Football

Champions League quarter-finals: Key battles

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Ibrahimovic is set for a Nou Camp return (©GettyImages)
Ibrahimovic is set for a Nou Camp return (©GettyImages).

The stage is set for some cracking Champions League quarter-final ties, with some of the best players in the world ready to go head-to-head.

And the absence of Premier League competition will soon be forgotten once Zadok the Priest dies down, and the players take to the pitch. Because this year's competition has a lovely mix of big-name favourites and under-the-radar "dark horses".

Borussia Dortmund, Paris St Germain, Malaga and Galatasaray each will fancy a place in the semi-finals, and each - with the possible exception of Malaga - have a superstar striker.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Didier Drogba all have the quality to spring a surprise. Real Madrid and Barcelona will just be pleased to have avoided one another.

The biggest casualty is likely to come from Bayern Munich versus Juventus. Both lead their respective leagues by healthy margins, both have been impressive in the Champions League, and both possess world-class players.

Each of the four match-ups have intriguing sub-plots, from Drogba meets Mourinho to Pirlo versus Schweinsteiger.

Here, GMF takes a look at some of the key battles to look forward to starting the first week of April...

Bayern Munich v Juventus | Andrea Pirlo v Bastian Schweinsteiger

A re-run of the Euro 2012 semi-final. That day Pirlo had the edge, as Toni Kroos gave him too much space to operate, and he was allowed to affect the game as only he can.

Kroos once again could be the man closest to Pirlo, but Bayern Munich will want more from Schweinsteiger than he showed in the Germany-Italy match.

That day, restricted by a troublesome foot injury, the centre-midfielder was laboured and sloppy in possession. On his day though, he's a complete centre-midfielder.

The two most prolific passers in the Bundesliga and Serie 'A', Schweinsteiger (74 passers per match) and Pirlo (80 per match) lead their respective leagues in this category. Lose possession, and it could be a while until you get it back.

Javi Martinez, Toni Kroos, Schweinsteiger versus Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio - whoever gets the better of the midfield holds the edge in this one.

Paris St Germain v Barcelona | Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Barcelona defence

The return of Zlatan. After leaving Barcelona in 2011, a flood of headlines followed - 'I was bullied by Messi and Pep', 'Barcelona are mediocre', 'Pep has no balls!'. 

It's safe to say it was an acrimonious departure - Ibrahimovic clearly not a fan of the Nou Camp way. But he's a hugely talented striker, and he'll be the focus of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique's attention.

Because Barcelona don't have the tightest defence - Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Malaga have all conceded less in La Liga, and they looked vulnerable at the San Siro.

Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore provide a creative backbone, and the Ligue 1 leaders, with the Ligue 1 top scorer, should pose a real threat. 

Real Madrid v Galatasaray | Didier Drogba v Sergio Ramos

Real Madrid will be quietly pleased with this draw. A trip to Turkey is rarely straightforward, but Jose Mourinho will be confident of progression.

He'll also be reunited with his former-Chelsea battering ram, Didier Drogba. On the pitch, the Galatasaray striker will be up against Real Madrid limpet Sergio Ramos.

Expect it to be a fiercely competitive, hugely physical encounter. With Drogba inching towards full fitness, and Burak Yilmaz in top form, this could be a tasty battle.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund | Jurgen Klopp v Manuel Pellegrini 

Free-scoring Dortmund versus goal shy Malaga. The Germans are lethal on the counter, while Malaga are yet to register a single La Liga goal on the break. This could get tactical.

Two of the game's most in-demand coaches go head-to-head in this one. Pellegrini, linked with Manchester City, favours 4-4-2, while Jurgen Klopp, linked with Chelsea, prefers an expansive, fluid attacking lineup.

And with Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski he's got the players to pull it off.

Dortmund will be favourites, but Malaga have the second best defensive record in La Liga.  Pellegrini versus Klopp - an opportunity to get a glimpse of a future Premier League manager?

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