All roads lead to Wembley

 
 

With the quarter-finals of the Champions League starting tonight, Alex Rathke takes a look at the chances of the remaining eight teams

This year’s Champions League quarter-finals have thrown up some interesting ties, but Bayern Munich versus Juventus is the pick of the lot. Italian Champions Juventus, who beat Celtic 5-0 on aggregate, will take on current German league leader Munich on April 2nd and 10th.

The Germans are loaded with superstars from some of Europe’s top countries, such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben,  but still had a difficult time managing Arsenal during their second leg tie a few weeks back, only making it through to the next round on away goals. As such, their European pedigree has been called into question, but the fact remains that their defensive record and goal scoring ability are still the best in the German League this season.

Juventus will be hoping that Andrea Pirlo will be on top form to provide Alessandro Matri with the passes to penetrate the Munich defence, but the Germans will provide a much more testing challenge than Celtic did and manager Antonio Conte will know that. Juventus will hope to extinguish Munich’s hopes of giving Jupp Heynckes’ the perfect send-off, before he is replaced by previous Barcelona Manager Pep Guardiola.

On the same days as the Juventus/Munich ties, Barcelona will face-off against big-spending Paris Saint-Germain. Barcelona will once again be favourites now that their star player, Lionel Messi, has found his form again. Once the first leg of Barcelona’s game with AC Milan in the round of 16 was over, many ruled out any chances that they would progress to the quarter-finals of the competition.

However, a world class performance from the Catalans led one of the most breath-taking comebacks in the history of the competition, as they sliced their way through Milan’s defence to book their place in the last eight.

PSG will look to get star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic back on the score sheet as he will once again meet one of his previous employers, who acquired his services following a trade with Inter Milan in exchange for Samuel Eto’o and a whopping €46 million back in 2009. PSG have come a long way in a very short space of time, thanks largely the resources they have been given.

They have done what many expected Manchester City to do last year and this year. Former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, now manager of PSG, knows what it takes to win Europe’s most prestigious prize, as he’s already lifted the trophy twice with AC Milan in 2003 and again in 2007.

Meanwhile, German champions Borussia Dortmund are continuing their impressive run of form in Europe this season after building on last years’ fourth place finish at the bottom of Group F. Manager Juergen Klopp has very carefully improved Dortmund’s playing ability with fresh youngsters from the club’s academy.

Polish duo Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski have been very influential in midfield, while strikers Mario Goetze and Marco Reus work a very dangerous striking partnership upfront. The loss of Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United seems not to have affected the German team that much this year.

They face surprise quarter-finalists Malaga, who have come the longest way of all eight teams here, having gone through the previous qualifying rounds even before the group stage draws took place. Malaga started their Champions League season off with a play-off game against Greek team Panathinaikos and then finished off winners in Group C, ahead of the mighty AC Milan.

Malaga then went on to beat FC Porto 2-1 on aggregate. They will hope to upset Dortmund and secure a semi-final place, although they have already gotten further than have ever gotten in the history of the tournament. Dortmund, on the other hand, are hoping to relive their Champions League winning season of 1996-1997.

In the final tie of the round, Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho will hope to continue his march to become the first manager to win the UEFA Champions League with three different teams. Mourinho currently shares the record of two wins with two other managers; Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld.

In the previous round, Madrid overcame Manchester United thanks in part to controversial refereeing decision, which gave Madrid the upper hand, when Manchester United player Nani was sent-off for raising his boot in what the referee decided was dangerous play.

Turkish side Galatasaray are looking strong, especially after signing Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba and Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder, both of whom were previously coached by Mourinho at Chelsea and Inter respectively. Turkish player Hamit Altintop plays a crucial role in midfield, in which he links with Sneijder, and scored against Schalke 04 in the previous round. Galatasaray will bring a very attacking style of Turkish football to the Bernabeu and try and influence Mourinho’s defensive tactical system.

One of the biggest talking points since the ending of the last round has been the elimination of all English teams from the competition, which has not happened since the 1995-1996 season, when Blackburn finished last in their group. It is looking like the winner will come from Spain, who have three teams still left in the competition, while Germany is next best option, with two teams.

The draw for the semi-finals of the Champions League will take place on April 12th at UEFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. The games will be played on April 23rd and 24th, with the return legs being named for the 30th April and 1st May. The final will again be located at Wembley Stadium, London for the second time in three years.

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