Crunch Time for Europe's Finest

As we approach the business end of the 2021/22 football season, some of Europe’s top teams will be on the hunt for maximum honours.


Six weeks after opening up a 12-point gap at the top of the Premier League, defending champions Manchester City now find themselves fighting to keep hold of their league crown. Liverpool have clawed back to postpone Man City's title celebrations, and the Merseysiders may well spoil the party completely.


In their last ten league games Pep Guardiola's side dropped seven points following draws at Southampton and Crystal Palace, as well as a home loss to Tottenham. On the other hand, Liverpool are currently embarking on a nine-game winning streak which has seen Jürgen Klopp's men collect a stellar 28 points from their last 30 on offer.


During this impressive run the Reds have conceded two goals in 810 minutes of league action, keeping eight clean sheets and scoring 23 goals at the other end. In their most recent Premier League outing, Liverpool came out 2-0 winners away at Arsenal, thus ending the Gunners' six-match unbeaten run.


The Premier League has been won by either Man City or Liverpool in each of the last four seasons and it is now a two-horse race to determine the newly-crowned champions of England. The Citizens and the Reds are guaranteed to play each other at least twice more before the end of the season, including a potential title-deciding clash on April 10 at the Etihad Stadium.


The two teams have been paired in the FA Cup semifinals as Guardiola or Klopp go to battle at Wembley on April 17. Both PL title contenders have also advanced to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, and provided each progresses there is a growing possibility they will face one another again in the Champions League Final on May 28, taking their tally to three encounters in the space of seven weeks.


The Champions League draw was made last Friday and there are some thrilling ties to look forward to. Last year’s finalists Chelsea and Manchester City each come up against Spanish opposition in the quarters as they meet Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, respectively. Chelsea beat Real in the semis last year, 3-1 on aggregate.


Liverpool battle Benfica while Bayern Munich face Villarreal. The winners between Chelsea/Real Madrid will play against Man City/Atlético in the semifinals, while Liverpool could potentially meet Bayern in the corresponding semi.

The Champions League Final has been relocated away from Saint Petersburg following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, and will now take place at the Stade de France in Paris.


Quarter-finals

First legs: 5-6 April

Second legs: 12-13 April

Semifinals

First legs: 26-27 April

Second legs: 3-4 May

Final

28 May


Ajax, Inter Milan, Juventus, Lille, Man United, Paris St-Germain, RB Salzburg and Sporting CP all exited in the Round of 16. With the abolition of the away goal rule, four of eight Round of 16 first leg ties ended in draws.


Liverpool and Bayern were the first teams to put their names into the hat after overcoming Inter Milan and Red Bull Salzburg, respectively.

Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmimo each scored at the San Siro to give Liverpool a two-goal cushion ahead of the return leg at Anfield. Lautaro Martínez scored the only goal of the second leg but it was not enough for the Serie A holders to avoid elimination at the hands of Klopp’s dominant team.

Inter Milan 1-2 Liverpool (agg)


Salzburg held Bayern to a laudable 1-1 draw before the Bavarians went on a rampage in their home leg, thrashing their Austrian opposition by seven goals to one at the Allianz Arena. Robert Lewandowski bagged a hat-trick in the opening 24 minutes of the second leg to send Bayern on their merry way to the UCL quarters for a record 20th time.

RB Salzburg 2-8 Bayern Munich (agg)


Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick in the second half of the second leg against PSG for Real Madrid to advance to the quarter-finals. Madrid’s no.9 netted thrice in the space of 18 minutes to turn the tie on its head. Aged 34 years & 80 days Benzema became the oldest scorer of a Champions League hat-trick, displacing countryman Olivier Giroud (34 years & 65 days) and former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo (34 years & 35 days).


Previously in the first leg, Kylian Mbappé's stoppage-time strike in Paris gave Mauricio Pochettino’s men the advantage ahead of the return leg at the Santiago Bernabéu. Mbappé found the back of the net again in the second leg to give his side a two-goal lead, albeit Benzema's heroics saw the Parisians bow out of Europe.

Paris St-Germain 2-3 Real Madrid (agg)


Man City cruised to a comfortable 5-0 win in Lisbon, putting one foot in the quarters and leaving the Citizens with little work to do in the return leg. Bernardo Silva netted a brace on return to his native Portugal, and the trio of Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling were also on the scoresheet. With Guardiola and his men all but certain to go through, the second leg in Manchester ended goalless.

Sporting CP 0-5 Manchester City (agg)


La Liga holders Atlético Madrid were drawn with Manchester United in the last-16 and João Félix opened the scoring as early as the seventh minute at the Wanda Metropolitano. United responded late through 19-year-old Anthony Elanga and it was all to play for at Old Trafford.


Atlético went in front in the second leg just as they did in the first, with a headed effort in the first half. Renan Lodi's goal proved the difference as the Red Devils crashed out of the competition.

Atlético Madrid 2-1 Man United (agg)


Ajax and Benfica met in Lisbon and it was the visitors who broke the deadlock through skipper Dusan Tadić. Sébastien Haller scored a sublime ten goals in his first six Champions League appearances but the French-Ivorian striker put the ball in the wrong net for the Portuguese side to draw level. Three minutes later Haller put Ajax in front for a second time.

Ukrainian forward Roman Yaremchuk got Benfica back on level terms again and the first leg ended two goals apiece.


22-year-old Uruguyan striker Darwin Núñez scored the only goal of the game in Amsterdam, for the Eagles to soar into the UCL quarter-finals for the first time since 2015/16.

Benfica 3-2 Ajax (agg)


Chelsea beat French champions Lille, 2-0, at Stamford Bridge with goals from Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic. Embroiled with administrative problems stemming from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Blues found their way to France where Pulisic netted his second goal of the tie and club captain Cesar Azpilicueta sealed progression to the quarters for the Champions League holders.

Chelsea 4-1 Lille (agg)


Villarreal and Juventus drew 1-1 in the first leg in Spain after Dani Parejo cancelled out Dusan Vlahović's goal in the first minute of play. In Turin, Unai Emery’s side scored three times after the 75th minute to stun the Old Lady and send the Yellow Submarine into the Champions League quarters for the first time since 2008/09.

Villarreal 4-1 Juventus (agg)


Lewandowski’s second-leg hat-trick has taken the Polish striker up to 12 Champions League goals this season, more than any other player in the competition. Salah and Benzema each have eight goals in Europe this campaign.

No player has registered more assists in the Champions League than Bayern's Leroy Sané (6).


FC Barcelona were drawn with Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals after the Catalan club overcame Galatasaray in the Round of 16. RB Leipzig take on Atalanta, while Sporting Braga contend with Rangers, and West Ham tackle Lyon.

Barça recently demolished fierce rivals Real Madrid, 4-0, at the Santiago Bernabéu in the latest instalment of El Clásico. Since Xavi took over as manager last November, La Blaugrana have gradually started to look like their former selves – particularly during the playing days of their current manager.


Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid are still top of La Liga by nine points over Sevilla, and it will take something spectacular to stop Los Blancos from celebrating a record 35th league title.


Ancelotti's former team AC Milan sit atop of Serie A after their city rivals Inter dropped points in all but one of their last seven league games. AC are three points above Napoli and six points clear of neighbours Inter (who have a game in hand). The two teams from Milan also meet in the semifinals of the Coppa Italia. The first leg finished 0-0 and the return leg is scheduled for April 20.


Bayern lead Borussia Dortmund by a six-point cushion at the summit of the Bundesliga, with the Bavarians on course to capture a tenth consecutive German league title.

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