barcelona and Real Madrid,” Massimiliano Allegri told reporters in the days leading up to the draw. But his hopes and prayers went unanswered. The Old Lady and Los Blancos meet yet again at the Champions League, this time at the quarterfinals. It’s a replay of last year’s final, though Juve will be hoping it’s not an exact replay. The 4-1 drubbing in Cardiff last season isn’t a night they’ll want to relive.

Real Madrid are now a club with a single mission: win the Champions League. Their hopes of topping La Liga were dashed months ago and their Copa del Rey campaign ended in January, so all that’s left is the most prestigious trophy in club football. It’s a trophy they’ve lifted in three of the last four seasons, and a total of 12 times since the tournament’s inception. If any club can remain composed under the pressure, it’s Real Madrid.

Juventus are no strangers to the heat of the Champions League, either. While the last time they lifted the trophy was back in 1996, the Italian champions have since reached the finals five times. In recent editions of the Champions League, Juve have consistently advanced deep into the knockout stages.

The Bianconeri will be without Medhi Benatia and Miralem Pjanic for the first leg due to suspension, and Federico Bernardeschi and Juan Cuadrado remain sidelined due to injury. Possibly further depleting their lineup, Giorgio Chiellini picked up an injury against SPAL last weekend and Alex Sandro was forced to miss an international fixture due to a thigh issue. Their absence would be a huge blow to Juve’s chances.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, are fighting fit. Even Gareth Bale is free from injury. Cristiano Ronaldo has broken through to a higher plane and has become a textbook example of a clutch player, netting 12 goals so far in the Champions League and saving the club countless times.

The term “winning mentality” has become something of a trope, but it’s definitely something we need to consider when it comes to the Champions League. Clubs with amazing rosters but little Champions League history — think Spurs and Paris Saint-Germain — tend to buckle under the pressure when the going gets tough. Star power and a great domestic season aren’t always good predictors of Champions League success.

Both clubs possess this amorphous thing we call “winning mentality,” but none more than Real Madrid. Los Blancos seem able to salvage a match even when they’re playing poorly. When the stakes are high, they thrive under pressure and rise to the occasion. OK, I’ll stop with the cliches and leave it at that.

Juve are infamously tough to beat at home, but they’ll be without a few key players. Real Madrid are well-placed to snatch an away win in the first leg.

Pick: Real Madrid (+180)

Sevilla (+375) vs Bayern Munich (-154)

Tuesday, April 3rd, at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan

At sixth in La Liga with only two wins during the UCL Group Stage,  it’s mind boggling that Sevilla have gotten this far in the Champions League. Their Round of 16 advancement past Manchester United (2-1 on aggregate) was impressive, but more a failing on Man U and Jose Mourinho’s part than a spectacular showing from the Sevillistas.

Sevilla have two huge games ahead of them. Their next match is the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, and just a couple of days later, they host Bayern Munich for the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal.

To beat the German champions, Sevilla will need to come up with something truly special. Bayern steamrolled through Besiktas (8-1 on aggregate) in the Round of 16, and currently lead the Bundesliga by 17 points.

Sevilla have some criminally underrated players like Wissam Ben Yedder, whose double eliminated Man U, and Steven Nzonzi, the quiet engine in midfield. But their starting lineup doesn’t even compare to Bayern’s bench.

I’m going with the safe pick here: Bayern to win both legs.

Pick: Bayern Munich (-154)

Barcelona celebrate their miraculous 6-1 win over PSG
Barcelona celebrate their miraculous 6-1 win over PSG. (Photo credit: Hugo Perez Marso (Flickr) CC License)

Liverpool (+190) vs Manchester City (+138)

Wednesday, April 4th, at Anfield

This is the fixture that has everyone talking. Liverpool and Manchester City, the two remaining hopes of English football, meet in the quarterfinal of the Champions League. Manchester City have only lost one league match this season, and that defeat occurred where else but Anfield. Liverpool ended Man City’s hope of equaling Arsenal’s “Invincibles” season, and now they have the chance to end their dream of lifting a Champions League trophy.

Given how dominant Man City have been in the Premier League, it’s not surprising that they open as the favorite despite being the away side. Pep Guardiola’s team are 16 points clear of the league and have at times seemed unbeatable. Last-minute winners and come-from-behind victories have almost become the expectation for the Citizens.

At their best, Liverpool can rival any club in Europe. Their biggest issue has been consistency, though that has improved since the Reds made some much-needed improvements to their backline over the January window.

So far, Liverpool have had two good showings against Manchester City. Sure, they lost their first match 5-0, but before Sadio Mane received a red card for almost killing Ederson, they were arguably the better side. Their second match was a nail-biting 4-3 goal-fest and a tremendous win for Liverpool.

As the old saying goes, styles make fights. Jurgen Klopp’s high-intensity style of play, with high pressing and counter-pressing, is exactly what’s needed to destabilize a Guardiola side. Setting and sustaining a high tempo is essential when playing a side that thrives when allowed to set the pace.

The Liverpool attack is a threat to any club in the world. Mohamed Salah is a legitimate contender for the Ballon d’Or, Sadio Mane is having a great season despite some dips in form, and Roberto Firmino has adapted nicely into his changing role within the squad. Man City boasts the best defense in England, so this will be a sight to see.

There’s nothing I can say about Man City that hasn’t been repeated a million times. Kevin De Bruyne is one the smartest, most gifted, most consistent players in the world. Sergio Agüero is one of the most clinical, most reliable goalscorers we’ve seen. David Silva is simply a genius. Pep Guardiola is the greatest manager in the world. OK, now it’s been repeated a million-and-one times.

I’m not quite ready to pick Liverpool winning over two legs, but I really like their chances at Anfield. Take advantage of their underdog status. Liverpool at +190 is where the value is.

Pick: Liverpool (+190)

Barcelona (-450) vs Roma (+1200), Draw (+475)

Wednesday, April 4th at Camp Nou

I don’t know if there’s much to say here. Roma are a distant third in Serie A while Barca are all but guaranteed the La Liga title. Barca are the favorites to win the Champions League (5/2 odds) while Roma are the least likely to win (66/1 odds). Barcelona marched through the defending English champs during the Round of 16, while Roma eked past Shakhtar Donetsk on away goals.

The 1-0 loss to Catalan rivals Espanyol at the Copa del Rey is the only blemish on Barcelona’s record this season. They’ve broken clear of the Spanish league, are on track to win the Copa del Rey, and a Champions League trophy would make it another treble. It’s no wonder Barca are the bettors’ favorite to win this competition outright.

Roma can’t be written off completely, though. They qualified above both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid in the Group stage to qualify in pole position, setting them up for a very winnable Round of 16 fixture. However, the club underwent a reshuffling at the start of the season and are far from their best — at least on paper. They offloaded their coach, sporting director, and almost half their squad during the offseason, and the shake-up hasn’t really paid off.

The chances of Roma advancing past Barca are slim, and their chances of winning at Camp Nou are even slimmer. If you’re looking to pick Roma to win against Barcelona, at least wait until they meet in Rome. Beating Barcelona in their own backyard is far too ambitious of a pick, even at an enticing +1200.

Pick: Barcelona (-450)