Football: The European endgame
- As Europe’s leagues head for the last few games of the season, the English and German leagues are headed for a thrilling photo-finish
- The Champions League Quarter Finals are will be played in April, and the eight teams are a perfect blend of serial winners and dark horses
Europe’s leagues return this weekend after the final international break of the year. This is the home stretch, when the race for the league championships will go to the wire, as will the race to avoid relegation and to reach the European places. More intriguingly, this year’s Champions League is impossible to call, as the remaining eight clubs head into the quarter-finals in April.
Of the main leagues, the most interestingly poised is the Premier League. Liverpool are top of the league going into this weekend’s games, but defending champions Manchester City, who are two points behind, have a game in hand and are in imperious form, powered by the attacking force of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero. They are on an 11-game winning run in all competitions, having scored 33 goals in the process. Liverpool have had a stumble in the middle, drawing too many winnable games through February and March to blow a seven-point lead over City. However, with centre-half Virgil van Dijk in commanding touch, striker Sadio Mané in red-hot form, and the meanest defence in the league, Liverpool just need to win their remaining seven fixtures and hope that City don’t win their remaining eight. It’s fairly simple and makes for a nail-biting end to what has been a fascinating season.
Of course, both City and Liverpool are also in the Champions League quarter-finals. While Liverpool have a relatively straightforward draw against Porto, City will be playing a strong Tottenham Hotspur. In fact, due to the league and European fixture logjam, these two teams will be playing each other thrice in the space of 10 days in April. We can safely expect many dramatic twists.
When it comes to European tournaments, this has been a great year for English clubs in general. For the first time since 2009, four of the eight quarter-final places in the Champions League have gone to English clubs. In the Europa League, the other two clubs that make up the “Top Six" of English football, Chelsea and Arsenal, are in the quarter-finals.
The other league with much to play for domestically is the Bundesliga, where Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are heading for a photo finish. Dortmund’s young and exciting team, after a blistering start, is wobbling a bit, while Munich’s gnarled veterans, led by in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, have made up ground late into the season. In a bad year in general for German football—no representatives in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in a decade—the title race could yet prove to be a high point.
Elsewhere in Europe, Paris Saint-Germain are walking away with the French league, while Barcelona and Juventus are steamrolling all opposition towards inevitable triumphs in the Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A, respectively. For these two continental giants, the only trophy to really play for is the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo, who is looking to lift the Champions League a record fourth time in a row, is peaking again at just the right time. Keeping pace is Lionel Messi, who has been in stunning form of late. But both teams face tricky ties in the quarter-finals. Juventus will come up against Ajax, a young team that has lit up the tournament this year with some breathtaking football. Barcelona’s tie is even more difficult to call. They face an in-form and ebullient Manchester United, who are riding the crest of an amazing uptick in fortune under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Champions League quarter-finals draw
Tottenham vs Manchester City (10 April, 12.30 am)
Liverpool vs Porto (10 April, 12.30 am)
Ajax vs Juventus (11 April, 12.30 am)
Manchester United vs Barcelona (11 April, 12.30 am)
Juventus vs Ajax (17 April, 12.30 am)
Barcelona vs Manchester United (17 April, 12.30 am)
Manchester City vs Tottenham (18 April, 12.30 am)
Porto vs Liverpool (18 April, 12.30 am)
All timings IST. You can watch the matches online on SonyLIV.