With just eight teams remaining in the UEFA Champions League, the stakes couldn’t be higher as the race to be crowned kings of Europe begins to gather pace.
Wednesday sees Real Madrid welcome last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund to the Bernabeu, while the 2011/12 champions Chelsea face a tough away-day trip to Paris Saint Germain.
With Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid making up the remaining quarter-finalists, it’s safe to say there’ll be no easy route to the final in Lisbon for any side.
First legs in Champions League ties have held integral importance in this year’s competition already, with Manchester United being the only side to overturn a first-leg deficit in the round of 16—per UEFA.com.
All four sides in action on Wednesday will be looking to take an early initiative as we approach the competition’s climax. Below, we look at the major talking points heading into the quarter-finals together with match predictions.
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund, Santiago Bernabeu
Borussia Dortmund enjoyed a remarkable run to the final in last year’s competition, where they came up short against Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich in London.
During their campaign, they emphatically saw off the challenge of Real Madrid in the semi-finals, though you can be sure that Madrid will be seeking redemption for such a crippling defeat in the Spanish capital on Wednesday.
Madrid won’t need reminding of their 4-1 humiliation in Dortmund in the semi-final first leg last season, where Robert Lewandowski scored all of the hosts’ goals—as BBC Sport tweeted last April:
However, Dortmund will have to manage without their talismanic Polish striker this time around, as he serves a one-match suspension, leaving manager Jurgen Klopp to search elsewhere for a route to goal.
Lewandowski isn’t the only player that Dortmund will be without when comparing last year’s line-up at Westfalenstadion to this year’s at the Bernabeu, as TheSPORTBible revealed via Twitter:
Dortmund's team when they played Real Madrid last year vs available/still at the club this year! pic.twitter.com/ZJP6e6Ju1T— TheSPORTBible (@TSBible) March 21, 2014
Things are different in the Madrid camp, as well, but they appear to be for the better. With both Gareth Bale and Isco joining the club following Madrid’s humbling defeat in Dortmund, it’s clear that the Spanish giants have far more firepower this time around.
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was full of confidence ahead of Wednesday’s tie during his pre-match press conference—as reported by UEFA.com—saying:
“The atmosphere within the squad is good. The players are motivated, they have high hopes in this tournament. We have done well in the competition up until now. We are one of only two teams unbeaten. We are 100 per cent ready for this match. There will be a great atmosphere at the stadium…what has happened up until now in the competition doesn’t matter in terms of what will happen in the future. We are looking to put in a top tie and to continue in the tournament.”
Madrid, who also met Dortmund during last season’s group stage, come into Wednesday’s tie off the back of a 5-0 thrashing of Real Vallecano in La Liga, and their confidence doesn’t come without just reason.
According to Real Madrid’s official website, the 32-time league champions have a 100 per cent record at home in this season’s Champions League scoring 10 goals and conceding just two.
While Dortmund may have recent history on their side, Madrid have shown that they’re once again ready to rule Europe, and with the 48-goal man Cristiano Ronaldo ready to be unleashed on Wednesday, this tie could once again see a first-leg thrashing.
Prediction: Real Madrid 4-0 Borussia Dortmund
Paris Saint Germain vs. Chelsea, Parc des Princes
Wednesday’s other tie sees PSG welcome Chelsea to Parc des Princes, where the Blues will have to find a way to silence the attacking talent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
At the other end of the pitch, though, Chelsea have a big issue to address with Samuel Eto’o deemed unfit for the trip to Paris, as SuperSport Blitz revealed via Twitter:
Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o is unlikely to feature against PSG due to a hamstring injury while defender Ashley Cole has been ruled out— SuperSport Blitz (@SuperSportBlitz) March 31, 2014
The Cameroon international is Chelsea’s highest-scoring striker this season, finding the net more times in the Premier League than fellow forwards Fernando Torres and Demba Ba combined.
His absence will mean that manager Jose Mourinho will turn to Torres for goals, though with three in the Champions League so far, Mourinho will be hoping that the Spaniard can rise to the occasion on Europe’s biggest stage once again.
In fact, the Portuguese manager wants such a step up from all of his players following their 1-0 Premier League defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday. In an interview with SkySports, Mourinho said that his side will feel comfortable playing against one of the planet’s best:
"I don't think I need to do a lot now. Paris is the kind of match they feel comfortable to play. A big match, great stadium, opponents with top quality, a profile of referee that normally stops a lot, doesn't let aggression come into the game. I think they will be fine, they will be in their natural habitat in that match so I believe they can do a good match there.The easiest thing to do is to play well, is to perform, when you are not playing for something big. The difficult thing is to perform when you feel the heat. Because of that some players are big and some are not so big.”
For Torres, who certainly is a big player, Champions League goals have come naturally, and his late equaliser in the semi-final of the 2011/12 competition at the Nou Camp to send Chelsea through is his main highlight.
Though Chelsea are unlikely to come out with all guns blazing with a second leg at Stamford Bridge to come, Torres will play a crucial role in being the Blues’ outlet from the back.
If the Spaniard produces a performance worthy of “the old Torres,” then Chelsea will leave Paris very much in the driving seat of the tie, but the defence must also be on top of their game to keep out the goal-hungry Parisians.
Prediction: Paris Saint Germain 1-1 Chelsea