The Champions League 2014 quarter-finals are upon us. This is the business end of the tournament, where things start to get serious.
Just two sets of 90 minutes now separate these teams from a place in the semi-final—so near but still so far.
An away goal is vital for the visiting sides in these first-leg fixtures. Aside from an important psychological advantage, it's something to take back to home soil for the deciding leg in a week's time.
Each tie becomes a chess game of epic proportions, and though nothing will be decided this week, any one of the eight teams left in the competition can take a giant stride toward the next stage with a positive result.
|2014 Champions League Quarter Final Schedule|
|Date||Time||TV Info||Live Stream Info|
|Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid||Tuesday April 1||7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET||Sky Sports 1 (UK), Fox Sports 2 (US)||Sky GO app (UK), Fox Soccer 2GO app (US)|
|Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich||Tuesday April 1||7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET||ITV 1 (UK), Fox Sports 1 and DirecTV (US)||ITV Player (UK), Fox Sports Go app (US)|
|Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund||Wednesday April 2||7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET||Sky Sports 4 (UK), Fox Sports 2 (US)||Sky GO app (UK), Fox Soccer 2GO app (US)|
|Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea||Wednesday April 2||7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET||Sky Sports 1 (UK), Fox Sports 1 (US)||Sky GO app (UK), Fox Soccer 2GO app (US)|
Can Dortmund halt Ronaldo's record chase?
Jurgen Klopp's Borrusia Dortmund head to the Santiago Bernabeu and to an opponent they know well: Real Madrid.
Having knocked them out in the semi-finals last season, under normal circumstances Klopp might reasonably have expected a similar passage into the next round.
However, this season has been anything but normal circumstances for the Germans.
Already without Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender, Neven Subotic and Jakub Blaszczykowski because of injury, per Transfermarkt, Dortmund could have done without star striker and destroyer of Madrid last year Robert Lewandowski picking up a needless yellow card in the last game, which sees him sit out this one.
They face a Real Madrid side in fantastic form, having only lost three games since the beginning of the season. In Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti's side have a player not only in bang-in form, but also with his sights set on a new Champions League/European Cup record.
Just two goals are needed for him to draw level with Lionel Messi and Jose Altafini, per UEFA.com.
This match gives the Portuguese the perfect chance to hone in on the record, with Mats Hummels the only first-choice defender that Klopp has available to him.
Kroos the difference
By far the most difficult test of the last eight is that of Manchester United. David Moyes must be wondering why the football gods have been so against him throughout his first season in the Old Trafford hot seat.
After a quite awful Premier League season, the joy of qualification to this stage via a comeback win against Olympiakos was surely tempered by the news that favourites, and holders, Bayern Munich would be their next opponents.
Not that you would know it by the way that both players and staff have reacted. Ryan Giggs, a veteran of United's win against the Germans in 1999, spoke at a pre-match news conference, per Sky Sports:
Obviously Bayern are a fantastic team. They are the holders and are obviously a very strong team and probably favourites in most people's eyes.
But we are Manchester United, it is at Old Trafford and we have seen so many great nights in Europe especially.
As players we don't see ourselves as underdogs, we see ourselves as Man Utd playing at home in the Champions League and we can't wait.
If Moyes and his team are to have any chance of upsetting the odds, then the man they must stop is Toni Kroos.
His performance against Arsenal was on a different level altogether. His 172 touches of the ball with a 97 percent completion rate, per WhoScored, was better than Jack Wilshere, Mathieu Flamini, Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla combined.
Arsenal themselves are noted for their passing ability, yet Kroos just ran them ragged in a man-of-the-match contribution.
Shinji Kagawa's role will be important, as the need to track Kroos all night long to ensure his influence is minimal is obvious.
If the German can escape the shackles, another performance such as the one seen in north London is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Another draw at Camp Nou?
Three games, three draws.
By virtue of a Neymar goal in the Vicente Calderon at the start of the season, Barcelona took the honours in the Spanish Super Cup, the away goal proving crucial.
Given how both teams have been virtually toe-to-toe all throughout this La Liga season, you wouldn't bet against a similar scenario to settle the outcome of this one.
Atleti now appear to be the equal of Barcelona in all departments.
The Blaugrana have Lionel Messi, the Rojiblancos have Diego Costa, Barca have Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, Atleti boast Koke and Gabi.
If you want midfield steel, Sergio Busquets has it in spades, but so does Arda Turan.
Defensively, you could even argue that Atletico have the edge, conceding just 22 to Barca's 25 in La Liga, per Sky Sports.
Barcelona need to be wary that their Achilles heel—the high ball into the box—does not rear its ugly head in this one.
With Messi back on top form and hitting the net virtually every match—12 in the last 14 per WhoScored—Barca carry an excellent goal threat.
That will mean nothing if their own work at the back doesn't match their excellence going forward.
Too close to call.