The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League has been made, but which teams are likely to progress further?
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
The first draw out of the hat saw the Spanish affair between Barcelona and surprise title-hopefuls Atletico. This will be a contest won by whichever team takes their chances.
Barcelona, as always, will look to monopolise possession and Atletico will let them do so, to the point that this game where both teams will be allowed to play exactly how they want to.
Atletico will look to absorb the Barcelona pressure and hit them on the counter - where Barcelona have looked vulnerable all season. Few will contest that Barcelona have been anywhere near as dominant under Gerardo Martino and recent losses against Real Valladolid and Real Sociedad could trouble Barcelona despite them having dispatched Manchester City in confident fashion.
Diego Simeone’s men have proven that they’re no pushovers and will look to build on a very respectable title challenge they’ve been able to keep up to this season. Simeone doesn’t set up his team like the average Spanish outfit, it’s a team based around workrate, grit and technical ability in the final third.
The Danger Men:
Barcelona – Lionel Messi
It’s the obvious choice, the only choice. In Lionel Messi, Barcelona have the ultimate trump card in world football. He has spent some time on the sidelines with injury and has arguably not been prioritised as much in Martino’s system as he was in Pep Guardiola’s or Tito Vilanova’s, but his return to form has been undeniable and he’ll look to kill off Atletico in the first leg in Barcelona.
Atletico Madrid – Diego Costa
The talisman of their title challenge, the Brazilian-born Spanish international encapsulates Simeone’s thesis on football: fighting for every ball, every decision and mixing that with great ability to score some beautiful goals. The 25-year-old has 25 goals in 32 appearances this season and to bet on him not increasing that tally against Barca could prove unwise.
Manchester United v Bayern Munich
Every year the Champions League has a true David vs Goliath story, this year it seems it’s David Moyes vs Goliath with a team not on course or (or even close) to qualify for next year's competition going up against the holders who are currently 23 points ahead of nearest rivals Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
Bayern Munich have looked a different beast under Guardiola; no longer sitting back in periods, waiting to get the ball and countering. Now they look to all out dominate every game, always looking to have the ball and keep the ball.
The options the former Barcelona manager has to call on is frightening too. In their last match against third-place Bayer Leverkusen, Guardiola had a bench including Franck Ribery, Thiago, Javi Martinez and Philipp Lahm.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Manchester United have looked a shell of their former selves under Moyes. So much so it’s getting harder to believe week-after-week that this is the same squad that won the Premier League in such comfortable style only last season.
This will be a case of United fighting for their lives, but looking through the form they have world-class players that will be up for the fight. They’ll need those on the pitch if they are to have any chance at all. Moyes will be looking to build on an impressive display against Olympiacos at Old Trafford.
The Danger Men:
Bayern Munich – Mario Mandzukic
Many will disagree with my choice of the sometimes out-of-favour Croatian over recent Ballon d’Or nominee Franck Ribery, but Mandzukic’s impact this season has been undeniable.
19 goals in 30 appearances shows the goal threat the Munich target man possesses. In addition, he’s helped add a new dimension to Guardiola’s tactical system by adding a real threat from set pieces, something we rarely saw with Barcelona.
Manchester United – Wayne Rooney
Rooney has been Manchester United’s player of the season thus far and has looked to always lead the line in the battle against the club's doubters. 13 goals and 14 assists in 31 games showcases both Rooney’s finishing and creative abilities.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Chelsea
This one will be an interesting tie with two teams that are largely very equal. Both teams will set up with a good defensive spine and look to use their flair players to create chances. Both teams currently top of their domestic leagues as well but both have negative factors that could play a part.
For all the riches and great players PSG have to call on, they don’t have much in the way of real Champions League experience. They will be looking at the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to lead the line.
On paper, Chelsea are a lot more daunting than they play most weeks. They can boast a two-time Champions League-winning manager in Jose Mourinho, along with many players that won the tournament themselves a mere two seasons ago.
But Chelsea have been known to be inconsistent this season; one week they're scoring for fun and the next they’re having 30+ shots without scoring. The faith Mourinho has or doesn’t have in his team is still to be judged as the shrewd Portuguese is always a fan of selling the footballing world a line or two to get them thinking what he wants them too.
This will be a match of which team turns up. Both are capable of the spectacular but whether or not we’ll see it is unclear.
The Danger Men:
Chelsea – Eden Hazard
Hazard has shown this season the potential everyone saw in him during his time at Lille. We always saw flashes of his brilliance afrer he moved to Stamford Bridge but some argued that his development had stunted.
But this season he’s terrorised defences week-in, week-out and his performances in 2014 have put him in the reckoning for the Player of the Year award. It’s likely he’ll be put up against the defensively mediocre Gregory van der Wiel or ageing right-back Christophe Jallet so expect to see a lot of Hazard in this one.
Paris Saint-Germain – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
His Champions League goalscoring form this season has seen him in a personal battle with Cristiano Ronaldo and that alone shows the potent goal threat the experienced Swede possesses.
But it goes beyond that. For a tall man, the control Ibrahimovic has is incredible and with the ball at his feet can match the skill of any player in world football. Match his natural arrogance with the confidence anyone would get from 35 goals in 35 games and seeing him shoot from kick-off might not be too surprising a thought.
Real Madrid vs Borussia Dortmund
A chance for Real Madrid to get some revenge against the team that eliminated them last season, perhaps? The Galacticos started slowly this season but under Carlo Ancelotti they have risen to new heights in their play over recent months. The attacking partnership of world player of the year Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and the world’s most expensive player Gareth Bale is enough to have any defender quaking in their boots.
But although Dortmund have lost a lot since coming so close in that Champions League final less than a year ago, they still retain that never say die attitude that Jurgen Klopp installs into all of his players. It’s also easy to forget that Dortmund put in performances of the highest quality to eliminate Real Madrid last season and that will give them the faith and confidence to believe that a repeat is on the cards.
The Danger Men:
Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo
Who else? The incredible Portugese took his tally to 38 for the season against fellow German side Schalke and he’ll be smelling blood.
Borussia Dortmund – Robert Lewandowski
The Pole might be Munich-bound at the end of the season for nothing but Klopp will want to use him as much as possible until the last day of his contract.
Lewandowski truly introduced himself onto the world stage last season with a stunning hat-trick against the Spanish giants. A repeat performance might ease the blow for all the Dortmund fans that don’t want to see him go.
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