Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund
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Edin Terzic just cannot find the right balance at Dortmund. They have conceded ten goals in their last five matches in all competitions, and the majority of these can be pinned on defensive errors, sloppy marking, or simply porousness throughout the team. Man City’s pressing, and their high number of bodies in the box, should be enough to force mistakes and catch Dortmund typically flat-footed in the penalty area.
That seems particularly likely given Dortmund are not used to playing without the ball; the last time they failed to hold the majority of possession Bayern Munich hit them for four. Terzic is likely to change to a back five, as he did for the Bayern game, which means more confusion in their own third and easy concession of goals. What’s more, injuries have severely weakened Dortmund in the full-back areas, and with their wingers rarely tracking back that makes the visitors very vulnerable to the directness of Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez.
Dortmund should still get on the score sheet, however. Pep Guardiola’s high defensive line will give ample opportunity for Erling Haaland to make his brilliant runs in behind, and with quick counters led by Marco Reus and Thorgan Hazard, the game could be end-to-end.
Real Madrid v Liverpool
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Real Madrid had been stumbling along in La Liga in 2021 until Zinedine Zidane introduced a 3-4-2-1 formation in recent weeks, which seems to have stabilised the defence and gives their only in-form forward – Karim Benzema – closer support from dual number tens. There is always the chance that a rejuvenated Liverpool will press and pass more sharply than their incoherent hosts, but that formation switch could cause Jurgen Klopp real problems.
It looks like the right balance to ensure Liverpool’s front three are man-marked by the three centre-backs, while the Real wing-backs have licence to push up and close the gaps that Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson attack into. What’s more, Zidane’s tendency to sit his team in a deeper, conservative shape for Champions League matches could reduce Liverpool to sluggish possession.
At the other end, Real’s best attacking player in recent weeks has been Ferland Mendy. He will put Alexander-Arnold, relieved of defensive duties against a terrible Arsenal, under pressure, and given the right-back’s recent problems that could be a worrying match-up for the visitors.
FC Porto v Chelsea
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Juventus were drawn into Porto’s aggressive, niggling style of football in the last round, and there is a chance the same thing will happen to a Chelsea team that showed they remain psychologically vulnerable in the 5-2 defeat to West Brom at the weekend. More importantly, Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 can look flat when up against a deep-lying and compressed defence like the one Porto will play.
Sergio Conceicao plays in a compact 4-4-2 formation, rarely pressing the ball and instead expecting his players to dig their heels in then hit the opponent on the counter-attack. A narrow 4-4-2 is arguably the perfect shape to face Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1: the central midfielders and wingers can surround Chelsea’s box-shape midfield, while a front two can combine in the spaces between Tuchel’s centre-backs.
The difference in quality should see Chelsea through, but considering just how low-scoring Chelsea games have been under Tuchel – a consequence of risk-averse, possession-heavy football – Porto may grind out a scoreless draw in Portugal.
Bayern Munich v Paris Saint-Germain
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PSG’s season was thrown back into chaos at the weekend with a 1-0 defeat to Lille that leaves them three points off the top with seven games to play. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have now lost two of their last three domestically; the trip to Bayern Munich may offer a welcome break, tactically as well as psychologically.
Whereas in recent league defeats PSG have held around 70% possession, in Munich Pochettino will channel the Thomas Tuchel approach with some risk-averse, cautious football. Consequently the game will feel a lot like last year’s Champions League final, suggesting relatively few goals, although on balance Bayern’s confidence means they should edge this one.
Thomas Muller and Leroy Sane have just hit a rich vein of form together – and ought to be able to burst through a PSG side not used to sitting back, even without Robert Lewandowsku. Despite the threat of Kylian Mbappe on the counter, Bayern have a ruthlessness in possession that should pierce through a timid central midfield that asks far too much of Idrissa Gueye in big matches.