After the quarter-final first legs, we’re still none the wiser as to who will progress to the semi-finals of this season’s Champions League.
The draw in Nyon on 18 March produced four intriguing ties, but there was a sense of near-certainty as to who would eventually prevail.
The general consensus was that Barcelona would establish a stronger foothold and make the most of home advantage against Atletico Madrid – particularly after the visitors were reduced to ten men midway through the first half.
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Now they take a slender 2-1 lead to Vicente Calderon, but Diego Simeone’s side haven’t registered a win over Barca since 14 February 2010 when goals from Diego Forlan and Simao gave Atleti a 2-1 victory. This will be a tricky fixture for Luis Enrique’s team to negotiate and the tie is finely balanced – this one could go either way.
Another surprise was that Bayern Munich did not manage to extend their lead against Benfica. Pep Guardiola will take his side to Portugal with a 1-0 advantage and the world will fully expect Bayern to finish the job off and progress with consummate ease. But will it be that straightforward?
Benfica have only lost twice at home in the league this season – but those losses were against Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto, which poses the question: can they handle the big games? In Kostas Mitroglou, the Lisbon-based outfit have a clinical goalscorer. The Greece international – on loan from Championship side Fulham – has bagged 21 goals for Benfica this season and appears to be worth every bit of the £12 million that the Cottagers paid to secure his services in January 2014.
Again, this is another tie on a knife-edge but Bayern should have enough quality to see the game out at the Stadium of Light.
There’s little doubt that the shock of the round was Wolfsburg’s stunning 2-0 victory over Real Madrid. It could, and in actual fact should, have been much more for Dieter Hecking’s side had Andre Schurrle not blazed a late chance over the bar.
Real looked vulnerable against AS Roma in their last-16 clash and Wolfsburg expertly exploited those defensive frailties with aplomb. Zinedine Zidane’s side will attack Die Wolfe from the first whistle at the Bernabeu, but if the visitors can snatch a goal that really will put the cat amongst the pigeons.
A boost for the hosts is that Marcelo survived his near-death experience at the Volkswagen Arena. He’ll be hoping to add another Champions League medal to his latest Oscar triumph.
Elsewhere, few gave Manchester City little hope of salvaging anything from their trip to Paris Saint-Germain. Manuel Pellegrini’s squad have saved their best performances for Europe this season but almost pressed the self-destruct button when Zlatan Ibrahimovic capitalised on Fernando’s lapse in concentration.
The pre-match build up focused on how City would cope with PSG and best possible scenarios for the return clash at the Etihad on Tuesday. A loss by the odd goal seemed to be the pundit’s – and fan’s – most optimistic call. Few would have predicted a score draw and 2-2 is a great result for City.
There’s still a lot of work for Pellegrini’s side to do if they’re to progress to the semi-finals, but the return of Kevin de Bruyne has been a massive boost for the squad. Rumours that Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany could be fit for the second leg will only add to the excitement amongst the natives, who are enjoying this latest adventure.
The final pieces of this fascinating, wondrous jigsaw will be put into place next week. The Champions League: unpredictably unpredictable.
Which four teams will book their spots in the semi-finals? Let us know YOUR thoughts in the comment section!
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