When the draw for the Champions League quarterfinals was made last month, it was easy to bemoan the big clubs being kept apart and fear a lack of truly engrossing, competitive ties in the last eight. As it turned out, nobody could have been left wanting for drama.
All four of the quarterfinals remained in the balance well into this week’s second legs, and two of the favorites to get through, including holders Barcelona, bowed out. For the four teams left standing, a place in the final in Milan at the end of May is now tantalizingly close.
Ahead of the semifinal draw, here’s a look at the final four and their betting odds to hold the trophy aloft.
Bayern Munich – 11/8 (odds provided by Oddschecker)
After the ousting of Barcelona, Bayern Munich have taken over as favorites to land the title and give Pep Guardiola the perfect farewell to Bavaria. Bayern had required a sensational comeback and extra-time win to get past Juventus in the Round of 16, and they were given a scare once again in the quarterfinals. A 1-0 win in the home first leg put them in a solid position, but not as secure as they would have desired, particularly given Bayern’s poor record away from home in Champions League knockout rounds under Guardiola.
When Raul Jiménez headed Benfica in front in Lisbon, Bayern’s hopes were firmly in the balance. But the five-time European champions steadied their ship and in the end progressed with something to spare, thanks to goals from Arturo Vidal and Thomas Müller and a 3-2 aggregate triumph. However, having been eliminated convincingly at the semifinal stage in Guardiola’s two previous seasons in charge, he will be well aware that the road to the trophy has only just begun.
Real Madrid – 5/2
The record 10-time European Cup winners were staring at disaster following a 2-0 first-leg defeat to the team many considered the weakest of the quarterfinalists. Wolfsburg sat eighth in the Bundesliga and had not gone beyond the group stage in their only previous experience of the Champions League, yet they shocked the lackluster Spanish giants in Germany.
While only twice in the Champions League era had a team come back from a 2-0 first-leg deficit in a knockout tie, Wolfsburg could hardly afford to rest easy with so much attacking talent at the disposal of their opponents. And they bore the full force of that quality in the second leg at the Bernabeu, with a hat-trick from the Champions League’s record goal-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo firing Real Madrid into the last four for a sixth successive season. It was a tie that once again showed that plenty of structural problems remain in the makeup of the Real Madrid squad, but that their individual talent remains capable of blowing opponents away. After “La Decima” in 2014, Zinedine Zidane’s side are now chasing “La Undecima” in 2016.
Atlético Madrid – 3/1
Diego Simeone’s side were involved in the most dramatic of all the quarterfinals and undeniably caused the biggest upset. While anyone would be foolish to have written off a team that have made their name by disrupting more lavishly constructed opponents, Atlético went into their quarterfinal with Barcelona having lost their last six matches against the Catalans. Meanwhile, Barcelona, with their famed attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, looked on course not just to become the first team ever to win back-to-back Champions League titles, but the first to win a “double treble.”
When Fernando Torres was sent off shortly after giving his team the lead in the first leg at the Cam Nou and Barcelona went onto claim a 2-1 win, it appeared that Atlético’s chance may have gone. Instead, they outwitted and outfought a sluggish Barcelona at a red-hot Vicente Calderon to progress thanks to two goals from Antoine Griezmann. They may not be the biggest names in the draw, but no team will relish taking on Atlético in the semifinals.
Manchester City – 6/1
In the battle between the two leading members of Europe’s nouveau riche, Paris Saint-Germain were favorites to progress and show that it was they who were further along in their evolution toward becoming a fully-fledged European power. Yet it was Manchester City who put their poor Premier League season to one side, and, after an error-laden 2-2 draw in Paris, advanced thanks to a 1-0 win back in Manchester.
Kevin de Bruyne was the undoubted key figure in the quarterfinal, scoring both the opening goal in the French capital and the only goal at the Etihad to fully justify the more than £50 million City spent on the him last summer. With Sergio Agüero spearheading the attack and Vincent Kompany seemingly on the comeback trail, City will hope that they have the individual talent necessary to ensure that their first ever Champions League semifinal is not the limit of their achievements this season.