On Wednesday, two of the three favorites to win the Champions League will be in action. Barcelona and Juventus are running away with their domestic leagues. Barca are set to win La Liga once again, while Juventus are 18 points up in Serie A and are just a few games away from winning their eighth straight Italian title.
Manchester United and Ajax are out to upset the apple cart and keep their dream campaigns alive. Both teams were heavy underdogs to make it to the Champions League Quarterfinals after losing the first leg of their Round of 16 tie (Manchester United to Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax to Real Madrid), but each side pulled off a stunning upset. They are looking to double down.
Barcelona are the most recent Champions League winner not named Real Madrid. The Blaugrana still have the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, and he has been something else. Messi will turn 32 over the summer, but he is far and away the best player in Spain. His 32 goals are 13 more than the next most prolific scorer in La Liga (teammate Luis Suarez), and his 12 assists lead the league too. He has plenty of help too. Philippe Coutinho and Arthur have been there to provide options, along with Suarez. Paul Pogba is once again looking like one of the most dangerous midfielders in the world. He has been freed to move around and create under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and that has made Manchester United far more dangerous on the attack.
He needs to be the man to orchestrate the Red Devils’ attack because they are beleaguered by injuries. Alexis Sanchez, Ander Herrera, and Antonio Valencia are all going to miss this game, while Eric Bertrand Bailly and Marcus Rashford are both considered questionable. Ousmane Dembele is the major injury concern for Barcelona. Dembele has been out for a few weeks due to injury, yet he is back in training. He has given Barca fans some highlight moments, and they would love to see him on the pitch.
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Juventus smashed open the piggy bank this offseason. The Old Lady shelled out nearly a quarter of a billion Euros on players, headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has brought his goal scoring talents to Turin, but the Champions League’s all-time leading scorer might not be able to play on Wednesday. He has missed the last three games after injuring his thigh over the international break and not having him would be huge for Juventus. Reports are indicating he will play, yet there is nothing definite yet. If he doesn’t play, it will be up to other offensive options to get the job done. Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic, Blaise Matuidi, and Moise Kean are all great players, but none are Ronaldo.
Meanwhile, Ajax have a stable of young, supremely talented players. This team will be raided in the summer (and some have already signed contracts with other teams), but for now they are a dangerous bunch. Frenkie De Jong, David Neres, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Donny van de Beek will ensure this team creates offense.
Of all the underdogs next week, I like Ajax the most. I think Ajax have the talent to stun Juventus and pick up a win. They remind me of Kylian Mbappe’s Monaco team from a few seasons ago, and they believe in themselves after results against Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. This is my favorite play of the first leg of the quarterfinals.
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