Predicting the Champions League Quarterfinals
The draw for the Champions League quarterfinals took place on Friday lunchtime, at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
First out of the bowl were Malaga of Spain, arguably the least fancied of the remaining eight clubs, who were set a mighty test in the form of German side Borussia Dortmund.
Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid came next. The possibility remained they could face great rivals Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Juventus, but Mourinho will be extremely relieved they pulled Turkish club Galatasaray.
The third tie drawn saw Paris Saint-Germain of France set against Barcelona. It's a meeting that will see striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic up against his former club at Camp Nou, though he'll be suspended for the first leg in Paris.
The best of the quarterfinals emerged last, pitting perhaps the best defence in Europe, Juventus, against Bayern Munich, who boast one of the best attacks.
Here are my predictions for all eight ties.
Malaga vs. Borussia Dortmund
Winner: Borussia Dortmund
Players to Watch: Mario Götze (Dortmund), Isco (Malaga)
Dortmund are one of two teams who remain unbeaten in the Champions League this season. Jurgen Klopp's youthful collective came through a seriously tough group, finishing ahead of Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City.
They beat Madrid at home and drew 2-2 at the Bernabeu, displaying everything you need to know about their aptitude for the task and capacity to rise up to the big occasion.
Malaga deserve credit for the spirit they showed against Porto and also for coming through the group stage unscathed. The Spaniards beat AC Milan at home and drew 1-1 at the San Siro en route to the knockout stages, which is no small feat.
That said, they are not in the same class as Dortmund, who boast perhaps the strongest collection of young players in Europe. Mario Götze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski will be hard to contain; Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are young defenders who already have big reputations.
Watch for Malaga's Isco, who has scored three goals and provided three assists this season, but expect their run to end here.
Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray
Winner: Real Madrid
Players to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray)
Galatasaray began the group stage with two defeats and a draw but lifted themselves to win three in a row and scrape through on the final match day. Having secured a spot in the last 16, they went out and bought Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder to bolster their challenge.
The Turks were held 1-1 at home by Schalke in the first knockout round but advanced with a 3-2 win in Germany that said much about their fighting spirit and highlighted just how tough an opponent they can be.
In Burak Yilmaz, Galatasaray have the Champions League's joint top scorer this season. Yilmaz has eight goals from eight games.
The other man with eight is Cristiano Ronaldo, who'll be lining up against Gala in the colours of Real Madrid—conquerors of Manchester United in the last 16.
Jose Mourinho's Madrid were far from convincing across two legs against United, but providing they come out firing at the Bernabeu should make it past Galatasaray and into the semis. It won't be easy, because Gala will set up to stop them playing, but it's not that easy to contain Ronaldo and his cohorts when they're in the mood.
Expect this one to be tighter than you'd think, but bank on Madrid doing enough at home to win the tie.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona
Players to Watch: Lucas Moura (PSG), Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Some raised questions about Barcelona after their 2-0 loss against Milan at the San Siro. Their emphatic 4-0 win in the return answered some of them, but there remains concern over Barca's defending.
That said, it's a brave call to suggest a team boasting the fabulous gifts of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are anything but favourites at this stage of the competition. Barca have won the tournament twice in the last four seasons and know how to get it done at this stage.
Paris Saint-Germain's only hope is to win convincingly in France and catch Barca on an off day at Camp Nou. Carlo Ancelotti's team romped through a relatively weak group but struggled somewhat against Valencia in the last 16.
PSG were superb in the first leg but were made to grind it out at home against a team significantly inferior to the Barcelona one they'll come up against. They've showed signs they're a team in the ascendancy and boast some very fine players, but this is a season too soon for them to win the Champions League.
I predict Barcelona will win both legs and make it through to the semis with relative ease.
Bayern Munich vs. Juventus
Players to Watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
This is the tie of the round. It pits Bayern Munich's multidimensional attack against Juventus' world-class defence. A clash of footballing cultures awaits, and you could make a strong argument for both teams winning.
Bayern have been utterly dominant in the Bundesliga. They are 20 points clear at the top and have scored 67 times in 25 games—which is hardly surprising if you've watched the likes of Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery, Toni Kroos and Mario Mandzukic in action this season.
That said, they fell flat against Arsenal at the Allianz Arena. Having won the first leg of their last-16 tie 3-1, they were given an almighty scare by a team well below the level of Juve. They missed Bastian Schweinsteiger badly and will be relieved to have him back for the quarterfinals.
Juventus are unbeaten in the Champions League this season. In two games against Chelsea in the group stage they proved just how strong a force they are. Celtic were predictably swatted aside in the last 16.
Juve are supremely organised. They have a core as strong as any team in Europe and plenty of quality in the final third to hurt you with. I expect them to frustrate Bayern in Munich and win a very tight tie back in Turin—it might even take extra time.