Champions League Quarter-Final Preview
By Dan Wheeler
Four ties. Eight teams. One dream. The quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League is upon us and promises some of the most fascinating, dramatic and enthralling action of the season.
The draw for the last eight has given us everything: clashes between European royalty and the chance for lesser lights to write their own pieces of shocking history.
Bayern Munich vs Juventus
If you want to send out a message to give your opposition something to think about what better way to do it that with a big win. Scoring five goals should be enough to induce the heebie-jeebies. Bayern, typically, went one better. In fact, they went four better. Their 9-2 crushing of Hamburg took them to within a point of winning the Bundesliga title and gave Antonio Conte good cause to order himself another triple espresso.
Claudio Pizzaro banged in four goals against Hamburg to push him claim for a start against the Old Lady as Bayern proved their surprise defeat at home to Arsenal in the second leg of their last 16 tie as the most scarlet of herrings. They will be supremely confident of reaching their third semi-final in four years as they aim for a second successive final.
Juventus do have history on their side though, having won all five of their European quarter-finals against German teams. Like Bayern, their domestic title is theirs to lose after their 2-1 win over Inter in their last match took them nine points clear at the top of Serie A. They travel to Munich defending a proud unbeaten away record in Europe. They have not lost for over three years.
Paris Saint Germain vs Barcelona
On paper, is there a more glamours tie? Europe’s newest power brokers against the everyone’s favourite second team.
If you were taking European pedigree alone, it would be a walkover with four-time winners Barca looking to make their sixth semi-final in a row. PSG, by contrast, are in only their second quarter-final ever - although they did beat Barca in their way to the last four in 1994/95.
Something looks like giving in the Park Des Princes as PSG put their 23-game unbeaten run at home in Europe on the line against a side that haven’t lost on the road in a quarter-final for more than a decade.
There will be no return against his old club for Zlatan Ibrahimovic who misses the first leg through suspension. With Lionel Messi taking his goal tally to 29 in his last 19 games at the weekend, PSG will hope they can find a way of keeping him quiet if they have any chance of progressing.
Malaga vs Borussia Dortmund
The underdogs from Andalusia have done brilliantly to get this far and face the biggest test of all to get through. The question is has Manuel Pelligrini’s side peaked? They are in unchartered waters in this competition and have struggled for results in their last four La Liga games.
They face a Dortmund side who have made relentless progress after getting out of the toughest group in style. Star striker Robert Lewandowski will leave the club at the end of the season and remains in great form and the man Malaga have to stop to stay in the tie. They will hope their former Dortmund players - Martín Demichelis and Roque Santa Cruz - find an extra gear.
Real Madrid vs Galatasaray
If Jose Mourinho is to leave Real in the summer, he’ll want to do so with the Champions League trophy tucked under his arm.
He has one or two creases to iron out in his side’s fitful form (they failed to take advantage of Barca dropping points at the weekend by only drawing themselves) but as their tussle with Manchester United showed in the last 16 they remain capable winning when not at their most fluent. Under Mourinho, Real have won all six of their European quarter-finals. Christiano Ronaldo, as important as ever, has 29 goals so far this season.
With Galatasaray gunning for only their second semi-final appearance and their first since 1989, history suggests they are, with Malaga, the outsiders. They do have Didier Drogba of course and his in-form strike partner Burak Yilmaz - who scored both Gala’s goals in their win at the weekend.
In their previous time in the last eight, in 2001, they were also draw against Real. They won the first leg only to perish in the Bernabeu. It is difficult to see this tie, 12 years on, ending any different.