The Champions League Quarter Finals kick-off on Tuesday with two intriguing ties involving four of Europe’s top dogs.
In the French capital, Paris St. Germain welcome the mighty Barcelona to the Parc des Princes in a clash of new money and heritage. PSG coach, Carlo Ancelotti, could field the last remaining English participant in the competition, David Beckham. The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and L.A. Galaxy star is being tipped to prolong his stay in Paris after initially signing a five month contract. Undoubtedly his commercial and promotional pull have influenced this deal rather than his ability to boss the midfield on Europe’s most elevated stage.
A more likely starter in a line-up sprinkled with ex-Barca players is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose time in Catalonia was short and often punctuated with tension between himself and then manager, Pep Guardiola. The Swede would love nothing more than to get one over on the club who shipped him off to AC Milan after just one season.
Barcelona come into this game hoping to make a better fist of this away leg than they did in the previous round when they limply lost in the San Siro to AC Milan. Their superb comeback in the second leg showed Los Cules in a more familiar light and they may be boosted by the return of head coach Tito Vilanova to the bench following his enforced absence for cancer treatment.
PSG are an emerging force at Champions League level and with the Qatari oil riches backing them up they are likely to be mixing it with the likes of Barcelona on a regular level for years to come. However, this encounter is probably a year too soon for them to turf their much heralded opponents out. Expect Messi and his supporting cast to take a narrow lead into the return match.
In the evening’s other game, two of the continent’s most famous names go head-to-head at the Allianz Arena as Bayern Munich and Juventus meet. Both sides come into the game off the back of superb results at the weekend. Jupp Heynckes’ men slammed Hamburg SV 9-2 while the Bianconeri boss, Antonio Conte, masterminded a 2-1 victory over Inter in Il Derby d’Italia to maintain their nine point lead at the top of Serie A.
Both of these clubs are likely winners of their domestic championships, so can focus fully on the two legs ahead, and even amongst the stellar cast in the quarter final picture, this one takes top billing. This season has seen Bayern in devastating form as they look to avenge both their Bundesliga and Champions League heartbreak from last season, and Heynckes seems determined to depart on the ultimate high before being replaced by Guardiola in the summer.
The wealth of attacking options at his disposal should pose Conte any amount of headaches. With the likes of Robben, Muller, Schweinsteiger, Mandzukic, Gomez and Ribery to name but a few the Italians will have their hands full. But if there is one thing you can always rely on from an Italian side is their defensive solidity and pragmatism in European football. And on the flip side, Bayern can be got at, as was demonstrated by Arsenal in the previous round when Die Roten almost fluffed their lines.
Juventus will go into this with a few key contributors missing and despite their counter-attacking capabilities may have to settle for second best in the first leg clash. However, there should be goals and Bayern may only be able to take a one goal lead to Turin for the decider.