Eight will soon become four in the world’s most prestigious club competition when the Champions League quarterfinals get underway this week. It is a heavyweight lineup of teams, featuring the champions and current leaders of the top leagues in Spain, Italy and Germany, as well as a trio of exciting outsiders looking to upset the applecart.
Here’s a look at what might transpire in the four ties.
Paris Saint-Germain Vs. Barcelona Paris Saint-Germain received a major boost in the buildup to this glamour tie with the news that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a ban for his sending off in the first leg of their tie with Valencia reduced to just one game. That means that the man who had an acrimonious single season at Camp Nou will be able to play in both legs against his former club.
The Swede is crucial to a PSG side that desperately lacks a focal point in his absence, but, in truth, his presence is unlikely to alter the result of the tie. The Ligue 1 leaders are a solid defensive outfit, but manager Carlo Ancelotti has struggled to get the right formula from his talented forward players.
Realistically, the only thing that can deny Barcelona comfortably securing a sixth straight appearance in the last four is an excessive display of the lack of intensity and carelessness that cost them in their first leg against Milan and reared itself again in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo.
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Bayern Munich Vs. Juventus On paper this is the most intriguing and promises to be the most closely fought of the quarterfinals, featuring two giants of the European game. Bayern Munich will start as slight favorites given their incredible record in the Bundesliga this season -- 23 wins and just one defeat from 27 matches. Juup Heynckes side also looked imperious in their first-leg victory at Arsenal in the last round, while they couldn’t come into the match in better form having demolished Hamburg 9-2 on Saturday.
But, while Juventus have not garnered the level of attention of their opponents, they showed in the last round against Celtic what a ruthlessly efficient side they can be. Their three Italian internationals at the back in front of goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon provide a formidable barrier and going forward their lack of a top-class striker has not yet proved costly with Alessandro Matri in particular finding form at just the right time.
The most interesting facet of the tie, though, will be in the center of the pitch as arguably the two best midfields outside of Barcelona vie for supremacy. It promises to be mouth-wateringly close, but if Juventus can keep things tight at the Allianz Arena then they could well pull off the upset back in Turin.
Malaga Vs. Borussia Dortmund Neither of these sides will likely have been too disappointed when the draw was made for the last eight. Experience for both clubs is limited at the this stage of the competition with Malaga incredibly making their first appearance in the Champions League while Borussia Dortmund are in the last eight for the first time since reaching the semifinals, a year after lifting the European Cup, 15 years ago.
Unlike last season when Dortmund were a major disappointment in Europe as they appeared to prioritize the ultimately successful reclaiming of their Bundesliga crown, this season Jurgen Klopp’s men have saved their best for the Champions League. They produced one of the performances of the competition, despite only coming away with a draw, at Manchester City in the group stage and brushed aside Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the second leg of their last-16 tie all while trailing Bayern Munich by 20 points at home.
Malaga, fifth in La Liga, have also had their best moments this season in the Champions League. Outstanding in the group stage, few thought they would progress after losing the first leg of their tie with Porto, 1-0. But Manuel Pellegrini’s side pulled off another surprise with a dramatic 2-0 win. The Chilean has made the most of his group of players, many of who are proving points having been discarded by bigger clubs and in attacking midfielder Isco they have a genuine star. However, their fairytale run looks set to be ended by a Dortmund side with better quality all over the pitch and which is now ready to take their place among Europe’s real elite.
Real Madrid Vs. Galatasaray Having scraped through in controversial circumstances in the last round against Manchester United, Real Madrid will be expecting to take further advantage in their quarterfinal against Turkish underdogs Galatasaray.
Long since out of the Liga title race, the focus at the Bernabeu has been firmly on claiming a 10th European Cup for some time and it is hard to envisage Madrid slipping up against the Turkish champions. Before a much-changed lineup drew 1-1 with Real Zaragoza at the weekend, Jose Mourinho’s side had gone on a run of seven successive defeats as they demonstrated that, despite their struggles on and off the pitch earlier in the campaign, they can still go toe-to-toe with any team in Europe.
Galatasaray’s profile has been raised by the January signings of previous Champions League winners Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba and along with the competition’s top scorer this season, Burak Yilmaz, there could be plenty of fireworks against Madrid. But coach Fatih Terim’s natural attacking instincts coupled with his desire to fit that trio into the side will leave Galatasaray fatally exposed to Madrid’s strength: the counter attack. The tie could be all but over by the time it heads back to Istanbul.