As the Champions League goes from 16 to eight, the major question remains whether any team can stop Barcelona from becoming the first club to win back-to-back titles. The defending champions will be the team that nobody wants to be matched with when the draw for the Champions League quarterfinals are made in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday.
Barcelona secured their place in the quarterfinals for a ninth successive season with an emphatic 5-1 aggregate win over Arsenal in the Round of 16. Fittingly, the victory was sealed at the Camp Nou on Wednesday thanks to a goal each from the devastating attacking that propelled them to last year’s title—Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar. Afterward, when asked about possible quarterfinal opponents, Luis Enrique provided an answer with which many of his fellow managers in the final eight may well concur.
“The only team I don’t want to face is Barça,” he said.
Still, while they have swept all before them thus far, there is plenty of quality elsewhere in the quarterfinals. Bayern Munich saw their hopes ended by the Catalans in the semifinals last season, but have extra motivation to go all the way this time around in what will be Pep Guardiola’s final season in Bavaria.
They almost didn’t make it this far, having trailed last year’s runners-up Juventus 4-2 on aggregate entering the final 17 minutes of Wednesday’s second leg at the Allianz Arena. But late goals in regular time from Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller and two more in extra time, courtesy of Thiago Alcantara and Kingsley Coman, gave Bayern a dramatic win.
In a tie that would surely intrigue neutrals, Bayern could now face the team Guardiola will take over next season, Manchester City. The Premier League club reached the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in their history with a 3-1 aggregate win over Dynamo Kiev to give manager Manuel Pellegrini something to savor in what has been a difficult campaign.
Looking to make it beyond the last eight for the first time since they received similar massive investment to City are Paris Saint-Germain. Laurent Blanc’s side, who already claimed the French title last weekend, looked impressive in dispatching of 2012 European champions Chelsea in the last 16. And, having fallen at the quarterfinal stage for the past three seasons, they will now be desperate to go one better.
For Real Madrid, meanwhile, only the Champions League can now rescue what has been a desperately disappointing season. Under new manager Zinedine Zidane, the team’s struggles have continued in La Liga, although, after surviving a difficult first leg in the Italian capital, they cruised through against Roma, 4-0 on aggregate. The 10-time European champions will now be aiming to make the semifinal stage for a sixth season in a row.
Then there are the two outsiders in the final eight, Benfica and Wolfsburg. Benfica, who got the better of Zenit St Petersburg in the last 16, have a rich history in the competition, having won it in 1961 and again the following year, but they have not been beyond the quarterfinals since 1990. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, made the quarterfinals for the first time in their history after ousting Gent.
Draw time: Friday, 7 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1
Live stream: Uefa.com