Champions League: the draw offers a shock Real Madrid

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Half of the table with the shocks Manchester City – Bayern Munich and Real Madrid – Chelsea, and another in Italian colors (Benfica – Inter Milan and AC Milan – Naples). The draw for the Champions League quarter-finals delivered its verdict on Friday.

Like Hollywood, the Champions League likes to recycle its greatest successes. As in 2022, Real Madrid will face Chelsea in the quarter-finals, while Manchester City will face Bayern Munich in the same part of the table, again as last year. The draw on Friday March 17 also placed the three Italian clubs in the same second half of the table: Benfica – Inter Milan and AC Milan – Naples, with the prospect of a possible Milan derby in the semi-finals.

The final sprint of the C1 is launched, with a finish line located at the Atatürk stadium in Istanbul, on June 10 for the grand final. Turkey could see the 15e coronation of Real Madrid, the first success of Manchester City or the rebirth of Italian clubs, deprived of trophies since 2010 but present in number this season in the top 8.

Before this last step, there are two more to climb in quarters and halves, and the innocent hands of Hamit Altintop and Patrick Kluivert cleared up the spring program during the draw in Nyon.

The two former glories of European football offered fans two very enticing posters from the quarter-finals, scheduled for April 11-12 and 18-19: Real-Chelsea and City-Bayern look like a reunion in many respects.

A Chelsea that has changed a lot

For the Madrid holders, defending champions, it is simply a remake of the quarter of the year 2022, a memorable opposition for the team of Karim Benzema, which was virtually eliminated until the 79e minute of the second leg at the Bernabeu stadium. It took a goal from Rodrygo to snatch extra time, then an achievement from the inevitable Benzema to clinch qualification in the 96e minute.

But a year later, the London team has changed a lot, boosted by the lavish spending driven by new owner Todd Boehly (Mudryk, Enzo Fernandez…).

For the French Ballon d’Or, it will even be a third duel against the Blues in three seasons. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea had indeed eliminated Real on the road to their title in 2021. The winner of this prestigious poster will face another European cador in the semi-finals, on May 9-10 and 16-17: Manchester City or Bayern Munich, opposite in the same part of the table.

“Another small final” for Bayern

And here again, history could repeat itself. Real had indeed crossed paths with Citizens during their 2022 epic, already in the semi-finals. But the Mancunians and their UFO Erling Haaland are still far from the European top 4 because they will first have to overcome the obstacle Bayern Munich, impressive in their solidity against Paris SG in the round of 16.

“It’s still a small final. After Paris, it’s again a team that has a lot of qualities, for me the strongest team,” reacted Hasan Salihamidzic, sports director of the Bavarian club.

For Pep Guardiola, the City coach, it is also memories that come back, he who led the Bavarian workforce from 2013 to 2016, without ever lifting the cup with big ears.

The Catalan still hasn’t done it either with City, but the arrival of Haaland, author of a historic quintuplet on Tuesday against Leipzig (7-0), should allow him to take a step forward in the quest for the first coronation in Manchester City C1.

This royal part of the table is necessarily counterbalanced by two other less flashy quarterbacks on paper, Benfica-Inter Milan and AC Milan-Naples.

Three Italian clubs – a first since 2006 – and a Portuguese team for a place in the final, it has been a rarity in recent seasons: for Italy, we have to go back to 2017 and Juventus Turin to find a finalist. As for the Portuguese teams, they have been dreaming of a final since FC Porto won the title in 2004.

Before thinking of a final, the Italians are already aiming for a half. And Napoli, sparkling leader of Serie A qualified for the first quarter of its history, will have to master the national champion in title Milan and its French striker Olivier Giroud. Wink of the calendar, the two teams will already meet ten days earlier in the Championship.

The Rossoneri will be all the more excited that a Milan derby could await them in the semi-finals, if Romelu Lukaku’s Inter overcome the Lisboetes of Benfica, very dashing this season (group won ahead of PSG, only one defeat in 24 league matches).

With AFP


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