8 big questions for the Champions League quarterfinals
Can Leroy Sané continue to influence?
Amid that aforementioned match of turmoil, Sané enjoyed a standout performance. Everyone knows Kevin De Bruyne is one of the biggest game-changers in football, but what Sané brings to the table – and what he’s been able to do in the past few months – has been incredible.
The 22-year-old German found space against Liverpool where others couldn’t. He scored a brilliant goal at Anfield, and sequences like the one below against Arsenal, where he worked his magic in a tight space before creating a chance, can break Liverpool once more.
Will Real Madrid recognize Chiellini as an underrated threat?
Allegri has evolved as a tactician, incorporating more and more variations of his Juventus side along the way. One of his weapons is using Giorgio Chiellini as a ball-carrier when things aren’t clicking offensively.
This may not seem like a huge threat if you’re Real Madrid, but when Juve can’t penetrate, summoning Chiellini to break lines has worked. Zidane can’t let the Italian defender get comfortable on the ball – generally, Real Madrid have enjoyed success unnerving defenders with their intelligent off-the-ball players like Bale, Karim Benzema, Isco, Asensio and Vazquez. If Zidane recognizes what Allegri does in these situations, he can take Chiellini out of the equation.
Mauricio Pochettino did this really well in the last 16. In the first of of the second leg, Harry Kane was used to cut off the path to Chiellini. This gave Juventus problems coming out from the back. In the second half, Tottenham switched off their press and Chiellini licked his lips was involved for Paulo Dybala’s tie-winner.
Who will be Roma’s Willian?
Roma will have chances to attack, and must take advantage. Olivier Giroud was poor at the Camp Nou, but could have been key in controlling long balls out of the back while waiting for his team-mates to join the attack. That same kind of hold-up play will be required of the capable Edin Dzeko.
That’s just one piece of the puzzle. Di Francesco likes to press high – a potentially suicidal tactic against Barcelona, who like to suck you in before striking back with venom. Valverde’s men are also tough to break: there’s not much space to work with for opposing teams. Willian was excellent at finding space when it didn’t exist for Chelsea. Can Diego Perotti, Cengiz Under or Kevin Strootman do the same to hit Barça where it hurts?
Will a good version of Sevilla even be enough against Bayern?
Sevilla were good against Jose Mourinho’s men. The reality is, however, that the Portuguese let his side take a preventable beating. United were open in defence, left players unmarked in dangerous areas, and weren’t efficient offensively. Bayern Munich are a different beast, and Jupp Heynckes rarely allows for such complacency to creep in.
Arturo Vidal, a key figure in Heynckes’ scheme, will make life much more difficult for Steven N’Zonzi and Ever Banega – the Chilean will help cover on the flanks and join the attack regularly. Bayern will be much more compact than Manchester United, and if Sevilla have too many moments where they provide lots of space without showing awareness to close the ball-carrier, they will be punished.