The dust has barely settled after the last round of games in the Champions League and already we have some tantalizing quarter-finals to look forward to.
Champions League team quarterfinal draw(Getty Images)
The quarters have an unusual look about them, as for the first time in 17 years no representatives from the EPL will be present in the last eight.
Nevertheless, the competition still has an exciting look about it, and with five different nations represented in quarter-finals it is hard to say which country will lay claim to the trophy with big ears come the end of may.
PSG Vs Barcelona
The quarter-finals kick off with perhaps the most alluring tie of the round, as the in vogue PSG take on the glamorous Barcelona.
PSG Ibrahimovic is suspended for the first match. (Getty Images)
PSG have never won Europe’s premier competition, but new owners The Qatar Investment Authority pledged to build a team capable of winning the Champions League when they bought the club and have now spent close to $215m in the last 18-months. The investment seems to have paid off with the Parisians reaching the knockout stages for the first time since 1995.
However, PSG now face their greatest test in the form of FC Barcalona. The Catalans have won Europe’s premier cup competition four times in total, three of which have come in the last seven years. Many questioned if Barcelona would be the same force when coach Pep Guardiola left, but if anything they have looked even more versatile and dangerous under new coach Tito Vilanova.
How they got here
PSG: The big spending Parisians topped their group in the first stage of the competition with five wins out of six, to give them a tally of 15-points—the highest of any team in the competition. However, they were made to work harder in the last round and just scraped past Valencia 3-2 on aggregate.
Barcelona: It is funny how much can change in the space of a game. Just over a week ago Barcelona were supposedly washed up and finished—It was the end of an era. They were seemly out of the Champions League having lost their first leg game 2-0 away to AC Milan. No team had ever recovered a two-goal deficit in the Champions League without scoring an away goal, and Barca would have to start the rebuilding process. But in the space of 90-minutes everything turned around, the mighty Barca made history blowing Milan aside 4-0 at the Camp Nou, and are once again favorites to lift the European Cup for the fourth time in eight years.
PSG will be hoping they can knock out powerhouse Barcelona(Getty Images)
Ezequiel Lavezzi: Under normal circumstances I may have chosen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the mercurial striker is suspended for the first-leg and will thus be unable to make an impact over the course of the two games. But the Parisians still have Ezequiel Lavezzi to call upon—the forward is PSG’s top scorer in the competition with five goals. Quick, strong, and skillful, the Argentine international will probably play on the wing against Barca, keeping tabs on Dani Alves when PSG do not have the ball and moving more central when they do.
Messi was outstanding in his previous Champions League match (Getty Images)
Lionel Messi: I said the only way Milan could stop Messi was if he had a bad day at the office, and he did in the first leg – though Milan also defended very well. However, within five minutes of the second leg Messi showed he was in the mood, scoring a magnificent goal to help Barcelona on their way to thrash Milan 4-0. La Pulga or the Flea as he is affectionately known, has already scored 55 goals this term and recently set a record of scoring in 18 consecutive La Liga games. I guess PSG’s only hope is that Messi has two bad days at the office.
These two clubs have only ever met twice in competitive competitions, with each club winning one a piece.
PSG beat Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate at the same stage of the Champions League back in 1995.
While Barcelona avenged that defeat with a 1-0 in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1997.
David Beckham will be hoping to make an impact and lead his team to the next round. (Getty Images)
This game has many sub plots with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Motta both returning to face their former club, as well as David Beckham returning to Spain to face his old rivals, FC Barcelona, from his playing days at Real Madrid.
PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti will probably try to replicate the tactics Milan used in their first leg win over Barca, where they prevented Barca time and space to pass the ball in the final third. But Ancelotti’s team does not really possess the type of personnel suited for such a disciplined style of play.
What they do possess is pace and guile in attack, and fighting fire with fire may well be their best option. However, I envisage PSG struggling to compete with Barcelona in the middle of the park and this quarter-final should be a fairly straightforward game for this vastly skilled and experienced Barcelona team.
Bayern Munich Vs Juventus
Ribery will be hoping he will have the opportunity to show what he can do. (Getty Images)
This is unquestionably the tie of the quarter-finals, as two powerhouses of European soccer clash horns for the right to play in the semi-finals.
Bayern Munich has won the coveted trophy on four separate occasions. They won three consecutive European Cups between 1974 and 1976, and won their last title in 2001 in a penalty shootout win over Valencia. The Germans have finished runners-up in two of the last three finals, but are in superb form this season and have more or less already won the German Bundesliga. Bayern have finished runners-up a record five times, but will be hoping to win their fifth Champions League before coach Jupp Haynckes retires at the end of the season.
Along with Bayern Munich, Juventus hold the record for most losses in a European Cup final—The Old Lady of Italian soccer has lost in five of her seven finals. But there is much optimism about this new Juventus side, who went the whole of last season unbeaten and currently lead the way in Serie A with a nine-point lead.
How they got here
Bayern Munich: Last year’s runners-up won their group, but only just scraped through the last round via the away-goals rule. Bayern won the first leg 1-3 away to Arsenal to give them a comfortable lead, but were made to sweat in the second leg as Arsenal won 0-2.
Juventus: The Italians topped a tough group containing Chelsea and Shakhter Donetsk. They then easily dispatched of Celtic in the last round, winning 5-0 on aggregate. However, they were rather lucky to win the first leg in Scotland, which Celtic dominated, and could well have found themselves a goal or two down had a couple of clear penalties been awarded.
Kroos is a gifted attacking player, but his ability to negate Pirlo’s influence on the game could be the key to victory for Bayern. (getty Images)
Toni Kroos: The German playmaker was excellent in Bayern’s first leg win over Arsenal, scoring the opening goal after only seven minutes. The 23-year-old is strong, good on the ball, and has an eye for goal. But against Juve he will also need to pay attention to his defensive duties, pressuring and preventing Juve’s deep lying playmaker, Andrea Pirlo, from making his mark on the game.
Pirlo destroyed Germany at the Euros with his slick passing, and Juve will hope he can do the same again. (Getty Images)
Andrea Pirlo: The 33-year-old deep lying playmaker is enjoying another terrific season with Juventus. Nicknamed “l’architetto”or the architect, Pirlo likes to pick up the ball deep and construct forward plays with his vast array of accurate passes. Pirlo can be devastating if he is given too much space to operate in, as Toni Kroos and Germany found out to their expense during last summer’s Euros.
These two powerhouses of European soccer have only ever met in the group stages of the Champions Leagues. Juve edge the meetings with three wins to Bayern’s two. However, Bayern won the last meeting 1-4 back in 2009.
Juventus put in a very solid and professional performance in the previous round. (Getty Images)
This is definitely a clash of style and tactics—Bayern play the popular modern formation of 4-2-3-1 with emphasis on central passing play with the ball, and compact high pressing without the ball. Juventus employ a formation that is currently the craze in Italy, the 3-5-2 formation with its rampaging wingbacks and traditional two-man duo upfront.
Bayern are flying this season and are many people’s pick for this year’s crown, but their loss to Arsenal has shown there are a few chinks in the armor. Juve are playing well and are unbeaten in this year’s competition. They convincingly beat Celtic in the last round, but looked far from comfortable during the first leg in Scotland – Pirlo and the entire Juve side struggled when Celtic pressed them high up the field, and I expect they will struggle again when Bayern do the same.
Malaga Vs Dortmund
Dortmund are still undefeated in the Champions League this season. (Getty Images)
This is probably the least glamorous of all the quarter-finals, but it should not be any less intriguing and could well turn out to be the most exciting and entertaining of all the quarter-finals.
Malaga have enjoyed extreme success in their maiden Champions League campaign, topping a group that contained AC Milan and Zenit St Petersburg. Qatari Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani purchased the club in 2010 and invested large sums of money on players with the promise of making Malaga a European power. Despite this, Malaga have been beset with financial woes, and at the end of last year were handed a one-season ban from European soccer by UEFA.
Borussia Dortmund are one of only two teams yet to lose a match during this season’s Champions League. German Bundesliga champions for the last two years, Dortmund have European pedigree, having won the Champions league back in 1997, and are many people’s dark horses for this year’s title.
How they got here
Malaga: After selling a number of high profile players during the summer due to financial troubles, Malaga were predicted to struggle in a group that contained Zenit St Petersburg and AC Milan. However, The Andalucians not only qualified but also managed to top the group unbeaten. They then turned around a 1-0 first leg defeat against Porto, triumphing 2-0 in the return leg to advance to the quarter-finals in their maiden Champions League season.
Dortmund: The German champions lived up to their billing as dark horses topping and going unbeaten in a tough group containing Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Ajax. Die Schwarzgelben (The Black Yellows) then brushed aside the stylish Shakhtar Donetsk in the last round winning 5-2 on aggregate.
Isco has been Malaga’s danger player. (Getty Images)
Isco: The 20-year-old Spaniard has been Malaga’s top performer this year, and has been linked with a $45m move to Arsenal next season. The stylish midfielder is quick, can pass and dribble the ball, and also possesses an eye for goal—He is Malaga’s top scorer in the Champions League with three goals.
20-year-old Gotze already looks like the finished article. (Getty Images)
Mario Gotze: Striker Robert Lewandowski may grab all the headlines, but Mario Gotze is definitely the key to Dortmund’s attack. The young 20-year-old playmaker usually plays just behind the striker, but has also played in the ‘false nine’ role when Lewandowski has been out. Quick and skillful, Gotze already has two goals and four assists in this year’s competition.
These two sides have never played one another before, but Dortmund will hope to maintain their good record against Spanish opposition—the German champions have won three of the five ties they have played against Spanish opposition in the knockout stages of tournaments.
Malaga has been this year’s surprize package. (Getty Images)
Dortmund will start this quarter-final as overwhelming favorites, but Malaga have already upset the odds to make it this far and should not be underestimated.
Formation and tactics wise, it is the old school verses the new school. Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini is a fan of the old-fashioned 4-4-2, using wingers to exploit width and create chances. Borussia Dortmund favor the currently popular 4-2-3-1 formation, playing more centrally and using their advantage of numbers in the middle to press and dominate the opposition.
Dortmund have looked like the real deal so far in the Champions League, and should take this one. But they have shown they are vulnerable when attacked down the flanks, and with Malaga favoring such a style of attack this should be an intriguing battle.
Real Madrid Vs Galatasaray
Real Madrid will be full of confidence after knocking out Man Utd. (Getty Images)
Real Madrid have won Europe’s most coveted prize a record nine times and will fancy their chances of winning their tenth title after a favorable draw against Galatasaray.
However, the Turkish champions do possess some world-class players and will be hoping they can reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1989.
How they got here
Madrid: The record nine time European cup winners have not had an easy route to the quarters. First they had to negotiate a tough group containing Manchester City, Ajax, and Dortmund, and then they just squeezed past Manchester United in the last round.
Galatasaray: The Turkish champions have not done things the easy way. They just about sneaked out of the group stage after a poor start, and then drew 2-2 at home with Shalke in the last round, to leave the odds stacked against them. However, the Lions then put in a sensational performance away from home winning 2-3 in Germany to advance to the quarters.
Ronaldo is joint top-scorer in the Champions League with 8 goals. (Getty Images)
Ronaldo: The Portuguese superstar admitted he struggled with the occasion of playing his former side Manchester United. However, he still scored two vitals goals to help Real progress and is currently joint top-scorer in the Champions League with eight goals.
Drogba won the Champions League last season with Chelsea, and his experience could be vital to Galatasaray progressing. (Getty Images)
Didier Drogba: Fellow Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz is joint top-scorer in the Champions League with Ronaldo on eight goals, but the one player that will strike fear into the Real Madrid team is Didier Drogba. The big Ivorian has a tendency to play well and score in big games, but against Madrid his biggest job will be to hold the ball up and help alleviate the pressure on the Galatasaray defense whenever possible – much like he did for Chelsea in last year’s semi-final with Barcelona.
These two sides have only ever previously met twice in Europe, with each side winning one a piece. Galatasaray won the first encounter in 2000, beating Real Madrid 1-0 in the UEFA Super Cup final. However, Madrid enacted revenge a year later, winning a Champions League quarter-final clash 5-3 on aggregate.
Galatasaray will be hoping to knock powerhouse Madrid of their podium. (Getty Images)
On paper this looks to be the most uneven match-up of the quarter-finals, and most people expect Madrid to comfortably progress through to the semis.
However, Galatasaray do possess a tactically brave coach and players that can hurt Madrid. The problem for the Turkish Champions is that if they get too adventurous, they could leave themselves open to being exploited by the best counter-attacking team in the business.
For that reason Galatasaray will probably try to sit back, keep things compact, and hit the ball to Didier Drogba whenever possible. But whether they will have the discipline and stamina required to keep Madrid at bay for 180 minutes remains to be seen, and in all honesty this should be a walk in the park for Spanish champions.