Only eight teams remain in the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League and La Liga is well represented with three sides still in the hunt for Europe’s premier club trophy.
Following Barcelona’s disappointing group-stage exit, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Villarreal have all navigated the first knockout round to take their places in the quarterfinals. The big question is, will a La Liga club go on to win the Champions League?
Let’s look at the credentials of the remaining three teams and see what they must do to become European champions.
As has often been the case throughout European Cup/Champions League history, La Liga’s best chance of a winner this season rests with Real Madrid. The 13-time European champions have been the tournament’s dominant team of the past decade, winning an unprecedented three Champions League titles in a row between 2016 and 2018.
Real’s last title coincided with the final season of Cristiano Ronaldo’s historic career at the Bernabeu and the three years since have been largely underwhelming, with two Round of 16 exits and last season’s semi-final defeat to eventual champions Chelsea.
However, there are signs Real should be considered serious contenders for this year’s title. Carlo Ancelotti’s side may have ridden their luck at times against Paris Saint-Germain in the first knockout round, but they showed plenty of guile and clinical finishing to earn a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Next up is a chance for revenge against Chelsea and given all the instability surrounding the Premier League club following the sanctioning of Russian owner Roman Abramovich, Real should fancy their chances of reaching the semifinals.
In Karim Benzema, Real have one of Europe’s leading strikers and the Frenchman is in the form of his life – highlighted by his hat-trick against PSG – as well as game-changing players like Vinicius Junior, Marcos Asensio, and Rodrygo.
The midfield is packed with experience and quality, led by the ageless Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the defensive unit is solid, and they have one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois.
Real could also be aided by their comfortable position in La Liga, even though they suffered a heavy defeat against Barcelona at home this weekend. This defeat will be important to take notes, especially on the defensive end where Real looked apathetic.
Los Blancos look nonetheless to be cruising to the title so this could give Ancelotti the opportunity to rest some big players ahead of Champions League ties.
Should they get past Chelsea, Real will face either city rivals Atletico or Manchester City in the semifinals, while Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Liverpool, or Benfica await in the final.
Plenty of challenging opponents await Real but they are no doubt among the favorites to win the Champions League. If you want to find the odds for Real Madrid winning the CL, check out this site and see if it’s worth your money.
Atletico’s La Liga title defense has not gone at all to plan this season and Diego Simeone’s side are well off the pace set by Real Madrid.
They have fared better in the Champions League, of course, to reach the quarterfinals but have not been entirely impressive, losing three games to qualify as runners-up in Group B behind Liverpool, before scraping past a struggling Manchester United in the Round of 16.
While Atletico might not look like the most convincing Champions League title contenders, their style of play under Simeone – pragmatic, organized, dogged – has always lent itself to being highly effective in two-legged knockout tie tournaments.
Atletico also have a wealth of talent in the squad, with the likes of Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez in attack; Koke, Marcos Llorente, and Renan Lodi in midfield; and a watertight defense led by Jose Gimenez and arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet, Jan Oblak.
Atletico has the tools and know-how to make a run at the Champions League title, although they are up against who many believe are the leading challengers in Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side fell just short of European glory last season and appears determined to make that right this year. If Atletico can get past City, then they can beat anyone.
Without doubt the performance of the first knockout stage belonged to Villarreal after they stunned Juventus 3-0 in Turin in the second leg to advance to the quarterfinals.
In this season’s Champions League as a reward for winning the Europa League last year, Villarreal has more than done themselves justice throughout the campaign, coming through a tricky group that contained Manchester United and Atalanta (and Young Boys), before their superb display to eliminate Juventus.
Alongside Benfica, Villarreal are probably regarded as the outsiders of the eight teams in the Champions League quarterfinals, but they do have as manager a true European knockout specialist. Prior to guiding Villarreal to the Europa League title last season (the club’s first ever major trophy), Unai Emery won three in a row with Sevilla and led Arsenal to the 2019 final.
The Spaniard clearly has the tactical acumen to navigate tricky, two-legged European ties and he and his team will need to be at their very best to get past the mighty Bayern Munich and reach the semifinals.