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UEFA Champions League quarter final preview (part 1)

This week marks the return of the UEFA Champions League, with the quarter final first leg matches taking place during tomorrow and Wednesday evening.

Beginning with the matches being played tomorrow, here is the first part of a preview of the week’s action, along with predictions on which teams will be make it into the last four.

Sevilla v Bayern Munich

Sevilla’s win over Man United was arguably the biggest shock of the second round. The reward for reaching the last eight was always likely to involve a tough opponent, and in lining up against Bayern Munich, Sevilla will once more start as huge underdogs.

Despite enjoying an astonishing level of success in the Europa League, Sevilla have progressed beyond the group stage of the Champions League on just two previous occasions, both of which involved a second round defeat.

Bayern Munich’s Champions League record reads much more impressively, and last year’s quarter final defeat to Real Madrid denied the Germans a sixth successive appearance in the semi finals.

Given the club’s dominance of domestic competitions, the success of Bayern’s season is typically measured by the performance in the Champions League.

It’s been five years since Bayern Munich last competed in a European final, and the manager who guided Bayern to Champions League victory in 2013, Jupp Heynckes, came out of retirement earlier this season to fill a role as caretaker manager.

Having also won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 1998, Heynckes could become only the third manager to win the European Cup on three occasions

Prediction: Bayern Munich. Sevilla will need a big victory in the first leg in order to give themselves a chance of qualifying. But after hammering a Besiktas side which had looked impressive during the group stage of the competition, Bayern will be confident of securing another comfortable aggregate victory and reaching the last four.

Juventus v Real Madrid

Possibly the most difficult to predict of the four quarter final ties is that featuring Real Madrid and Juventus, and a pairing of last year’s finalists. Real Madrid were comfortably the better team on that night, although it will be a huge surprise if such a margin of victory is repeated.

Since the teams met in Cardiff last June, there have been relatively few changes to the personnel of either side. During the first leg of Real Madrid’s second round match against Paris Saint-Germain, the back-to-back Champions League winners lined up with ten of the eleven players who started last year’s final. Only the suspended full back Dani Carvajal was missing, though was back in the side for the second leg.

Juventus saw Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves depart the club in the summer, with the most high profile signings being those of Blaise Matuidi from PSG and Douglas Costa, who is initially on loan from Bayern Munich. Both players have featured regularly for Juve this season.

But it’s Juve’s longest serving outfield player, Georgio Chiellini, and the club’s record signing Gonzalo Higuain who are likely to be their key players. Both were instrumental in Juventus overturning an early deficit in the second leg of a narrow aggregate victory over Tottenham, and having disappointed in Cardiff, there will be points to prove for two of the club’s star players.

Real Madrid have the greater experience, and have seen a huge improvement in their performances since the winter break, having looked anything but European Champions for much of the first half of this season. But they haven’t beaten Juventus over any of the four previous two-leg knockout ties during the Champions League era, and will therefore have a big job on their hands in order to continue a remarkable winning run in the competition that stretches back to 2015.

Prediction: Juventus. The tie promises to be close, but Juventus have enough quality to repeat their 2014/15 semi final win over Real Madrid and qualify for the semi final of a European competition for the fourth time in five seasons.