Champions League quarter finals: Five match-ups to look forward to

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Split picture of Harry Kane, Kyle Walker, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka

This season’s Champions League quarter-finals have brilliant match-ups wherever you look.

Arsenal will take on German champions Bayern Munich – led by former Tottenham talisman Harry Kane, while holders Manchester City face record winners Real Madrid in a repeat of the 2022 and 2023 semi-finals.

Will Real’s Jude Bellingham get the better of City’s Rodri? Will departing Kylian Mbappe deliver Paris St-Germain European glory? And can the Gunners be this season’s dark horses?

Here is where I think the ties will be won and lost.

Will Arsenal overcome Kane factor?

Harry Kane scoring a penalty against Arsenal
Harry Kane scored 14 goals for Tottenham against Arsenal in 17 appearances across all competitions

Arsenal’s excitement at being back in the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 14 years may just have been diluted slightly when the name of Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich came out alongside them.

This is not because they cannot beat Bayern Munich. In fact, this is an eminently winnable tie against a Bayern side who have had an indifferent season at home, where they trail leaders Bayer Leverkusen by 10 points in the league table and have already made the decision to part with coach Thomas Tuchel at the end of the season.

It is because, with one of those delicious twists of fate the Champions League can deliver, the old scourge of Arsenal will be returning to north London in the shape of England captain Kane, the all-time record goalscorer for arch-rivals Tottenham.

Kane left for Germany after scoring 280 goals in 435 games for Spurs and even amid Bayern’s relative struggles has had a stellar campaign, his fourth hat-trick of the season in last week’s 8-1 win against Mainz taking his tally to 30 goals in 25 league games.

Arsenal may not worry about Bayern but they will worry about Kane. And his record against them illustrates why.

Kane scored 14 goals in 19 games against Arsenal across all competition at a rate of a goal every 116 minutes. He scored 14 in 17 in the Premier League at a goal every 107 minutes.

Arsenal will be many people’s favourites for this one, despite Bayern’s experience, but you can be sure Kane will have added motivation against the old enemy, who will be wary of his world-class impact.

Will Bellingham be the difference?

Jude Bellingham taking on Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund
Jude Bellingham scored for Borussia Dortmund in his side’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City in last season’s group stage

Manchester City and Real Madrid have become familiar foes in the Champions League having met in the semi-final in the past two seasons.

Real won a dramatic two-legged clash in 2022, scoring twice in stoppage time at The Bernabeu to send the game into extra-time, eventually winning and then going on to beat Liverpool in the final in Paris.

Last season was a different tale, with City obliterating Real 4-0 at Etihad Stadium after a 1-1 draw in Spain. They went on to beat Inter Milan in Istanbul to claim the trophy for the first time as part of a Treble alongside the Premier League and FA Cup.

City’s first 45 minutes in the second leg will be remembered forever by all who witnessed it, with even new Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe admitting recently: “It was the best quality of football I’ve ever seen.”

The great managerial duo of Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti meet again – with Real now boasting one of the biggest young talents in the game who they will hope they turn the tide back in their favour.

The great new star of Real, and European football, is England’s Jude Bellingham. The 20-year-old has taken Spain by storm and will be a central figure against City.

The wily Ancelotti will recall the misery of last season and will hope, perhaps even expect, the youngster signed from Borussia Dortmund in a deal that could eventually be worth £115m to make the difference.

Real have the usual galaxy of stars but many eyes will be on Bellingham in this most glamorous and high-profile of Champions League quarter-finals. He has the temperament and ability to dictate this game on a stage where he has shown he is completely at home.

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Will Walker keep Vinicius quiet?

Kyle Walker and Vinicius Juniour battle for the ball
Manchester City beat Real Madrid 5-1 on aggregate in last season’s semi-final

Kyle Walker may be 34 in May but the Manchester City and England right-back is still trusted by his managers for club and country to keep the biggest names in check with his experience and his enduring lightning pace.

And he will be asked to do the sort of job on Real’s brilliant Brazilian Vinicius Junior that he did in City’s convincing win over two legs in last season’s semi-final.

The pair were locked in a superb battle in the first leg in Spain, where honours ended even in a 1-1 draw and with a huge show of respect between Walker and Vinicius Junior after the final whistle when they embraced each other warmly.

Vinicius Junior was on target for Real but Walker’s speed and awareness made their confrontation fascinating and it will be the same again this time around.

It is the sort of personal duel Walker revels in, as also proved by the way he carried out manager Gareth Southgate’s orders to subdue Kylian Mbappe in another face-off when France beat England 2-1 in the World Cup quarter-finals in Qatar in 2022.

How successful Walker is will go a long way to shaping the destiny of this tie.

Will Arsenal be dark horses?

Arsenal players celebrate penalty shooutout win over Porto
Arsenal last reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2009, falling to Manchester United

Arsenal’s recent Champions League record against Bayern Munich is hardly something to send confidence surging through manager Mikel Arteta and his players.

The Gunners have lost their past three games against the six-time champions of Europe by the same 5-1 scoreline. Two of those combined to result in a 10-2 aggregate loss in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2017.

This time, however, this is not an Arsenal side in the dying embers of Arsene Wenger’s reign or a Bayern side at the peak of their powers.

It is foolish to dismiss Bayern at any stage of the Champions League. They have been around this block many times before and in addition to Harry Kane, still have the experience of keeper Manuel Neuer, veteran Thomas Muller and the gifted pair of Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.

Kane is aided in attack by the pace and threat of Leroy Sane, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry.

Arsenal, however, are bursting with confidence as they stand at the top of the Premier League and contemplate their first quarter-final in 14 years.

Arteta’s side may just be the sort Bayern might struggle against with the pace with which they move the ball. It is a stern task but one they are capable of overcoming.

The Gunners, if they won, would then face the ultimate test over two legs in the last four against either Manchester City or Real Madrid. But we have seen before that the latter stages often produce tales of the unexpected and Arsenal might just start to fancy their chances of being one of them.

Will Mbappe leave PSG with a Champions League?

Kylian Mbappe
Paris St-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe has agreed to join Real Madrid this summer

Kylian Mbappe is playing out the final days of his time at Paris St-Germain before making a summer move, with all presuming this will be to Real Madrid.

This sets up the enticing prospect of the player rated the world’s best potentially attempting to deny his future employers the chance to win European club football’s greatest honour for a record-extending 15th time and his future manager Carlo Ancelotti a remarkable fifth triumph in the competition. There is the possibility the clubs could meet in the final at Wembley.

Superstars like Mbappe, a World Cup winner with France in 2018, take even greater inspiration from the big games and the chance to claim the biggest prizes.

PSG, for all the lavish expense in recent years, have largely disappointed in the Champions League. They have only reached the final once, losing to Bayern Munich in 2020.

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If Mbappe wishes to leave something for PSG fans to remember him by what better way to do it than by making history for the club?

PSG are not regarded as being among the favourites for the trophy and their last eight game against a transitional Barcelona will be close to call. They will have optimism of victory, though, which would bring them a semi-final against either Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund.

It would be a surprise if Luis Enrique’s side pulled it off but with Mbappe anything is possible – as he will attempt to prove before taking his leave.

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