A first leg strewn with symbolism awaits when Tottenham Hotspur’s bold new era and Manchester City’s relentless quest for historic success collide.
The state-of-the-art, 62,062-capacity Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will, belatedly, play host to Champions League football for the first time on Tuesday night. Much-delayed and over budget, yet this all-English quarter-final clash featuring an array of the game’s modern greats provides a fitting forum.
Spurs’ ambitions for the future are laid bare by an avant-garde setting. City, however, live in the present.
A berth in the FA Cup’s showpiece was secured on Saturday at their imminent opponents’ temporary home of Wembley. With the League Cup already secured and the destiny of the Premier League’s title under their control, attention now centres on continental aspirations.
NEW HOME, NEW GOALS?
An electrified atmosphere is guaranteed under 324 LED floodlights when the combatants emerge.
For the cohort clad in white, this moment symbolises the realisation of a dream sold to the likes of manager Mauricio Pochettino and superstar striker Harry Kane.
Until Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu and Barcelona’s Camp Nou are extensively renovated, they will be stepping out at a hyper-modern ground without compare. With the creation of a ‘wall of sound’ also built into the architects Populous’ innovative design, partisan support will urge them on.
Sparkling stadia does not usually equate to an instant improvement of results. BBC Sport research showed that of the four Premier League teams to move since 2000, only north London rivals Arsenal had a better points total than the season before.
In Europe, Atletico Madrid lost 2-1 to Chelsea in September 2017 for the Wanda Metropolitano’s Champions League inauguration. This same stands, however, would witness a 3-0 Europa League final triumph against Marseille by the hosts come the following May.
Spurs’ only run-out, to date, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was an expected 2-0 win against Crystal Palace. Pochettino’s inspired troops, however, pumped in 26 attempts and a commanding 66-per-cent possession.
Spurs are nearly 20 points off the searing top-flight pace set by City and Liverpool.
They have only ever made one European Cup semi-final – and that was in 1961/62. Their last run to the quarters in 2010/11 ended in a 5-0 aggregate shellacking by Real Madrid.
The potential to take giant strides is there for all to see. Now, it requires actualisation.
There would be no grander way to start than derailing omnipotent City.
WILL WE SEE A BATTLE OF THE STRIKERS?
A familiar face has been witnessed at an unfamiliar setting.
Sergio Aguero has trained with team-mates at Charlton Athletic’s stadium, The Valley, after he missed the last two games because of injury.
His likely return to the XI should provide head coach Pep Guardiola with a welcome problem. The Argentina international’s 10 goals in 13 previous meetings will also send shivers down spines in the Spurs defence.
By reputation, the Blues’ rearguard should feel the same way about Kane. But with only two goals in seven fixtures against them, French centre-back Aymeric Laporte and company may feel quietly confident.
SEND OUT A MESSAGE
Barbs to attack City with rarely hold weight.
When you are recasting expectations, while performing at a rarefied level, jealousy is a predictable by-product.
Slights have been sent their way because of perceived easy cup runs this term. A point that should be rendered mute by Premier League form, but one that requires addressing nevertheless.
In Europe, the recovery from a 2-1 opening loss to Lyon has been staggering. The 10-2, round-of-16 humiliation of – admitted Bundesliga stragglers – Schalke was the second-widest winning margin in the competition’s knockout history.
A catalyst is now required to entrench the view that City – whose only semi appearance came in 2014/15 under Manuel Pellegrini – are coming of age in the UCL. Seeing off Spurs will send out a firm message to the likes of Juventus and Barcelona.
United were drawn against the five-times winners in the last eight and were originally supposed to play the second leg at Old Trafford after visiting the Camp Nou first.
But as Manchester City, who have a higher UEFA ranking, were also drawn at home second against Tottenham, United’s tie was switched and they must now host Barcelona first.
And that could be a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as it has been shown to be an advantage to play the second leg on your own ground.
Since the Champions League adopted its current format in 2003/04, 62 per cent of teams advancing from the quarter-finals were at home in the second leg.
United have taken advantage of the Old Trafford factor on three out of the four occasions they have played the second leg of last-eight ties there.
In 2006/07 they overturned a first-leg deficit against Roma by thumping the Italians 7-1, while the following season they were able to get the job done against the same opponents after bringing back a slender lead.
In 2010/11, they protected a 1-0 first-leg win at Chelsea with a 2-1 success at Old Trafford.
The only time they have been at home second in this round and not qualified was in the 2009/10 season when they lost on away goals to Bayern Munich, despite winning in front of their home fans.
Solskjaer’s men will be channelling the last round, when they beat Paris Saint-Germain despite a first-leg defeat at home, and also the 2008/09 season when they advanced past Porto despite having to play there in the second match.
To make matters worse, Barca have a formidable record in quarter-finals when they play the second leg at the Camp Nou.
They have progressed six out of seven times, with the defeat to Juventus in 2016/17 their only blemish.
United’s potential suffering is City’s gain, though they have progressed in just one of their previous two quarter-finals, against PSG in 2016/17.
Tottenham will be hoping their brilliant new stadium will help give them a significant first-leg advantage to take to City as they try to buck the trend.
Their only previous quarter-final ended in a comprehensive defeat to Real Madrid, having had to play the second leg at the Bernabeu.
Liverpool are also away in their second leg against Porto, but they will fancy their chances of going against the grain.
Both in 2005 and 2018 on their way to the Champions League final they progressed through the quarter-finals despite playing their first leg at home.
They got the better of Juventus after a 2-1 win at Anfield in the first game while a 3-0 hammering of Manchester City was enough to see them through last season.
The overall record in all knockout rounds – the round of 16, the quarter-finals and the semi-finals – strengthens the theory that it is an advantage to be at home in the second leg, with 63 per cent of the winners having had that luxury.
That is, of course, weighted by the fact that in the round of 16, teams who top the group are ensured a second leg at home against a second-placed opponent from another group.
Therefore, in theory, stronger teams play at home last and would be expected to advance – and more than 70 per cent have done so.
The semi-finals provide an interesting exception to the overall trend, with only 37 per cent of teams with a second leg at home progressing.
The draw for the Champions League quarter-final has thrown up some tantalising ties, as the remaining eight clubs plot their way to club football’s ultimate glory.
Here’s a closer look at all four quarter-final match-ups.
Tottenham v Man City
There was bound to be one all-English tie, and though this one is slightly less glamorous than a Manchester derby, or either Manchester team facing Liverpool, there’s plenty of intrigue for Tottenham v Manchester City as well.
The biggest talking point will be the opening of Spurs’ new stadium. They’ll have played one game before they host City, but that will be against either Brighton or Crystal Palace.
There’s no doubt that this is going to be the marquee fixture for the new White Hart Lane during the stadium’s infancy, with no home game against a rival or Big Six side scheduled otherwise. The atmosphere for the first leg of this tie should be fantastic.
City are favourites, no doubt, though they’ve had their struggles with Tottenham at times in recent years. Spurs’ blend of physicality, aggression, and intense pressing has the capability of knocking Pep Guardiola’s team off their stride, though they’ll have to be at their absolute best to stand a chance. This is the second-straight season City are facing an English side in the quarter-finals, and memories of being knocked out by Liverpool last season will still rankle.
City and Spurs will actually play each other three times in ten days, as there’s a Premier League fixture at Etihad Stadium right after the two Champions League games. These two teams are about to get to know each other very well.
⚪️ @SpursOfficial will now play @ManCity 3 times in 10 days.— SPORF (@Sporf) March 15, 2019
📅 9/10 April
📅 16/17 April
📅 20 April
😳 Season defining. pic.twitter.com/WxWlFw3GsC
Prediction: Manchester City
Liverpool v Porto
This is a rematch of last year’s round-of-16 tie, and if those fixtures are any indication, Liverpool will be fancying their chances.
Porto were being considered the “easy” team in the quarter-final draw, and given the Reds beat them 5-0 in Lisbon last year before playing out a 0-0 draw at home to advance, Jurgen Klopp’s side are probably happy with the way the draw’s turned out.
But there shouldn’t be any complacency. Porto look a different side this season, and the way they came back against Roma in the last round – albeit a Roma that has hardly resembled the team that made last season’s semi-finals – was impressive.
There is more resilience, with former Real Madrid defender Pepe anchoring a back line that is unlikely to get turned over as easily.
And if Liverpool players and fans were annoyed with Sergio Ramos after last year’s final, Pepe, the Madrid captain’s former partner-in-crime, has the ability to be even more of a nuisance. This is a tie that could get spicy.
Liverpool have never lost to Porto in a competitive fixture:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 15, 2019
• 3 wins
• 3 draws
• 0 losses
They beat them 5-0 last season. pic.twitter.com/WPRUGnDuD4
Ajax v Juventus
Ajax’s reward for their stunning demolition of Real Madrid is to face another side of equally daunting pedigree.
Juventus pulled off a famous comeback of their own in the round of 16, and a team that can beat Atletico Madrid 3-0 is not one that will be afraid of Erik ten Hag’s young, vibrant side.
Of course, the same holds true for Ajax, who are probably ready to take on anyone after the way they dispatched Madrid, beating the reigning champions 4-1 on their own patch. Juventus are not a team in disarray the way Madrid were, but they’ll be treating Ajax with a healthy respect knowing what they can do to a favoured side.
There are plenty of subplots – this face-off of two of Europe’s most storied sides is a rematch of the 1996 Champions League final, which Juventus won, while young Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt, considered one of the best young defenders in football, will relish going up against grizzled veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci on the other side.
And of course, there’s Cristiano Ronaldo and the possibility he can avenge former club Madrid’s defeat, though that is unlikely to be a prime motivation. More importantly, there’s that fourth straight Champions League title to win for himself, and a first one this century for his new club.
Frenkie de Jong, Ajax midfielder: "When I was around 10–12 years old, Cristiano Ronaldo was already one of the best players in the world. So it is nice that I will now face him for real."#UCLdraw pic.twitter.com/6ckkmTeAlv— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 15, 2019
Manchester United v Barcelona
If Ajax going from beating Madrid to facing Juventus seems like bad luck, Manchester United can be forgiven for feeling the same way.
Of course, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United feel they can beat anyone. Barca are one of the favourites to win the competition, but they’ve also lost at the quarter-final stage in three-straight seasons, all in ties they were expected to win.
United will believe they can join Atletico Madrid, Juventus, and Roma in that list of sides to knock Barcelona out.
The second leg will be special for Solskjaer personally, as he returns to the scene of the moment that made him a United legend: his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final, scored at Camp Nou against Bayern Munich.
If he can bottle some of the spirit and stardust of that famous night, Barcelona will have to be wary of an upset. In the meantime, Messi can look forward to only his second appearance at Old Trafford, though of course, he has plenty of experience of hurting United: Barcelona beat the Manchester club in both the 2009 and 2011 finals, with Messi the star on both occasions.
"We want these games against the biggest clubs and the biggest teams," says Ole. "We had the final against them in 2009 and 2011 and the semi-final in 2008 when Scholesy scored, it’s these games our fans and this club crave. We are looking forward to this one." #MUFC #UCLdraw— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 15, 2019