With the Champions League now in the 2nd round of knockout stages, this is where the Champions League really hots up. With each team agonising close to final in Lisbon, each minute, each shot, each block and each goal counts. Yesterday was the draw for Quarter final and I felt like I could hear the groans of Manchester United fans who to be quite honest, should count themselves lucky to even be this far in the competition, who just about scraped past Greek side Olympiakos to clinch a place in the next round. There have been some very interesting draws made this year such as the Spanish tie in Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint Germain vs Chelsea. Although some teams seem certain shoe-ins to progress to the semi-finals, we must remember that the knock-out stages are contested between two legs and anything can happen in the beautiful game of football.
Barcelona vs Ateltico Madrid
This was the first draw made and is one of the more mouth-watering ties in the draw, with both Barca and Ateltico fierce rivals in Spain and are two of the three teams competing for the La Liga title, the first time in quite some time that the crown could actually not go to Barcelona or Real Madrid. In Liga BBVA, Barcelona are 2rd in the standings with 75 points, only 1 point behind Ateltico Madrid with 76 and the All Whites are third with 73 points.
Their last three meetings have ended in a draw, two of them being 0-0 so the tie may not bring many goals but both teams have goals in them with arguably two of the best attacks in the world with Barcelona boasting an attack with the likes of Neymar, Messi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas among others. A Madrid have a strong forward to compete, having former Barcelona winger David Villa, Koke, Turan and one of the most clinical strikers in the world at the moment in South American born Spanish striker Diego Costa.
In the round of 16 Barcelona played Manchester City who at the start of the tie was eying up an unprecedented quadruple after winning the Capital One Cup and being favourites to win the league as well as being in the quarter finals of FA Cup. The first leg was all Barcelona with the Spanish visitors winning 2-0 with goals from Lionel Messi and Dani Alves and what would a Champions League match involving Barcelona be without a bit of controversy? After Man City centre back Martin Demichelis tackled Messi and gave away a penalty which his fellow countryman went on to score, but it was later found out that Demichelis had actually made the tackle outside the box, which in essence gave Barca an unfair but vital away goal before Dani Alves doubled their lead in the last few moments of the game, giving the Spanish champions a 2-0 lead going into the 2nd leg. At the Nou Camp, Manchester City kept Barcelona at bay, carving out a few chances for themselves although were unable to convert and this resulted in Messi opening the scoring in the 67th minute and the Catalan club kept piling on pressure but in the 89th minute, City captain Vincent Kompany put in the ball into the back of the net but this was nothing but a consolation goal as Dani Alves wrapped up proceedings by scoring a 2nd goal in the 90th minute, a repeat of the scorers from the first leg. Ateltico had an even easier road to the quarter finals, facing an AC Milan side who has not been at its best all season, sitting in midtable for a majority of the season, much like Manchester United. The Red and Whites went to the San Siro for the first leg and in-form striker Diego Costa scored a header in the 83rd minute and the match ended 1-0 when Milan travelled to Madrid only to beat 4-1 by Simone and his men.
This tie will be a hard one to call and I for one always support the underdog but I feel Barcelona may have too much in their locker if they all perform at their best.
Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund
This tie sees the exact repeat of last year’s quarter-final, which saw Dortmund prevail and go all the way to the final against Bayern Munich which they lost 2-1. Real Madrid are currently 3rd in La Liga, after two consecutive defeats to Barcelona in the El Classico and a surprise defeat to Valencia and now look outsiders to winning the league although they arguably have the strongest squad in Spain and even the world. Borussia Dortmund are 2nd in the Bundesliga and with Bayern Munich having already wrapped up the league, the only thing they are playing for is the Champions league spots and with Schalke hot on their heels with 54 points and BVB having 55, they must really find some consistency in the league, something they have lacked all season.
As I said before, Real Madrid have a pretty strong squad and amazing depth with the defensive partnership of Sergio Ramos and Pepe with Marcelo and Carvajal on either flank, their back four is notoriously hard to get behind or get past, although aren’t the most disciplined. Their midfield is very good and balanced with experienced players such as Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso as well as young talent with the likes of Isco and Illarramendi. Their forward three is one of the most deadly and feared in the world, consisting of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale. Last year’s finalists may have lost the Bundesliga again for the 2nd year running to Bayern Munich, but are hellbent on winning the Champions League and getting one over after their bitter lost to their league rivals and even though Klopp’s teams has been depleted for big chunks of the season, they still have a good team in players like Hummels and Subotic at the back and Gundogan and star man Reus and the two forwards up front, the clinical Pole Lewandowski and speed demon Aubameyang.
Last round, the 9 time European champions Real Madrid swept aside Schalke and went through on an amazing aggregate score of 9-2 having won the first leg in Germany 6-1 and getting 6 away goals made it mission never in a million years for the Germans. Although Schalke were given the smallest of helplines, by a sweet Klass-Jan Huntelaar volley to score against his former team, where he didn’t have the best of times. In the 2nd leg at the Bernabeu saw Real’s dominance in the tie continue, winning 3-1 but Real Madrid’s young winger Jese was injured just 2 minutes into the game, the Spanish U-21 suffered a cruciate ligament injury and was ruled out for the next six months, missing the rest of the domestic season and the world cup. Borussia Dortmund’s road to the quarter finals wasn’t as easy as it first seemed although they did cruse through the first leg 2-4 away from home and lost the home leg, scraping through the tie 5-4.
Real Madrid are favourites to win the Champions League and I think this year the tie will go the other way and Real will go through, but BVB won’t go out without a fight.
Chelsea vs PSG
When these two teams were drawn against each other, a few eyebrows were raised. One of the best managers in the world against one of the best players in the world. I am obviously talking about Demba Ba and Laurent Blanc. With all jokes aside, Mourinho going against one of the players he developed at their times at Inter Milan in Ibrahimovic is going to be an interesting battle. Zlatan loves scoring against former sides and managers as we saw last year when he scored against Barcelona in last year’s quarter finals.
Chelsea have a pretty strong side although their obvious weakness is their lack of quality strikers, Jose would kill to have an Ibrahimovic or a Cavani in his team. Chelsea have the experienced Petr Cech in-goal and their defence is very good with the likes of John Terry, Gary Cahill and David Luiz although Luiz has recently been pushed up field into defensive midfield and have class fullbacks such as Ashley Cole and ivanovic. The Blues’ midfield is without doubt their strongest part of their game and have plenty of talent in their ranks and will be very hard for PSG to break down. Paris Saint Germain are quite the opposite, the French champions’ weakness is their defence, apart from Thiago Silva and maybe young centre back Marquinhos, they have no defenders who are real Champions League quality. PSG’s midfield like Chelsea is very good and balanced with Motta, Pastore and Brazil wideman Lucas Moura. Their strike force is something to be reckoned with and although Zlatan is on the wrong side of the typical ‘prime age’, he is in his own words, like a fine wine, getting better the older he gets.
Chelsea met Galatasaray in the last round and saw the legend Didier Drogba return to Stamford Bridge and face the team that help build his status as one of the best strikers in the world. The Ivorian had said that if he scored against Chelsea, he would not celebrate due to respect for the club. He wouldn’t even get a chance to show his gratitude as he failed to score in both legs, In Istanbul, Chelsea drew 1-1 although did get the all important away goal before killing off the tie on the Bridge by winning 2-0. PSG basically waltzed their way into the quarter-finals after beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 away from home and Ibrahimovic scored an absolute screamer with his so ‘weaker foot’ and in the home leg Schalke-bound Sidney Sam gave Bayer some hope before Marquinhos and Lavezzi equalised and scored the winner respectively.
Although Chelsea have the stronger team in my opinion, Mourinho’s refusal to buy a striker in January will come back to haunt him, Jose should have invested in a striker who would Dare To Zlatan.
Manchester United vs Bayern Munich
Without a doubt, the most one-sided tie in the whole round. The team that won the league in March against the team that lost their league title in December. Usually Manchester United are favourites when it comes to any match but recently The Reds are deemed as underdogs in many of their matches and again they are major underdogs to the seemingly flawless Bayern Munich but United have to take something from their cross-city rivals on how to beat the powerhouse that is Bayern. Although United’s defence hasn’t served much good this season, Spanish stopper David De Gea has been one of United’s few bright sparks this season and had one of his best games ever last Champions League match, keeping out countless Olympiakos shots at Old Trafford. Moyes’ ageing defence isn’t doing David much good with Rio and Vidic often being the back two in their Champions League matches and left back Evra is having a poor season and Rafael often don’t think before a challenge and goes in with reckless tackles, they need to be on their game to keep out the German champions. Manchester United’s midfield isn’t much better and are given an ever bigger blow as star signing Juan Mata is illegible for the Champions League as he was in Chelsea’s CL squad before he made the switch from London to Manchester. Up front they have one of the best centre-forwards in Englishman Wayne Rooney and with Robin Van Persie injured, they must fall back on Danny Welbeck who is having a good season and Javier Hernandez who is pretty short of playing time. Bayern Munich look even stronger than last season with Mario Gotze along with the rest of last year’ s winners and look virtually untouchable.
Manchester United were blessed with arguably the easier draw in the round of 16 and even made them seem like Bayern Munich. Having lost 2-0 away in Greece. they had a mountain to climb in the away leg, being wasteful with chances and not getting an away goal meant that the English champions had to win 3-0 at least to go through and not concede an away goal. They somehow managed to win the match 3-0 via an inspired Van Persie hat-rick but in the latter stages of the game, the Dutchman picked up a knock and was stretched off and was going to be out for 4-6 weeks. Bayern Munich got Arsenal, the team they had got last year a repeat of last year occurred as Bayern somewhat went through with no great deal of stress, winning the away leg 2-0 and drawing the 2nd leg 1-1.
I am a realistic fan and I’m going to say Bayern Munich are going through, but if Manchester United can somehow keep a clean sheet in the first leg..who knows?
Overall the teams I feel will go through are
- Real Madrid
- Bayern Munich