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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

The Final Whistle: Eight dreams, one reality

Graphic by Aliza Kibel

As domestic leagues move into their title-deciding weeks, Europe’s Elite Cup competition boils down to eight. Matchups filled with storylines from coaches taking on their previous teams and repeat fixtures from last year’s edition guarantee another historic round of Champions League football. 

The standout pick of the quarterfinals is Bayern Munich vs. Manchester City. Despite formidable squad depth and talent, both sides have yet to flourish in the competition. While Bayern won twice in the last 10 editions, City has so far failed to claim its first win. On paper, these two teams are the strongest of the remaining eight, and their matchup will test each team’s resolve and tactical adaptability under pressure. City coach Pep Guardiola spent three seasons with Bayern Munich and was heavily criticized for failing to win the Champions League before moving to Manchester. As Guardiola chases his first title since 2011, newly appointed Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel will hope to topple Guardiola’s side as he did with Chelsea in the final two years ago. 

For the third season running, defending champions Real Madrid will play Chelsea. For Chelsea and Graham Potter, this tie could be the perfect catalyst in reviving an otherwise forgettable season for the Blues. Chelsea is 10th in the Premier League, and their only hope of qualifying for Europe next season is by winning the competition. Despite Madrid’s success in the competition, Chelsea has only lost once to the Spanish giants in seven meetings. The exciting additions of João Félix and Mykhailo Mudryk have strengthened Potter’s attacking options while an overall young squad is slowly gelling together just in time for this quarterfinal showdown. Carlo Ancelotti’s men are mostly unchanged from the sides’ previous meeting and will rely on the veteran experience of Karim Benzema and Luka Modrić to guide emerging stars like Vinicius Jr., Fede Valverde and Rodrygo Goes. Los Blancos will have to cope with Chelsea’s attacking fullbacks and dynamic midfield in ways they weren’t tested against Liverpool in the round of 16. 

The next quarterfinal is an all-Italian affair between A.C. Milan and runaway Serie A leaders Napoli. This will be Milan’s first quarterfinal appearance in 11 years while Napoli makes its quarter-final debut after a string of group stage exits in recent years. Earlier this season, Napoli edged Milan out in a narrow 2–1 victory and have since dominated Serie A. Milan’s Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leão have a combined 16 goals this season and will carry Milan’s hopes in the final third. On the other end, Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia have scored 33 goals in the league and are by far Europe’s most prolific duo. With the league wrapped up, Luciano Spalletti can afford to rest some of his key starters in preparation for Milan and — who knows — maybe a deeper run to the final in Istanbul. 

The least talked about tie of the round is Inter Milan vs. Benfica, perhaps because many feel it is the easiest to predict. Inter is currently third in Serie A and has recently endured back-to-back defeats to Juventus and Spezia. Their strength however lies in experience with an attack anchored by Lautaro Martínez, Edin Džeko and Romelu Lukaku. World Cup winner Martínez has bagged 14 Serie A goals alongside Džeko’s seven, while Lukaku seems to have picked up form during the international break with a hat trick against Sweden. A seasoned squad and midfield including the likes of Milan Škriniar, Denzel Dumfries and Hakan Çalhanoğlu will be primed for a feisty Benfica side who are clear underdogs with nothing to lose. The Portuguese side will rely on young Gonçalo Ramos, who grabbed headlines for replacing Cristiano Ronaldo during the World Cup, and João Mário, who has topped Benfica’s scoring charts this season.