Leicester have Champions League rivals running scared
Holders Real Madrid, comeback kings Barcelona and the mighty Bayern Munich are all in the hat for Friday’s Champions League quarter-final draw, but Zinedine Zidane knows who he wants to avoid.
“No coach wants Leicester as a rival,” the Real boss admitted, a view echoed by Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon: “Leicester, because they’re a dangerous side, they’re full of enthusiasm and can hurt you.”
Leicester stunned world football to win the Premier League last season and in their first foray in Europe’s premier club competition they wrote another chapter in the fairytale by surging into the last eight after seeing off Sevilla.
They are the only English side left in the competition after Manchester City capitulated to Monaco and Arsenal were humiliated by Bayern.
Leicester’s achievement is even more stunning when you consider that their maiden Champions League run comes with them flirting with relegation in the Premier League this season, albeit on the upswing after the controversial sacking of their title-winning coach Claudio Ranieri.
Replacement boss Craig Shakespeare says his side can pull off another shock in the quarter-finals, no matter who they draw in Nyon at 1100 GMT on Friday.
“We might just be the surprise team,” Shakespeare said — a nice line in understatement — after the Foxes overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit to beat Sevilla 3-2 on aggregate at a rocking King Power Stadium this week.
“We know there’s going to be some terrific teams, as there were in the previous round… We’re in there on merit. Make no mistake about that.”
No matter who they face, Leicester — 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League title last season — will be an outside bet.
But goalkeeper Buffon, having seen perennial Italian champions Juventus swat aside Porto, does not see it that way and nor does Zidane.
“Leicester do what everyone says they cannot do,” Zidane told reporters.
“They have very talented players, but the most important thing is that they play with passion and with heart.”
– No appetite for Bayern-Dortmund –
In the last 16 teams from the same country could not be drawn together, but they can in the last eight and there is every chance of an all-Spanish or all-German encounter.
The latter is something neither Bayern Munich nor Borussia Dortmund want.
“I don’t want a German duel,” said Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, adding quickly that it was “not because we’re afraid (of Bayern Munich) but because we want to measure ourselves internationally.”
There was the same view in Munich — the two biggest clubs in Germany are already clashing in the Bundesliga and in the German Cup semi-finals in April.
There is again a strong Spanish contingent still alive, with last year’s Champions League runners-up Atletico Madrid on Wednesday joining city rivals Real and Barcelona.
Luis Enrique’s side made history in the competition when they pulled off a miracle 6-1 win at the Camp Nou to turf out Paris Saint-Germain.
No team had ever overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit but if anyone can, Barca can, and the Spanish champions appear revitalised after Enrique’s announcement that he will stand down at the end of the season.
The quarter-final first legs will be played on April 11-12 and the second legs on April 18-19.
The draw for the Europa League quarter-finals will also take place on Friday.