UEFA Champions League: Ranking the First 4 Quarterfinalists
The second leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16 is half over and four teams have booked their places in the quarterfinals. The field is highlighted by Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona, who are favorites to win the entire competition.
The round of 16 produced some very thrilling matches and most of the ties went right down to the wire. None of the four teams that advanced did it easily, which just adds to the drama of the tournament.
While some of the ties featured even teams that both could have advanced, others saw the favorites overcome deficits, and in some people's eyes, some upsets were scored along the way.
After such a thrilling round of 16 we will hopefully get more of the same excitement in the quarterfinals. We won't know the other four quarterfinalists until next week, but here is a breakdown of the first four teams to advance, as well as where they rank.
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Before we get to the rankings, lets look at the four teams that advanced and how they got here.
David Villa got Barcelona off to a great start, scoring in the 25th minute to grab an important away goal in the first leg of their round of 16 tie against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. But things got tricky for Barcelona when they conceded second-half goals to Robin Van Persie and substitute Andrei Arshavin. Arsenal won the first leg and now had a 2-1 advantage to take with them to the Nou Camp in Barcelona.
Over the coming weeks questions arose as to whether Arsenal now had the advantage and would be able to knock the current favorites out of the competition. Just a few days before the match, Arsenal were boosted by the return of Cesc Fabregas and Van Persie from injury. It looked as if everything was going Arsenal's way.
But then the game started and Barcelona quickly reminded everyone why they are believed to be the best team in the world. Lionel Messi got them started with a spectacular goal in injury time of the first half. In the second half Arsenal striker Van Persie saw a controversial red card, putting Arsenal down to 10 men. After an own-goal evened the score, and put Arsenal back ahead on aggregate, Xavi equalized for Barcelona before Messi converted a penalty to give Barcelona the 4-3 aggregate win.
The Ukrainian Champions pulled off the shock of the first knockout round defeating Italian club AS Roma 6-2 on aggregate.
Shakhtar scored three times in 13 minutes in the first leg and Roma was never able to recover. Shakhtar won the first leg 3-2, and followed that up with a 3-0 home victory.
Roma striker Mario Boriello had a chance of making the second leg competitive but he missed a 27th-minute penalty. Roma was never able to recover and Shakhtar never looked back.
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German club Schalke 04 overcame an early deficit in the second leg of their round of 16 tie against Valencia, but pulled out enough to advance to the next round.
Roberto Saldado put Valencia ahead in the first leg, only to see Raul equalize in the second half. The first leg ended 1-1 with Schalke holding a crucial away-goal.
Schalke's away-goal advantage quickly evaporated in the second leg when Ricardo Costa scored in the 17th minute for Valencia. Jefferson Farfan scored in the 40th minute to level things on aggregate once again, before Mario Gavronovich's 51st-minute goal put Schalke ahead for good.
Schalke added another goal in injury time to win the tie 4-2 on aggregate.
The North London club, who are in the tournament for the first time, will continue their magical Champions League run into the quarterfinals, after defeating AC Milan in the round of 16.
Playing the first leg at the San Siro, Tottenham were without their star of the group stages Gareth Bale.
In addition, Tottenham's star player, Rafael Van Der Vaart, was limited by an injury. Nevertheless Spurs hung tough at the San Siro behind the stellar goalkeeping of Heurelho Gomes. Tottenham would get their breakthrough in the 79th minute when Peter Crouch scored to give Spurs a 1-0 lead and an away-goal.
The lead stood up through the end of the match, and Spurs returned home for the second leg holding a 1-0 advantage. Tottenham missed a few chances early, but were once again bailed out by the spectacular play of Gomes, who kept another clean sheet, putting Tottenham through the quarterfinals with a 1-0 aggregate win.
Those are the first four teams to advance, here is how they rank.
4. Schalke 04
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Schalke 04 has nothing left to play for besides the Champions League. The club finished second in the Bundesliga last season, but they currently sit 10th in Bundesliga and are 31 points behind the leaders. The news only gets worse for Schalke with reports that goalkeeper Manuel Neuer could be headed to Old Trafford this summer.
If Schalke has any hopes of being in the Champions League next season, their only chance would be to win the competition this season, something they have never done.
Despite this season of struggles, the Germans did manage to finish at the top of Group B during the group stages of the competition. However, with a group that also included Lyon, Benfica, and Hapoal Tel Aviv, Group B was arguably one of the easiest groups in the competition.
Schalke got a favorable matchup in the group stages, meeting Spanish club Valencia, while avoiding bigger clubs such as Arsenal, AC Milan, or Inter Milan. But even with a favorable matchup, Schalke struggled in the round of 16, only managing to put Valencia away late.
Schalke is led by their star striker Raul, one of the most prolific strikers in European history. Raul scored 66 goals in 132 Champions League appearances with Real Madrid. He scored three times in five group stage matches for Schalke this season, but was kept off the scoresheet in the knockout rounds.
Schalke 04 have not been able to find the form that helped them finish second in the Bundesliga this season. In the quarterfinals the odds are against them that they will be able to draw another favorable opponent. If Schalke don't improve soon, their days in the Champions League are numbered.
3. Tottenham Hotspur
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The Champions League and the Premier League are two separate entities that often have nothing to do with each other. After all, Liverpool won the competition in 2005, but finished fifth in the Premier League that season.
However, even then it is very common for a team's current league form to carry over into the Champions League.
Look no further then the round of 16 tie between Arsenal and Barcelona. When the first leg came around, Arsenal was in the midst of some of their best form of the season, and they defeated Barcelona in the first leg. When the second leg came around, Arsenal was coming off of a defeat to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final followed by a 0-0 draw to Sunderland at home. They were then thoroughly beaten in the second leg.
When it comes to Tottenham Hotspur, they are the exact opposite. All season long they have kept their European form separate from their Premier League form, which is great news for their Champions League hopes.
Spurs finished fourth in the league last year to earn the qualifying spot for the Champions League this season, the first time in the club's history. While many thought they would struggle, Tottenham exploded through the group stages, scoring 18 goals. Meanwhile in the Premier League, the team struggled, dropping points in several matches to inferior teams.
The more amazing feat was the production Spurs were getting from their strikers in the Champions League but not domestically. Including their qualifying round matches against Young Boys of Bern, strikers Roman Pavlyuchenko and Peter Crouch have combined for 13 goals in Tottenham's 10 matches. In the Premier League the two strikers have combined for just nine goals in the teams 28 matches.
Tottenham's ability to score goals in Europe, regardless of opponent or venue, made them favorites to move on to the quarterfinal round.
While a win at the San Siro is a terrific accomplishment, especially from an English club, Spurs miss out on the No. 2 spot on this list after a 0-0 home draw in the second leg; the first time Spurs failed to score in a European match this season. The 0-0 draw suggests that Spurs' domestic form could finally be creeping into their European form, not a good sign for Tottenham.
2. Shakhtar Donetsk
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Many people saw Shakhtar Donetsk's round of 16 win over AS Roma as an upset, but was it really an upset? The Italian league is clearly not as strong as we were led to believe it was. Two of their clubs have already been eliminated from the competition, with the only remaining club, Inter, trailing Bayern Munich after a 1-0 home defeat.
Meanwhile Shakhtar is a team on the rise. The club won the UEFA Cup in 2009, becoming the first Ukranian team to win a European competition. The club finished first in the Ukranian league in 2010, earning them a spot in the Champions League this season.
Despite being in the cold Ukraine, most of the Ukrainians in Shakhtar's squad play in defense or midfield. Up front, Shakhtar are led by a slew of Brazilians as well as Croatian striker and former Arsenal star Eduardo da Silva.
Eduardo, along with Brazilians Luis Adriano, Jadson, Willian, and Douglas Costa have led the Ukrainian side's attack throughout the Champions League. Jadson, Costa, and Luis Adriano all scored in the first leg at Roma, while a Willian brace and a late goal from Eduardo provided the three goals in the return leg.
While many people view the top teams from the Ukraine as not as strong as the second- or third-best teams from Spain, Italy, and England, Shakhtar Donetsk has established themselves as one of the most difficult places to play in Europe.
In August of 2009, Shakhtar moved in to their new stadium, Donbass Arena. Shakhtar have never lost a match at Donbass Arena. In fact, Shakhtar are unbeaten in their last 57 home matches in all competitions, and they have won their last 21 home matches. This is a streak that spans two stadiums and goes all the way back to October 22, 2008.
With such a commanding home record, it will be incredibly difficult for any team to go to the Donbass Arena and knock off Shakhtar. If Shakhtar could play well away from home, they could go very far in this competition.
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After losing the first leg of their round of 16 tie against Arsenal, many people began wondering if the English club would be able to knock the Spanish giants out of the competition.
Before the match Arsenal were boosted by the return from injury of club captain Cesc Fabregas, and in-form striker Robin Van Persie. Meanwhile Barcelona would be without two of the world's best centre backs, Gerrard Pique and Carlos Puyol.
But once the match started, Barcelona reminded the world about why they are considered the best team in the world. Barcelona dominated every aspect of the match, with their midfield controlling all the action. In the first half, Arsenal managed just 41 touches of the ball in Barcelona's half of the field, compared to 310 touches for Barcelona in Arsenal's half.
But still, despite dominating possession, Barcelona had still failed to score. That would change during injury time of the first half when Lionel Messi swooped the ball over Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia before slamming it into the back of the net, evening the aggregate score at 2-2.
Arsenal got some hope back when they won a corner kick in the early minutes of the second half. Off the corner, Barcelona's Sergio Busquets, playing as a defender, headed the ball into his own net, giving the Gunners an away-goal and a 3-2 lead on aggregate.
That would be the last moment of hope for Arsenal though. Shortly after Robin Van Persie received a controversial second yellow, reducing Arsenal to 10 men.
Playing a man up Barcelona's terrific midfield began doing what they do best. Controlling the ball and making excellent passes. This led to what Barcelona does better then anyone, unleashing a 16 pass sequence that ended with Andres Iniesta finding Xavi who put the ball in the back of the net. A few minutes later, Messi converted a penalty giving Barcelona a 4-3 aggregate win.
After all the talk about possibly being eliminated, Barcelona reminded the world of just how good they could be at home. With arguably the best midfield in the world, Barcelona are capable of controlling the possession in any match. With their tremendous ability to play at home, Barcelona have re-established themselves as the favorites to win the competition.