Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The 79 teams from 54 member associations that entered the 2019/20 Champions League at the qualification stage last year have been squeezed, separated and distilled down over the past 12 months, leaving us with eight combatants of concentrated quality for the competition’s quarter finals this week.
With the tournament’s format reworked ahead of UEFA’s festival of football in Portugal, the Champions League’s remaining clubs are potentially just two games away from securing a place in the Final in Lisbon on August 23.
Competitors from England, Italy, France, Germany and Spain will compete to lift club football’s most prestigious piece of club silverware over the next two weeks, and ahead of the four crucial quarter final bouts scheduled to take place between Wednesday and Saturday, we’ve taken a closer look at each of the teams hoping to make the UCL final at the Estadio da Luz.
Remember – we’ll be covering all the action extensively with match previews and betting tips on our Champions League predictions page.
Check out part two of our Champions League quarter final guide here!
Wednesday, August 12
Atalanta vs Paris St. Germain
20:00 kick-off at the Estadio da Luz
Atalanta win: 23/10
PSG win: 21/20
After seven straight years of Champions League knockout round disappointment, a star-studded Paris St. Germain team renew their latest attempt to land the trophy that continues to elude them. Standing in their way are one of the tournament’s most free-flowing and dangerous underdogs however, in Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta.
How did they get here?
Only Bayern Munich collected more Group Stage points than PSG, who breezed through their Group A campaign to top their section ahead of Real Madrid, Galatasaray and Club Brugge.
In their headline contests against the recently eliminated Spaniards, Paris St. Germain performed impressively, beating Los Blancos 3-0 in the French capital, and holding Madrid to a 2-2 draw in the return fixture at the Bernabeu.
In the Last 16, PSG overturned a first leg deficit against manager Thomas Tuchel’s former employers Borussia Dortmund to win the tie 4-1 on aggregate, with Brazilian superstar Neymar notching in both tussles.
Atalanta meanwhile, are fast becoming everyone’s second team and favourite underdogs in the Champions League thanks to their free-wheeling, attack-minded approach.
La Dea endured a wobble or two in the Group Stage before successive wins to nil in their last two fixtures against Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar Donetsk allowed them to progress to the knockouts behind runaway leaders Man City.
In the Round of 16, supporters finally got a taste of the Atalanta that have been gathering so many admirers in their homeland, when Gasperini’s charges ran roughshod over a strong Valencia team in an exhilarating 8-4 triumph over two legs.
Have they met before?
Atalanta and PSG have never crossed competitive paths before, and their lack of continental interaction is down to La Dea’s relatively meagre European pedigree.
The regional outfit from Bergamo qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history last year, having featured in the Europe League for back-to-back seasons directly before that, and their appearance at the quarter final stage in 2020 is an incredible achievement.
PSG struggled against Italian opponents in the form of Napoli in last season’s competition, and while Atalanta lack the individual star quality of that Partenopei side, they are arguably a more formidable collective.
Players to watch
As one of the richest teams in Europe, PSG have assembled a squad packed to bursting with some of footballs most talented players.
Household names like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria are the headline makers, though reliable under the radar performers like Juan Bernat, Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe are just as important.
For Atalanta, veteran Slovenian Josip Ilicic is a player reborn under Gasperini, and the 32-year-old’s five Champions League goals this season puts him level with PSG pair Mbappe and Icardi.
Creative midfielder Alejandro Gómez has the tools to unlock any defence, while Colombian attacker Duvan Zapata, German wingback Robin Gosens and Argentine centre back José Luis Palomino are all also enjoying fine campaigns.
Thursday, August 13
RB Leipzig vs Atletico Madrid
20:00 kick-off at the Estádio José Alvalade
RB Leipzig win: 15/8
Atletico Madrid win: 6/4
Julian Nagelsmann’s progressive RB Leipzig team take on Diego Simeone’s battle-hardened warriors from the Wanda in Thursday’s Champions League quarter final offering, in a clash that sends two teams with hugely contrasting styles into battle against each other in Lisbon.
How did they get here?
RB Leipzig took top spot in an open looking Group C ahead of Juventus’ recent conquerors Lyon, Benfica and Russian outsiders Zenit St. Petersburg.
Die Roten Bullen were particularly impressive in their endeavours outside Leipzig, winning two and drawing the other of their three away assignments. That record might have been perfect too, had they not thrown a two-goal lead away at Lyon on match day six.
In the Last 16, Leipzig thoroughly outclassed Jose Mourinho’s dour Tottenham Hotspur over two legs, running up an aggregate score of 4-0 thanks to a convincing 3-0 win in the clubs’ second meeting at the Red Bull Arena.
Champions League staples Atletico Madrid forced their way out of Group D behind Juventus and ahead of Bayer Leverkusen, though it’s interesting to note that the La Liga giants were beaten 2-1 by the Germans it the BayArena in November.
Following their Group Stage success, Atletico sent shockwaves through Europe in the Last 16 by knocking current title holders Liverpool out, after tie-defining and pulsating 3-2 win at Anfield directly before the COVID-leg postponement.
Have they met before?
RB Leipzig and Atletico Madrid are Champions League strangers having never shared a pitch in the competition.
There are no head-to-head records to thumb through for potential match-defining patterns, though Die Roten Bullen, who will be playing in their homeland this week, could have something to go on against an Atletico team with a poor record in Germany.
Los Colchoneros were beaten on five of their last six Champions League trips to German soil, though this week Simeone will be hoping that the hunting grounds in Deutschland are more fertile.
Players to watch
RB Leipzig may have lost the jewel in their crown following the departure of Timo Werner to Chelsea, though there is still enough stardust in their ranks to trouble Atletico.
Prolific Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer (above) matched Werner for goals (four each) in the Champions League’s earlier rounds, while centre-half Dayot Upamecano, the versatile Nordi Mukiele, all-action Konrad Laimer and assist hungry Christopher Nkunku are all young players in demand across Europe.
Atletico Madrid have a number of accomplished international players in their armoury, including long-serving midfielders Koke and Saul, hard-hitting achorman Thomas Partey and Uruguayan defender Jose Gimenez.
Further up the pitch, Angel Correa, Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa and Joao Felix offer a good mix of skill and brawn, while Jan Oblak is one of football’s best all round keepers between the sticks.
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