Describing Leicester City’s last two seasons as “eventful” is as big an understatement as you can get. While the title defense may not have gone smoothly, the Foxes’ emphatic Champions League adventure continued this week with a remarkable 2-0 win that knocked out a Sevilla side that had won the last 3 Europa League titles. The result is a place in the last 8 of Europe’s biggest club competition, and a stellar list of potential opponents. While none of the teams left are easy ties by any stretch of the imagination, there are certainly some names Craig Shakespeare’s men may prefer to see drawn against them on Friday.
Here is my ranking of Leicester’s possible opponents in the Champions League Quarter Finals, ranked from most difficult to least.
1. Real Madrid
Los Blancos need little introduction, having won the tournament last year. Their European form has continued into the new year, with just 1 loss in their last 22 games in the tournament and at least 2 goal being scored in every Champions league game this season. Their domestic form has been strong also – they currently sit atop of La Liga by 2 points with a game in hand. Trying to get anything out of a trip to Santiago Benebeau has been near-impossible this season, with the home side winning 14 of their last 17 games there. The only slither of hope would come on the return leg, as Madrid have won only 4 of 8 away games in 2017, and just 2 victories in the last 6 away in the Champions league. Although this may be an attractive tie for the fans, it would be a very tall order for Leicester to get close to making it through against Zinedine Zidane’s men.
2. Bayern Munich
There is no team in better form in Europe at the moment than Bayern. The reigning German champions have not lost since November, and have won their last 5 games – scoring 22 (averaging more than 4 per game) and conceding just 1 in the process. If that’s not good enough for you, consider that Carlo Ancelotti’s side have not lost at the Allianz Arena in over 12 months! Alas, their European away from is not as impressive- they have lost 4 and won 3 of their last 9 – and conceded more than they scored in the 8 games before their drubbing of Arsenal. That match also bucks a recent trend of poor form in England – they lost their previous 3 visits here in the champions league. But this is little consolation when you consider Bayern’s phenomenal form – you’d probably have better luck trying to stop a speeding train with your bare hands right now.3. Barcelona
The Catalan Giants may have taken a tumble in their most recent match, losing to Deportivo de La Coruña on Sunday, but that is likely just a blip rather than suggestive of a side in trouble. The reigning La Liga champions won their previous 5, and the previous 3 by a 5 goal margin (including the remarkable comeback against PSG). Their Champions League home form is also strong, having not lost their last 20 at home in Europe – with the opposition scoring no more than 1 goal in all of those games. Away from home is a slightly different story – they have lost 3 of the last 5 played in Europe outside the confines of the Camp Nou. Yet they generally fare well on British soil – winning 5 of their 6 trips here since 2013, with 4 clean sheets. Although they provide more of an opportunity for an upset than Bayern or Real (especially with holding midfielder Sergio Busquets suspended for the 1st leg), Barcelona will not provide an easy draw for whoever gets them.
The old lady have leaped out of the gate in 2017, winning 14 of their 16 games so far this year (including every home match). They have also shown strong away form in the Champions league this season, winning every game and conceding only 1 goal. But when you look closer at the Italian champs, the picture isn’t so black and white – Serie A isn’t the same calibre as 10 years ago, and the aforementioned away wins came against Zagreb, Lyon, Sevilla and Porto – not exactly European giants. The European home form is relatively unimpressive – only 2 wins in 5, and just 4 of the last 9. And despite winning in their last 2 trips to Britain, they failed to come away with a victory in their previous 8 fixtures in England and Scotland. Juventus are still considered one of Europe’s elite for good reason, but Leicester would feel much happier about this draw than the previous three.
A side that many English football fans will already have experienced after their success over Manchester City in the last round, Monaco are in good form after winning their 5 games since the 1st leg. Their win Wednesday night underlined how tough a trip to the principality is, with the Ligue 1 leaders winning 21 of their 24 games there this season. They are also undefeated in their last 9 Champions league home games, winning the last 7. But their away form is far less impressive, having lost 5 of their last 9 when travelling in Europe. Monaco have shown they are by no means a cake walk, but compared to the previously mentioned teams lack CL experience (this is only the second time they have made it further than the Champions’ league group stages since 2004) and talent.
6. Atlético Madrid
The ‘other’ team in Madrid, Athletico don’t look like a side set to make the Champions league final for the third time in four years. Although this season hasn’t necessarily been a bad one for Los Rojiblancos, they have won only 2 of their last 5 and look likely to finish outside the top 3 in La Liga for the first time since 2012. In Europe, their fortunes depend greatly on whether or not they are playing at the Vicente Calderón. They are undefeated in their last 9 champions league home games, winning 8 in a row before this week and conceding only 1 goal in that span. Away, they fare far less well, having won 3 and lost 4 of the last 8 (and before their recent clash with Bayern Leverkusen, they’d scored 5 in the previous 7 away CL games). Their form in England isn’t anything to shout about either, with only one win in three games since 2008. While dangerous on their day, Atletico offer a relatively appealing draw.
7. Borussia Dortmund
Last, but by no means least, Dortmund are another team that will definitely offer a challenge, but one that can be overcome on current viewings. Recent form has been mixed – while they have won 5 of the last 6 (scoring 3 or more in all of those games), they have also lost 3 of their last 8. Away from home the prospect is more bleak, with only 2 wins in the last 6 away games. This trend continues in the Champions league – again 2 wins in the last 6 when travelling in Europe, and 4 losses in their last 6 visits to English sides. The revered Signal-Iduna-Park has provided some solace – with wins in the last 6 home games – yet their home from across the season hasn’t amazed as much as some of the other teams mentioned above. Dortmund will be a challenge for whoever they face, but they could provide the best chance of progression for Leicester if drawn against the Foxes in the next round.
Words: Nick Frost