UEFA Champions League: Players to Watch in Each Quarterfinal Fixture
The Champions League quarterfinal draw has been made and we are presented with four very different ties, each with its own intriguing storylines.
When competitions reach their latter stages, individual players begin to take on an even greater role in successes. One or two good performances on a big stage can define a career.
It is that point that we are approaching now. Football is without doubt a team game, but it can be victory in just one of the many individual battles on the pitch that can determine a team's fate.
Let's take a look at a player from each of the upcoming quarterfinal ties whose performance could be crucial to the outcome of the game itself.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona: Thiago Motta
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Thiago Motta and Barcelona have history. Besides being a former player for the Blaugrana, Motta has had some memorable encounters with them since leaving the Nou Camp in 2007.
Back in 2010, it was the unfortunate Brazilian-Italian that saw red against Barca in the Champions League semifinal after one of Sergio Busquets' finer moments (YouTube).
Inter Milan, of course, went on to win the Champions League on that occasion, in spite of Motta's perceived injustice. He will, though, be determined to get his own personal revenge.
Of course, he has faced many of the Barcelona side since that occasion. Motta was a member of the Italy squad at Euro 2012 that fell short in the final against their Iberian opponents. He, more than most, will be aware of the challenge ahead.
PSG have weapons to hurt Barcelona. The pace of Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi, either side of the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic, can get behind the Catalans frequently fallible defensive line.
They will need, though, for Motta and his defensive midfield partner Blaise Matuidi to be in top form over the 180 minutes if they are to achieve success. Keep Barça playing in front of the back four and they have a chance.
It will be an intriguing tactical battle and one that PSG will surely relish. The pressure is off for them in Europe and they are now, potentially, the most dangerous side remaining in the draw for that very reason.
Bayern Munich vs. Juventus: Toni Kroos
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It is often said that to beat either Italy or Juventus, you have to stop the talents of deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo from shining through. This, then, will be the job of Bayern's Toni Kroos.
Kroos is a wonderfully gifted player who played a crucial role in the German side's first-leg demolition of Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. He is, though, also someone who is prepared to sacrifice his own glory for that of the team. It may be necessary against Juventus.
For all of Juventus' attacking talent, it remains Pirlo who is the central cog to their game. Negate his impact on a match and the feeling is that you severely limit Juventus as a side. This will be Kroos' primary role.
That is not to say that he cannot still contribute in attack. His shackling role will require him to be high up the pitch anyway, while the presence of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez deeper will allow him to push on naturally.
Juventus will hope that Bayern fail to show up, as they did in the second leg of their tie versus Arsenal. As with the German national side, Bayern have shown frailty when installed as strong favourites in knockout ties and Juventus will feel that they have more than enough quality to win out over two legs.
It is perhaps the best balanced of all the four ties, as two heavyweights of Europe go head-to-head for a semifinal place.
Malaga vs. Borussia Dortmund: Marco Reus
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When Marco Reus (left) joined Dortmund last summer for a substantial €17 million from Borussia Monchengladbach, it was heralded as a sign that the club were looking to cement their place at the top of the German game.
We can already safely say that they will not win a third consecutive Bundesliga title this season, with Bayern now 20 points clear. The signing of Reus, though, has helped in the club's development as a European force.
Reus has helped plug the sizeable gap left by the departure of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United last summer. Combined with Mario Gotze's continued development, it has ensured that Dortmund have continued their recent return to prominence.
Against Malaga they will face an opponent who should have been given no chance of defeating Porto after the first leg, as the Portuguese side contrived to squander chance after chance in a 1-0 win.
The La Liga side turned on the style in the return leg to overturn their deficit in fine style, with their achievement heralded given the club's ongoing financial turmoil.
Dortmund, though, will be eyeing a brilliant opportunity to reach the Champions League semifinal stage. Malaga, for all their forward talent, have a soft underbelly and Reus is in prime position to capitalise on any weakness.
It will be a critical tie in Dortmund's development, with a place in the semifinal promising both increased fame and fortune for the coming years.
Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray: Emmanuel Eboue
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Former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue has not always been the most reliable of defenders. On his day, though, he has always been able to make people wonder just why he has been unable to consistently perform at the top level.
Against Schalke in the second leg of his side's Round of 16 clash, the excellent Michel Bastos gave Eboue a torrid time. Against Real Madrid, Eboue will face the might of Cristiano Ronaldo.
As stated, Eboue can be a very good player. He is capable of shepherding Ronaldo, especially if assisted by Hamit Altintop in the midfield (it would be no surprise to see him do so).
Whether Eboue can concentrate for the duration of the 180-minute tie is another question, and it would be no surprise to see Sabri Sarioglu favoured as a more defensively sound alternative.
Ronaldo is central to Real Madrid's game and, although they have numerous other players capable of doing damage, he must be the main focus of attention. Galatasaray are little fancied, but stop Ronaldo and they will feel they have a chance.
On paper it is the most unbalanced of the four ties, so it is up to Eboue to help prove the Turkish side's critics wrong.