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Saturday, May 25, 2024

4 key battles that will decide Champions League quarter-final second legs –

This is it, people. The clocks have gone forward, evenings are lighter, and the Champions League campaign has reached its business end.

Everything is still to play for heading into the second legs of all four quarter-finals and it remains ever so difficult to pick a favourite to go all the way.

How will these second legs be decided? Let’s look at four key battles that will determine their outcome and decide this year’s Champions League final four.


Will Kylian Mbappe break free from Jules Kounde & Ronald Araujo?

Mbappe barely got a sniff last week / Catherine Steenkeste/GettyImages

This is likely Kylian Mbappe’s last chance to win a first-ever Champions League for hometown club Paris Saint-Germain ahead of his expected departure this summer.

During last week’s 3-2 loss at home to Barcelona, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man intent on delivering an historic European Cup before packing his belongings and heading to pastures new.

That was, in part, due to the heroic and dogged defending of Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo on the right-hand side of Barca’s defence, doubling up on Mbappe and limiting his chances.

If Mbappe is to sign off from PSG in a blaze of European glory, he needs to find a way to break through that blockade.


Niclas Fullkrug, your time is now

Atletico Madrid v Borussia Dortmund: Quarter-final First Leg - UEFA Champions League 2023/24

Fullkrug will come in for Haller / Sebastian El-Saqqa – firo sportphoto/GettyImages

Sebastien Haller is in line to miss Borussia Dortmund’s second leg with Atletico Madrid having picked up an injury at the weekend.

They will instead have to rely upon veteran striker Niclas Fullkrug – a target man of extreme Bundesliga heritage.

Maybe that’s the best way to penetrate Atletico’s elite deep block is to throw a man made of bricks at it. Maybe they’ll wilt under that sort of aerial bombardment in the Signal Iduna Park cauldron. Hey, it’s worth a shot if Dortmund are to overturn a 2-1 deficit.


Arsenal’s bid to silence tormentor-in-chief Harry Kane

Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes, William Saliba

An almighty task awaits Arsenal’s defenders / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Harry Kane has scored 15 goals in his 20 matches against Arsenal, registering his latest from the penalty spot in Bayern Munich’s 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium last week.

Thomas Tuchel’s men were happy to cede possession that evening but it will likely be roles reversed back at the Allianz Arena – the Gunners have made a habit of getting results out of these big away games by setting up slightly more conservatively than usual.

The onus will be on Kane both to find space in a crowded box likely to contain four defenders standing at over six-feet tall as well as drop deep to set away runners like Leroy Sane or poacher-extraordinaire’s like Thomas Muller.


Erling Haaland fights Antonio Rudiger as well as ‘League Two’ jibes

Erling Haaland, Antonio Rudiger

Rudiger’s had Haaland’s number / Ion Alcoba Beitia/GettyImages

The Spanish press have made a big song and dance over Erling Haaland potentially playing for Real Madrid one day, but his three performances against them over the last 12 months have done little to suggest he has the Champions League pedigree for them.

Is he League Two standard in general play as Roy Keane said? No, but Antonio Rudiger has done one hell of a job to make it look that way. The charismatic German has been back to his s***housing best of late, metaphorically smothering Haaland and literally tweaking Jack Grealish’s nipples at the Santiago Bernabeu last Tuesday.

Haaland can hush his doubters and nay-sayers with a goal-scoring performance to knock Madrid out of the Champions League. If not, those rumblings will only continue.

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