UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finals: Key Storylines to Watch
The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League was made on Friday in Switzerland, with Luis Figo pulling four interesting ties from the proverbial hat.
Champions League quarter-final draw:
Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea
Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich
The four ties set up interesting meetings of old foes, former friends and clashes of styles, and in the following slides we will take a look at some of the most pressing storylines to watch out for over the course of both legs.
Can Jose Mourinho Shackle Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSG?
Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are known to have a reasonably close personal bond, despite having only worked together for one season when the two were at Inter Milan in the 2008-09 season.
That bond will be put to the test in the quarter-finals of the Champions League when Mourinho's Chelsea face off against Ibrahimovic's Paris Saint-Germain.
In his autobiography (via the Daily Mail), Ibrahimovic spoke at length about his admiration for Mourinho and his methods:
Jose Mourinho is a big star. He’d been my manager at Inter. He’s nice.
That guy says whatever he wants. I like him. He’s the leader of his army. But he cares, too. He would text me all the time at Inter, wondering how I was doing. He’s the exact opposite of Pep Guardiola.
If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains. I guessed that Guardiola was trying to match up to him. Mourinho would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.
Ibrahimovic subsequently added:
There was one thing that really bothered me: no matter what I did, there was never any hint of a smile.
I was doing totally amazing things, but Mourinho had a face like a wet weekend. One time we were playing Bologna and I scored a goal that was absolutely insane. It was later voted goal of the year. Mourinho stood there stony-faced.
One way or another, I was going to make that man cheer. It happened, but only once we had won three titles and I was top goalscorer. Mourinho, the man with the face of stone, the man who never batted an eyelid, had woken up. He was like a madman. He was cheering like a schoolboy, jumping up and down, and I smiled: ‘So I got you going, after all. But it took some doing.’
Now Mourinho is in the opposition dugout, Ibrahimovic's desire will be to get a reaction from his old manager in a different way. We all know he has the individual talent to do that—he has shown it many times over the years—and this season he has become a brilliant contributor to his team.
PSG, too, look a formidable prospect—blessed with attacking quality like Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi but also defensively solidity in the guise of Thiago Silva. Arguably only a lingering bias against the quality of French clubs will see them enter the tie as marginal underdogs, something that will not please Mourinho.
In such circumstances, when faced with both a big game and an opponent of similar ability, Mourinho's typical reaction in the past has been to set out his side to frustrate, forcing an attritional battle that his side invariably ends up edging.
Ibrahimovic himself will be aware of this, having been on the losing Barcelona side when Mourinho's Inter pulled a similar trick in the Champions League in 2009.
It seems likely then that Mourinho will look to set up his Chelsea side to blunt Ibrahimovic's threat and keep PSG from scoring, while the French side will rely on their talisman to keep creating like he has all season.
It figures to be the one key battle that decides the tie.
Can Robert Lewandowski Do It to Real Madrid Again?
Yes, yes, Robert Lewandowski is suspended from the first leg of Borussia Dortmund's quarter-final tie against Real Madrid. But he will be back for the second leg at the Westfalenstadion, site of his heroics in the semi-finals of the competition last year.
Lewandowski asserted himself as one of the very finest strikers in Europe with his four-goal display against Real, a performance that eventually helped Dortmund to a remarkable 4-3 aggregate victory over their more vaunted opponents.
This time around Dortmund's chances look much, much slimmer—losing Lewandowski for one game is bad enough, but the long-term absences of the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Nevan Subotic and Sven Bender drastically limits the options at Jurgen Klopp's disposal.
With Real Madrid in a fine run of form themselves, Dortmund's only realistic hope of progressing seems to be clear: try and nick a goal and stay within touching distance after the first leg at the Bernabeu, then hope for a repeat performance from Lewandowski in the second leg at home.
That is a lot of pressure to put on the Pole's shoulders. But, with Lewandowski set to depart for Bayern Munich at the end of the season, some fans might feel one last game-changing performance is the least he can deliver in his final months at the club.
What Will Constitute a Successful Tie for David Moyes & Manchester United?
Friday's draw was not particularly kind to Manchester United and David Moyes, although perhaps in fairness it was never likely to be.
United were drawn to face Bayern Munich, the reigning superpower of European football at the moment. While such things are ultimately a matter of personal opinion and subjective judgement, it very much seems that it is a tie between the best and worst sides left in the competition.
With United on the wrong end of that comparison, the question for Moyes becomes a difficult one: What exactly would constitute a successful tie against Bayern? For example, would matching Arsenal's result, a 3-1 aggregate defeat, actually be something of a success for the reigning Premier League champions?
It seems a pessimistic way of looking at things, but nevertheless the hopes are not great for United. A hammering looks a very real possibility, especially considering the statements of intent emanating from the German club's camp.
"We can't allow Manchester United's current position in the Premier League table to affect our mindset for this game," Bayern skipper Philipp Lahm said per the BBC.
"We'll travel to Manchester to play attacking football and score goals. I don't think it matters if you play the away leg first."
Victory over Olympiakos undoubtedly relieved the pressure on Moyes' managerial status to such an extent that as long as he avoids an egregiously awful conclusion to the current Premier League campaign, he is likely to be given another season to stamp his mark at Old Trafford.
A real evisceration at the hands of Bayern could change all that, however—with a four- or five-goal aggregate defeat reviving the questions about his tactical understanding and suitability for the role.
Then, of course, there is the unlikely eventuality few are considering: What would a win do for his stock?
"People are looking for reasons why we are not doing well but it is only because we have not been playing well," Moyes told reporters this week per UEFA.com. "I don't see why [United can't win the competition]. If we can play to our capabilities, I think we can be a match for any team."
Bayern will put that sentiment firmly to the test.
Will Cristiano Ronaldo Power Further Away from Lionel Messi?
Cristiano Ronaldo seems very much a man on a mission this season. Yes, he is hoping to help Real Madrid to the elusive Decima (tenth European Cup), but he also seems to be pursuing individual records of his own.
Ronaldo was a conspicuous starter in Tuesday's last-16 match against Schalke despite the tie already being effectively over and a Clasico against Barcelona awaiting at the weekend. That spoke to the Portuguese's desire to dominate the scoring charts in Europe this season, something he is currently doing after adding two further goals against Schalke's porous backline.
That leaves Ronaldo top of the competition's scoring charts with 13 goals, per Eurosport, three more than nearest challenger Zlatan Ibrahimovic and five more than his old foe Lionel Messi.
Messi has the all-time record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign with 14 (set in the 2011-12 season). Ronaldo now looks set to eclipse that record, especially after Real were drawn against Borussia Dortmund on Friday.
Dortmund's defensive injuries and issues have been well documented this season, and Ronaldo looks well placed to take advantage.
Messi, in contrast, seems likely to have a tougher time against Atletico Madrid. He has scored more goals against Los Colchoneros than any other club during his career, but not in recent times—Diego Simeone's men have proven a far tougher nut to crack this season.
It looks very much like the top individual honours could be swinging Ronaldo's way this season.
Will Barcelona-Atletico Madrid War Ruin Both Sides' La Liga Chances?
Aside from Chelsea's meeting with PSG, the toughest quarter-final tie to call this season seems to be between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. The two Spanish sides have already played three times this season, with all three games drawn and only two goals scored.
If those games can be taken as an indication of how their quarter-final is going to go, then it figures to be a hard-fought, gruelling battle that will drain both sides come the conclusion of the 180 minutes (or more, if extra time is required).
Some might say that is par for the course for any match at this level of competition, and they might be right. But the scrutiny on the all-Spanish tie, coupled with the fact both sides know each other so well, is likely to heighten the energy involved.
With that in mind, one wonders whether the tie will have an adverse affect on both sides' La Liga title challenges. Barcelona play Real Madrid this weekend so, in theory, they could be out of the running by the time they face Atletico in the first leg at the Nou Camp.
If they win, however, not only will they be back in the title race but Atletico will likely be in charge once again.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see whether the "distraction" of two head-to-head battles affects either side in their domestic race.
Barcelona have a derby with Espanyol, a home game against Real Betis and a visit to Granada around the two legs, while Atletico have Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal and Getafe over the same period.
Both sides will have been relatively content with the draw when it was made, but it remains to be seen whether it ends up having a hidden but important impact on their La Liga pursuit.
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