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UEFA Champions League quarter final preview (part 2)

Part two of a look ahead to this week’s Champions League quarter-final matches.

Barcelona v Roma

Roma will compete in a Champions League quarter-final for the first time in ten years when they take on Barcelona in the Camp Nou tomorrow evening – though the Italians haven’t progressed beyond this stage of Europe’s premier competition since 1983/84.

An away goals victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in the second round saw Roma earn their place in the last eight, after topping a group which also contained Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.

Roma have been particularly strong at home, and are yet to concede a goal at the Stadio Olimpico, with four clean sheets in four European home games from Alisson, their in-demand Brazilian goalkeeper.

However, the domestic situation is a very different, with Roma having lost seven matches in domestic competitions – six of which have occurred at the Stadio Olimpico. A win last month away to Napoli – who were league-leaders at the time – offered  evidence of what Roma are capable of, but there has been a lack of consistency in Roma’s results throughout the season.

That is in stark contrast to Barcelona’s season to date, which has been a model of consistency.

When Barcelona were soundly beaten by Real Madrid in both legs of the Spanish Super Cup, there wouldn’t have been anyone predicting what has followed in the months since August.

Having not lost a league match for almost a year, the Catalan giants are closing in on Real Sociedad’s records for the longest unbeaten run (38 matches), and the longest unbeaten start to a season (32 matches). Both records will be equalled if Ernesto Valverde’s team can avoid defeat in their next two league games, both at home, where Barcelona have dropped just four points in 26 La Liga matches.

Avoiding defeat away to Celta Vigo – where Barcelona have been convincingly beaten on each of their last two league visits – will also be needed in order to break records which have stood for 29 years. And the following week later, Barcelona will go into the Spanish Cup final aiming to add to their record 29 wins in the competition.

It all adds up to a daunting task for Roma, but the tie is no foregone conclusion.

Local rivals Espanyol proved in the Copa del Rey that Barcelona are not invincible by winning the first leg of their quarter-final tie, which Barcelona had to work hard to overturn.

In the Champions League, Chelsea were unfortunate not to have led after a first leg in which they were by far the more dangerous team. A 4-1 aggregate win was somewhat harsh on Chelsea, and largely achieved thanks to the genius of Lionel Messi, who made important contributions in both matches.

More recently, Barcelona were on the verge of defeat in a league fixture against Sevilla, until two goals in the final two minutes of the game rescued a draw. The match highlighted some of Barcelona’s vulnerabilities, but also showed the character within Barcelona’s team in salvaging a result from what looked to be an impossible situation.

Prediction: Barcelona. The last time the teams faced each other at the Nou Camp was two years ago, and involved a 6-1 win for Barcelona. It may not be as emphatic this time around, but Valverde’s side are difficult to beat and should have enough to get a positive result in both legs of the tie.

Liverpool v Man City

If league position was an indicator of the likely outcome of a tie featuring two sides from the same country, it wouldn’t even be worth Liverpool turning up for their quarter-final versus Man City.

The runaway Premier League leaders are on the verge of securing the league title with six games to spare, and are 18 points ahead of their Champions League opponents.

Throw in the fact that Man City have already beaten Liverpool 5-0 this season, and the case for seeing Pep Guardiola’s team progress only strengthens further.

But Liverpool have a long history of defying the odds, with a number of recent examples to call on in European matches.

English rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United can all speak of having been knocked out of Europe by Liverpool, despite starting as many people’s favourites. Juventus, Milan, Inter, Barcelona and Real Madrid also have recent memories of European defeats suffered at the hands of Liverpool, as do Jurgen Klopp’s former side Borussia Dortmund, in the most dramatic of circumstances just two years ago.

Liverpool are also the only Premier League team to win against Man City this season, and in the four meetings since Guardiola arrived in England, he has won just one against a manager who he failed to get the better of in head-to-head meetings whilst managing in Germany.

Man City and Liverpool have each earned many admirers over the course of the season, and much is expected from the two Champions League fixtures over the coming week with a huge array of attacking talent in both teams.

Based on previous all-English European ties, gaining a first leg advantage will be crucial, and Liverpool will be aware of how difficult it will be to progress should they fail to win at Anfield.

Prediction: Man City. Although there’s little to choose between the attacking line-ups of the two teams, City possess more quality in midfield and defence and will start as favourites. With the league title assured, Man City will know that only by delivering European silverware will they be considered as a truly great team. If they can handle an increasing pressure to deliver in the Champions League, they should edge it.

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