Minnows and underdogs are having a field day in this season’s European club competitions. You would have thought German side Union Berlin, currently third in the Bundesliga, would take care of business against Belgian upstarts Union St Gilliose. It was the minnows that run away with the tie 6-3 on aggregate. Spanish side Villarreal, Europa League winners in 2021, were felled by Anderlecht, who are eighth in the Belgian top flight.
Alkmaar, fourth in the Dutch Eredivisie, eliminated Lazio who are second in Italy’s Serie A. 2014 losing finalists Atletico Madrid, currently third in Liga Santander, couldn’t get out of a group including Belgium’s Club Brugges and Bayer Leverkusen, eighth in the Bundesliga.
And the story goes on.
Teams from Europe’s top five leagues – England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France are being torn to shreds by rank outsiders. French Ligue One, home to the world’s two most expensive footballers, has no representative in either of Europe’s three premier club competitions – the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League. All the same, can’t resist calling the winners of the four quarter final ties of the Uefa Champions League.
MANCHESTER CITY v Bayern Munich. Six time winners Bayern Munich were compelling in dismissing French giants Paris Saint Germain. However, their form since the World Cup is anything but impeccable. They’ve lost their Bundesliga leadership to Borussia Dortmund on account of porous defending. Dayot Upamecano and Mathis de Ligt won’t be able to cope with Erling Braut Haaland and Julian Alvarez.
BENFICA v Inter Milan. Nerrazzuri boss Simone Inzaghi must have received news of the draw with glee. But 1961 and 1962 European Cup winners Benfica have been the competition’s most improved side. The Lisbon based outfit topped a group including Italian record champions Juventus and French giants Paris Saint Germain. That should tell you everything.
AC Milan v NAPOLI. As Tottenham Hotspur found out, AC Milan are very dangerous opponents in Europe. Nevertheless, Luciano Spalletti’s Partenopei have been the continent’s most irresistible attacking force, averaging almost three goals per game. This is Napoli’s year. Victor Osimhen, Kvicha Kvaratchkelia, Giovanni Simeone and Giacomo Raspadori will guide Napoli into the last four.
REAL MADRID v Chelsea. Struggling Londoners Chelsea are, quite surprisingly, Real Madrid’s bogey side. The reigning European champions have won only one of their last seven matches against Chelsea. The tie rests on the form of five players – Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior, Luka Modric, Ngolo Kante and Thiago Silva. Chelsea’s shyness in front of goal is their undoing.