Champions League final eight: Contenders or pretenders?
An in-depth look at the remaining teams fighting for Champions League glory
With the second leg of the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League done and dusted with, we now are down to the final eight of the competition.
All eight teams have clearly done enough both in their respective groups and their round of 16 ties to be one of the top eight teams in Europe.
For the first time since the 1995-96 season, no Premier League team has made it to the last eight and whilst that is a clear indication of the reduced domination of the English Premier League in European Football, both Manchester United and Arsenal were rather unlucky, in not being a part of the competition anymore.
United lost out to Real Madrid following an all but controversial red card to Nani, and Arsenal went out on away goals to Bayern Munich after surprising one and all by beating them 2-0 at the Allianz Arena.
So, let us have a look at how the teams are shaping up, before heading into the last eight of Europe's most prestigious competition, the Champions League.
The Turkish Giants, Galatasaray are sitting pretty at the top of the Turkish Super Lig, and have looked pretty decent since the inclusion of proven stalwarts like Wesley Sneijder, and Didier Drogba into their squad.
Drawn into a relatively simpler group, Gala had to contend with lesser fancied teams including CFR Cluj and SC Braga, alongside facing tournament favourites Manchester United. Despite earning 10 points, Gala made it through to the last 16 of the tournament only on head to head after being tied on points with Cluj post the group stage.
They were then pitted against 2010-11 semi-finalists, Schalke 04 in their Round of 16 fixture. After ending up level in their first home leg, Gala all but convincingly went through beating Schalke 3-2 at the Veltins Arena.
The general level of play from Gala hasn't been as great, and they'll really need to step up a couple of notches against the mighty Real Madrid in the quarters, if they are to script a rally to the semi-finals of the competition. To be blatant, Gala on current level of play do not deserve a place in the last four and will struggle against Mourinho's determined Los Blancos.
Ranked eighth, thus, are the Turkish Giants, Galatasaray.
7. Paris Saint-Germain
Truck loads of Money infused, house-hold names brought in, PSG, expected to be about where they currently are. At top of the French Ligue 1, and still alive in the Champions League, PSG just might have hit their road block.
They have been rather inconsistent overall and were extremely lucky to get through to the quarters after a hapless second leg performance against Valencia. Add to that, their upcoming tie against Barcelona, without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovich, PSG's dreams seem to be still a distant possibility. PSG have been given a fairly easy draw thus far but now they will have to step up against a resurgent and inspired Barcelona.
Inconsistent and enigmatic, PSG are seventh on this list.
Malaga have been on the brink of a breakout in the Champions League ever since their Arab owners took over. Finally the breakout seems to have happened. Based on their solid defence and a star in the making, Malaga surprised one and all by coming out unbeaten in the group stage, a group that included Zenit and Milan.
They were 1-0 down to Porto in their first leg but came out stronger of the two, at their home. Facing Borussia Dortmund, in their upcoming Champions League fixture, Malaga do stand a chance of overcoming Dortmund. It will be feisty clash, a clash of the dark horses of sorts. Although Dortmund are the more fancied side in this one, Malaga may still pull out another bunny out of the hat.
At number six, are the underdogs of this years Champions League, Malaga CF.
5. Borussia Dortmund
Yes, Dortmund have been excellent in their Champions League adventure thus far, but their domestic form is something that would concern them more than anyone else. Their affair with the Champions League however has been nothing short of fascinating.
Pitted against the might of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax in the group stage, Dortmund, came out with flying colours remaining unbeaten while managing to beat both the Spanish and the English Champions. They were then almost rewarded with a supposedly tricky tie against Ukrainian Champions Shakhtar Donetsk.
Easily defeating them at the Signal Iduna Park, after a level game in Ukraine meant that Dortmund continued their romance with the tournament. They now face Malaga, and Jurgen Klopp would believe that his side, critically out of the Bundesliga title race, will make it to the last four of the competition.
Despite an easier game to look forward to in the quarter-finals, Dortmund domestic form restricts them to number five.
Surprise Surprise!! Yes, the Blaugrana are not topping this list. Leave alone topping the list, their form off late means that they stutter to a number 4. Yes, they stood up at the Camp Nou against Milan to wipe off their 2-0 loss at the San Siro, but that does not wipe off their hapless performances against Madrid a week before.
Ever since Jordi Roura took over post Tito Vilanova's illness, Barca haven't been themselves. They've tried to play their normal tiki-taka and have failed to create enough chances. They did look the part against Milan though, and one would indeed fancy them to overcome PSG too, but will Barca make it all the way? On current form of both Barca and their competitors, the answer might just be no.
Barca have enough quality players to turn around any situation, just like they did against Milan, but will they have a chance to turn things around against the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich etc. Who knows?
At number four and not number one, are Barcelona for a change.
Juventus are yet to prove themselves totally. They have been prolific again in their Serie A ambitions, but have been convincing only against teams like Shakhtar and Celtic. They did beat Chelsea in a crunch group stage match though but are just not tested against the quality oppositions of the tournament.
They could only beat what is in front of them though, but the general quality of their team would definitely lead them to contest evenly against the tougher oppositions too. Boasting of the greatest mid-field in world football, including Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, Stephan Lichtsteiner among others Juventus will provide stiff resistance against title bound Bayern Munich.
Juventus Vs. Bayern is set to be the tie of the round, and Juventus will be on their toes, ready to give Bayern a stiff, stiff challenge in the quarters.
At number three, are Juventus. The Bianconeri have been special since last season, and may just be bound for glory this time.
2. Bayern Munich
Real or Bayern? I'd go with Real at the top. But that will later be discussed. Bayern have been the team to beat this season. Be it the Bundesliga, or the Champions League, Bayern have ripped defences apart.
But Arsenal showed that even Bayern who have seemed almost unbeatable so far can have off days. Complacency or Just an off day? I'd say complacency. Bayern's form off late hasn't been great either. Yes, they still continue to win games but not as convincingly as they used to, say a month ago.
Bayern, nevertheless are still firm favourites for the title, and they have every chance of exorcising their Champions League ghost this time. Jupp Heynecks' last Champions League tournament with Bayern should add all the more incentive to Bayern's quest for the title. It is really going to be riveting to see how Bayern Munich will go about their business from here on.
Also, given their tie against Juventus, Bayern have stiff times forthcoming. By the slightest of margins, Bayern Munich are second on this list.
1. Real Madrid
Name on the trophy? Seems legitimate.
Jose Mourniho's romance with his beloved Champions League continued on, in all but controversial circumstances. But the main point here is that it did continue.
Mourinho has brought all the glory to the Spanish Capital, and all that is left is a Champions League triumph, which will also be Real's tenth Champions League victory. It all did look lost when United were out-witting Mourinho's men at Old Trafford, but when the opportunity came by, Mourinho capitalised beautifully, bringing on Luka Modric who proved to be the game changer.
Too early to say this, but Mourinho looks bound for another triumph in the Champions League. The fact that they don't need to ponder over the La Liga anymore, should provide that extra kick to the Los Blancos. Cristiano Ronaldo is determined as ever and after getting through the United tie, you would expect Real to mount a proper and firm title challenge.
Real Madrid have all that it takes to win the Champions League this time. Can Mourinho charm the world again? Why not! At number one lie the nine time winners, Real Madrid.
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