Champions League Quarter-Finals: One Key Battle to Define Each Tie
With Europe’s premier club competition set to return to our screens once again next month with four mouth-watering last-eight clashes involving some of the Continent’s most eye-catching club sides, we at Bleacher Report are here to give you the lowdown on each of those match-ups and how exactly we see each contest panning out.
Not only will we have the current champions from Germany, Spain, Italy and Turkey on show, but we will also have a team making their first-ever appearance in the competition, while five of the sides on show are on course to win their national titles this season.
So, all in all we are in store from a feast of European club football of the very highest standards, and these are the key battles that will define each tie…
No Place Like Home for Malaga
Malaga v Borussia Dortmund
This is likely to be a much closer contest than what many of the "experts" were predicting in the immediate aftermath of the quarter-final draw in Switzerland last week.
The key battle will centre around whether or not the Bundesliga champions’ vast array of attacking talents, comprising the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus et al, can break down Malaga’s stubborn, smothering defence and high-energy pressing game.
Manuel Pellegrini, who is the first coach in the history of the competition to have guided two debutants into the last eight, is a wily operator who will know that if his side can improve on a run of six clean sheets in only 10 Champions League ties this season against the Germans, then they will stand a great chance of progressing.
Equally, the La Liga outfit’s impressive home form in the tournament, with the first leg taking place at La Rosaleda, should give Malaga the chance to take a crucial lead with them with which to defend in the decisive return leg in Dortmund.
Expect the Spaniards to rely heavily of their famed work-rate, strong defence and ability to hit the opposition on the counterattack through danger men Isco and experienced Paraguay international Roque Santa Cruz.
And maybe they will meet a Dortmund side suffering from complacency, although equally important could be the fact that Jurgen Klopp’s men will be able to rest key individuals ahead of both legs now that their chances of retaining their Bundesliga title are well and truly over this season.
PSG Hope Their Champions League Cloud Will Have a Silva Lining
Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona
In essence, this eagerly-anticipated showdown involving the big-spending Ligue 1 leaders and the La Liga pace-setters could simply boil down to whether or not Planet Football’s most accomplished defender can stop the world’s best attacker as part of experienced Paris Saint-Germain head coach Carlo Ancelotti’s counter-attacking game plan?
Of course, it would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that the Catalans are simply a one-man team. However, if PSG’s imposing and classy captain and centre-back Thiago Silva is somehow able to get the better of four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, then it would surely give the Parisians a chance of producing an upset over the two legs.
And despite the fact that key front man Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be absent from the first meeting at the Parc des Princes through suspension, this may not be too much of a hindrance to the home side after all. Ancelotti's men will look to soak up as much Barca pressure as possible while playing mainly on the break in both encounters.
Now, if there is any side left in the competition with the right personnel in both defence and attack with which to execute this high-risk strategy, then it is a PSG team coached by a man who knows better than most how to navigate his way through the latter stages of this tournament.
Stopping Barcelona’s attacking threat is only half the Italian’s strategy, though, as PSG will also look to take advantage of Tito Vilanova’s side’s propensity to concede from headed goals via the likes of Thiago Motta, Silva and Ibra, a weakness that is sure to increase with the injury-induced absence of captain and central defender Carles Puyol from both legs.
Could Gala Be Heading for the Mother of All Upsets?
Real Madrid v Galatasaray
The Turkish champions may have been written off as no-hopers going in to this two-legged matchup with the Spanish titleholders, but in actual fact Fatih Terim’s side have won on two of the three occasions in which they have met Los Blancos in Europe and they will hoping they may be able to take advantage of any signs of complacency amongst the men from the Spanish capital.
The outcome of this fascinating contest lies around whether Gala can both take what few opportunities come their way over the course of the two legs, while at the same time also somehow managing to stop Madrid’s much-vaunted attack.
And you get the feeling that with the first leg taking place at the Santiago Bernabeu, much will rest on how the Turks’ defence copes with Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, especially given the fact that Galatasaray just do not do clean sheets, whether that be domestically (just two in their last nine in the league) or on the Continent (only one in their previous eight ties).
However, were Gala able to come away without too much damage being done from the first leg, then they will very much fancy their chance of causing a monumental upset in the return match in Istanbul, where recent new marquee signings Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder should come into the reckoning.
You can be absolutely sure that both men will be desperate to get one over on their one-time mentor, Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, who neither has faced since parting company with the Portuguese, and there could hardly be two better players with which to exploit Real’s known defensive weakness in the air.
The Spanish giants have conceded 48 percent of all their goals in La Liga from set pieces this season, the second-highest in the league, and 22% of all their top-flight goals when defending corners, the highest in the entire division. In all competitions this campaign, of the 48 goals which Madrid have let in, a whopping 16 have come from set-piece situations.
Now, the "Special One" may continue to deny the fact, but the statistics do not lie, telling a very different story that Galatasaray will be determined to exploit next month.
It's Mind over Matter for Munich
Bayern Munich v Juventus
The question on everyone’s lips going into this heavyweight contest, and ultimately the key to the entire showdown, is whether or not the Bavarians can overcome their psychological hang-ups when it comes to both facing the Turin giants in Europe and not choking in the later stages of this competition, or will Munich always be destined to be the Champions League bridesmaid and never the bride?
“This was not the draw we dreamed of. Statistically, we do not have a good record against Juventus. We will need to play very well in both games," admitted Bayern chairman (via the Guardian), Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, after the last-eight draw. If you also take into account the fact that FC Hollywood have lost two of the previous three finals, one might start to think that the Germans are never destined to win Europe’s premier club competition again.
However, if Jupp Heynckes and Co are able to somehow overcome their pre-match mental demons, then their prowess up front should prove just too strong for Juve’s granite-like defence in what is sure to be an intriguing matchup between German attacking efficiency and stubborn Italian defence over the course of the two legs.
And with the runaway Bundesliga leaders able to rest key performers ahead of the two ties should they choose to, unlike the Bianconero whose lead at the top of Serie A is more slender, Bayern, the Champions League top scorers with 18, look like having too much for a parsimonious Juventus back line that has not conceded in their previous five encounters in this tournament.
Either way, whoever emerges on top, on paper this looks like being the tie of the round between what are sure to be this season’s champions of Germany and Italy respectively.