Champions League Quarter-Finals: Predicting All the Ties
There are never any easy games at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, and this is certainly true in the 2013-14 season.
The official Champions League Twitter feed reminded us that this is the first time in the history of the competition that all eight group-winners made the final eight, while Spanish paper Marca (via the Daily Mail) is hailing this as the "strongest Champions League ever."
UEFA's delegates have assembled, the balls have been ceremoniously drawn and the quarter-finalists have learned their respective fates. Here's how the quarter-finals might play out...
Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich cannot stop winning at the moment, so it is fitting that the Bavarians appear to be the winners of the quarter-final draw.
This is a very strong field, but seven of the sides in it were surely hoping to draw out-of-form Manchester United, who papered over the cracks in their disappointing season with a comeback against Olympiakos in the round of 16.
Jim Knight of Goal.com notes that Bayern's odds at winning the competition for the second consecutive season have been slashed from 2-1 to 7-4 after the draw, which clearly shows how little faith the bookies have in David Moyes' ability to upset the reigning champions.
United fans will fondly remember that night in Barcelona when they stole the European Cup from under Die Roten's noses in injury time, but since then, the Red Devils have only won once in six meetings. That was their most recent game at Old Trafford in April 2010, where Sir Alex Ferguson's side were eliminated by the eventual finalists on goal difference.
Captain Phillip Lahm has emphasised the fact that they will not be taking the game lightly, telling Reuters "We should not be blinded by their current position in the league because they have outstanding players."
However, when you consider match-ups such as Arjen Robben vs. Alex Buttner, this may turn into an exercise in damage limitation for the Premier League side.
Prediction: United hold the favourites to a 1-1 at Old Trafford but lose 3-0 at the Allianz when Die Roten shift into top gear. Bayern Munich progress.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
Jose Mourinho's first Champions League game with Chelsea was a trip to the Parc des Princes in September 2004, where his side recorded a comfortable 3-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain.
This encounter will not be anywhere near as straightforward, with PSG a completely different beast since they joined Chelsea in the nouveau riche elite. The French champions have been defeated only once in Ligue 1 this season, they cruised through the Champions League group stage and they dispatched Bayer Leverkusen 6-1 on aggregate in the previous round.
PSG's Qatari investors have built this club specifically to compete in the Champions League, and their impressive display in the quarter-finals against Barcelona last year shows they are taking to the competition more quickly than the likes of Manchester City.
In the same way that he claims Chelsea are not title contenders, Jose Mourinho has been telling anyone who will listen that his side are outsiders in this competition. The Special One may be glad to have avoided the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but he will know the free-scoring Zlatan Ibrahimovic—whom he managed at Inter Milan—will pose a very serious threat.
Jose Mourinho has never been knocked out in the quarter-finals of this competition, but PSG and their incredible squad certainly have the ability to end that streak. Before the tournament started, I predicted PSG to make it to at least the semi-final stage, and I'm sticking with that hunch.
Prediction: PSG record a thrilling 2-0 home win but lose 1-0 at the Bridge. PSG progresses.
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
In the rehearsal draw, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo was given yet another chance to score at Old Trafford and not celebrate, but the draw proper puts Los Blancos up against 2013 finalists Borussia Dortmund.
Of course, this is a replay of last season's semi-final, where Robert Lewandowski embarrassed the Spaniards with his four-goal haul in the home leg.
The Westfalenstadion is not an easy place to go for any team, but Zenit St Petersburg were 2-1 victors in front of the Yellow Wall this week and BvB have already lost four times at home this season.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, remain completely driven by the prospect of the elusive "Decima"—their 10th European Cup. If you ask a fan if they would rather capture another league title or bag their first Champions League title since 2002, they will almost certainly pick the latter.
Los Blancos are playing the best football in Spain right now, and Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life—and on course to break Champions League goalscoring records with 13 this season so far.
We saw in Dortmund's first-leg tie with Zenit that they are capable of playing magnificent, high-pressing and exciting football on their day, but this season they have been too blighted by injury to repeat the success of the last campaign. To make matters worse, they will be without Lewandowski in the first leg due to suspension.
Prediction: Real Madrid are 4-0 winners at the Bernabeu, but lose 2-1 in Germany. Real Madrid progresses.
Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid
Barcelona's draw with Atelti has the potential to be the best draw of the round.
They have already played each other three times this season, all three of which were draws. There is just a single point between the two sides in the league, with Barca currently trailing in third place behind both Madrid sides.
Bookmakers clearly believe the Blaugrana have the edge in this one: Goal.com notes that Atleti's odds of winning the trophy lengthened from 14-1 to 20-1 after the draw.
However, Barca are—by their standards—suffering a shaky season, while Atleti have shown their class in this competition: They were unbeaten in the group stage and thoroughly outclassed Milan in the previous round.
As Spanish football expert Guillem Balague notes on this very website, Diego Simeone's side "are physical, defend deep, hit on the counter attack [and] are strong on set pieces."
Atleti are an absolute joy to watch this season, much like BvB last year. They have the ability to upset Barcelona on domestic and European fronts, so don't be surprised if they do.
Prediction: A tense 0-0 at the Nou Camp is followed by a 1-0 extra-time win for Simeone's men. Atletico Madrid progress.