This past Friday, the quarterfinal draw for the Champions League took place and as always, the results left fans salivating at the potential moments that lie ahead. Out of the four matchups, which will be played in two different legs starting on April 1-2, several storylines stand out. Two very familiar Spanish teams will play one another. Two foes that played against each other in last year’s semifinal will rekindle a rivalry again this year. Two English teams will also take on the current and defending German and French league champions. Here’s a more detailed look at the matchups and who I believe is the likelier club to advance.
FC Barcelona v. Atlético De Madrid
These two clubs have already met three times domestically this year. The first two came all the way back in August as part of the Spanish Super Cup. The first contest ended in a 1-1 draw with Neymar tallying his first goal for Barcelona in the form of an equalizer in the 66th minute. The second leg of the Super Cup matchup saw another draw, but did crown the Catalan giants due to an away goal in the first leg. The third matchup came within La Liga at Atlético’s Vicente Calderon and resulted in another 0-0 draw. Judging by those results, this quarterfinal should prove to be an exciting one.
Barcelona, with their incredible high possession game firmly intact, remains a legitimate contender to win it all. Messi, who has battled injury troubles this year, has scored 31 goals in 33 appearances to date in all competitions. Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, and Neymar all provide pace and dynamic ability cutting in from the wings. Cesc Fabregas has found a consistent starting spot within the team this year and has produced very capably as a result. Xavi and Iniesta, despite growing older, continue to effectively pull the strings in possession in midfield. As always, questions exist about Barcelona’s back line. Victor Valdez looks poised to move to another club after the season. Jordi Alba and Dani Alves are incredible going forward, but can be exposed defensively. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano can be beaten by a physically gifted forward, which they will face against Atletico.
Atlético who are currently one point ahead of Barcelona in La Liga through 28 games, are led by their newly declared Spanish international Diego Costa.
Costa, who has seen his name floated in transfer talks with Europe’s top clubs, has 30 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions. The 25-year-old also has seven goals in five Champions League starts. Two other rising stars within Atlético’s side are goalkeeper Thibaut Courtouis and midfielder Koke. Courtois, 21, is a Belgium international that is on loan from Chelsea. While he has been considered to be Petr Cech’s long term successor, Courtois’ consistent quality for Atlético suggests he is ready to become one of the world’s top keepers elsewhere. Koke, 22, has reportedly drawn interest from England’s top-sides and understandably so. The Spanish midfielder appears to possess the qualities shared by many of his international peers. Lastly, two veterans aid Diego Costa in providing Atlético with a consistent-goal-scoring punch. Longtime Atlético midfielder Raúl García and former Barcelona and Valencia forward David Villa each have 15 goals in all competitions this year.
Prediction: Barcelona Advances
As much as I’d like to pick the upset and see Atlético defeat their La Liga foes, I’ll side with experience. Messi continues to be Messi and Neymar will make everyone remember how exciting he, Brazil, and the World Cup will be this summer.
Real Madrid CF v. Borussia Dortmund
A matchup that is a rematch from last year’s Champions League semi-finals pits Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund versus Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid. Last year’s matchup saw Dortmund defeat Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate, which included a memorable four-goal performance from Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski in the tie’s first leg. Real surely will hope there will be a different outcome this year.
Fresh off of their lambasting of Schalke in the Round of 16, Madrid look to be a good bet to move on here. Cristiano Ronaldo remains a top-two player in the world, and continues to produce at incredible levels (44 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions). Pricey offseason addition Gareth Bale appears to grow more and more comfortable in his new digs. Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria continue to be overlooked, but vital pieces within the Madrid squad. Like Bale, Luka Modric has truly settled into his deep-lying midfielder role this year. Pepe and Sergio Ramos continue to be ill-tempered and at times reckless, but they are more than competent in providing tough tackling and stability in the back four.
On the other side, Borussia Dortmund is a club ravaged by injuries and suspension. Dortmund mainstays Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski, Ikay Gundogan, Sven Bender, Marcel Schmelzer, and Neven Subotic will all likely miss both legs. Perhaps above all those absences, star-striker Robert Lewandowski will be suspended for the first leg due to his accumulation of too many yellow cards in prior Champions League games. If Dortmund is to move on, they will likely need big performances from German Marco Reus and Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Both players are versatile and possess fantastic pace and dribbling ability.
Prediction: Real Madrid Advances
This one seems pretty straightforward. Unless Lewandowski uncorks another brilliant performance, Dortmund very likely will be sent home from European competition. This rematch would’ve been far more interesting if Dortmund were healthier.
Paris Saint-Germain v. Chelsea FC
Another incredible quarterfinal matchup, as the current domestic league leaders from Ligue One and the Barclays Premier League play one another in the final eight. This game will pit a team with two elite strikers versus a team with seemingly everything but an elite striker.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s insistence that Chelsea remain the underdogs within the title race in England, the “Special One” has his team playing as well as any right now. Fresh off of their 6-0 drubbing of Arsenal on Saturday, Chelsea’s confidence going forward is perhaps approaching their belief in their own defensive third. Few teams in the world defend as competently and as relentlessly as Chelsea. That comes as no surprise with Mourinho now serving as coach. While their defense surely will keep them in any game they play, their lack of a truly dangerous forward might limit their further advancement within this competition. Although Samuel Eto’o has looked far more potent as of late, he limped off with an injury very early against Arsenal. Even though reports are suggesting he may be able to return in time for the first leg, it’s difficult to pin your goal-scoring hopes to a 33-year-old with hamstring troubles. I think Chelsea is a year away from being truly considered as a top team in Europe. Imagine the aforementioned Diego Costa leading the Chelsea line with Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Willian in support. Add that potential firepower to a disciplined and tireless defensive effort and Chelsea could become favorites for European glory next year.
With his native Sweden failing to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, PSG forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have to settle for collectively dropping fans’ jaws in the Champions League. The big Swede’s immense ability is only matched by his sense of self-confidence. When he was once asked what he got his wife for her birthday, Ibrahimovic simply replied, “Nothing, she already has Zlatan.” Although I could continue to list quotes exemplifying Zlatan’s sense of humor and accomplishment, his easily retrievable stats and accolades speak for themselves. If you were looking for a new favorite player, I’d encourage you to type “Zlatan” into You Tube.
The man that often partners Zlatan in the PSG attack is no slouch either. Uruguayan international Edinson Cavani provides PSG with another physical presence and a similarly clinical finisher. Although many argue that Cavani is playing out of position as a secondary striker or winger, he remains an elite attacking threat. The PSG midfield is led by tough-tackling veterans Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi and the young Italian Marco Verratti. Verratti, 21, has drawn comparisons to fellow countryman Andrea Pirlo. Although time will tell whether Verratti can come at all close to matching Pirlo’s legacy, Verratti certainly looks to possess an incredibly promising skill set. Lastly, PSG is anchored by one of the best center backs in the world in Brazilian Thiago Silva. Despite a recently fractured cheekbone, Silva will reportedly don a protective mask against Chelsea during their first leg.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain Advances
Along with Barcelona v. Atlético Madrid, this quarterfinal is the toughest to call. Jose Mourinho will undoubtedly have Chelsea prepared, but I’m going to pick PSG to move on. Zlatan has been an incredible form all year and I think that will continue both at Stamford Bridge and PSG’s Parc Des Princes.
Manchester United FC v. Bayern Munchen
While my other “previews” were fairly lengthy, this prediction will only require a single paragraph. Bayern Munchen has arguably the best team in the world and has yet to lose a single game within their Bundesliga campaign. They won the Champions League last year and look likely to repeat this year. Meanwhile, Manchester United’s season has been one of misery. Even in the team’s brightest moment this season, which was a 3-0 win against Olympiacos to advance into these quarterfinals, United forward Robin Van Persie was lost to a knee injury that will keep him out of both legs against Bayern. Even with Van Persie, United’s chances of winning were likely slim. Without the Dutchman, United looks certain to bow out prior to the semifinals.
Prediction: Bayern Munchen Advances