UEFA Champions League: Players to Watch in Each Quarterfinal Fixture

Saura BhattacharjeeAnalyst IMarch 17, 2012

UEFA Champions League: Players to Watch in Each Quarterfinal Fixture

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    The verdict is out, and except for one, there has been no mouth-watering fixtures to look forward to.

    With Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, AC Milan and Barcelona in the mix, speculations of some incredible fixtures had been made. But it seems those fixtures shall have to wait till the semifinals.

    While Real Madrid and Chelsea have been handed seemingly easy matches against APOEL Nicosia and SL Benfica respectively, German giants Bayern Munich shall have to face French club Marseille, who are in peak form, while AC Milan shall take on the defending champions Barcelona in the most exciting clash of the quarterfinals.

    The first leg of the quarterfinals shall be held on March 27 and 28, while the return fixtures shall be held on April 3 and 4. So while everyone prepares for the next round of the European competition, let's take a look into which players to watch in each of the fixtures.

David Against Goliath: APOEL vs Real Madrid

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    Jose Mourinho must be smiling as his way to winning the third Champions League trophy just got easier.

    Real Madrid, who are on course to their first La Liga title in four years, have been handed the easiest of the fixtures in the quarterfinal stage as they take on newbies APOEL Nicosia. The Cypriot club are on a dream run becoming the first club from their nation to make it this far in the competition.

    Though they have been brilliant so far, the prospect of overcoming an in-form Real Madrid seems a highly impossible task, and the Bernabeau giants will be looking to end their misery of 28 quarterfinal exits.

    Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 

    A list featuring players to watch and without the Portuguese wizard is incomplete. The former Manchester United man has been on a roll this season. With already 42 goals scored in all competitions, Ronaldo looks set to break his personal goal-scoring record from last season.

    He has scored six times for the Los Blancos in an equal number of appearances in the Champions League. In Real's last fixture against CSKA Moscow, he scored twice to send the Russians out of the competition. Against APOEL, a weaker side than CSKA, Ronaldo will be looking to add to his European tally.

    Paulo Jorge (APOEL)

    The 31-year-old centre-back has been a vital reason for APOEL's high-flying season so far. The Cypriot club has played in a method similar to what Greece played in Euro 2004. They have been solid at the back making it difficult for their opponents to score goals.

    For a club with an annual transfer budget of $13.2 million, conceding a mere five goals playing against opponents of the likes of FC Porto, Lyon proves a job well done. Jorge has been the spine of the APOEL defense, and he did so again coming off from an injury to help his team overcome French giants Lyon.

    If APOEL are to carry on their fairytale further, they need Jorge to deliver a performance similar to the one against Lyon if not better.

    Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)

    The German has been on fire this season developing as a key player in Jose Mourinho's Galacticos. Ozil has scored three goals and provided 20 assists which speaks gallons about his vital role in Real Madrid's attack. He has been the vital man feeding Cristiano Ronaldo with defense splitting passes and creating goalscoring chances.

    When Real take on APOEL, they shall know too well about the Cypriot club's defensive solidarity, and that is where Ozil's ability shall come in handy. Mourinho will need his in-form midfielder to deliver if Real are to make it to the semifinals after six long seasons.

    Ailton (APOEL)

    The 27-year-old Brazilian has played one of the most vital roles in helping his club come so far. While his four goals helped the club secure qualification from the playoffs, his three goals during the competition ensured his club continued the dream run.

    If APOEL are to plot the continuity of their fairytale run, then Ailton needs to deliver like he did against FC Porto or Zenit St.Petersburg in the group stages.

    Dionisis Chiotis (APOEL)

    APOEL owe most of their credit for the win against Lyon to their fantastic goalie Chiotis. The 34-year-old Greek keeper has been one of the most impressive players so far. He has been one of the reasons for APOEL's impressive defensive records in the competition. He has helped bring stability to his team's defense with his brilliant saves and a good command inside the box.

    Against Lyon, he made two saves to propel his club into the history books. Against a team of Real Madrid's stature, he shall need to deliver best performance so far if APOEL are to have any chances of qualifying for the semifinals.

Franco Prussian War: Olympique Marseille vs Bayern Munich

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    The Bavarians have been handed quite a tough fixture in French side Olympique Marseille.

    Bayern have looked in peak form, and their 7-1 demolition of FC Basel just underscored their deadliness in front of the goal. Marseille on their part has not been quite convincing though they have every time managed to scrape past their opposition.

    Though Bayern are the favourites for the match, Marseille are expected to give some tough challenge and more so when they host Bayern at home.

    Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich)

    The 6'2" German has been in sensational form this season scoring 35 goals from 36 appearances in all competitions. His goal-scoring prowess has seen Bayern cruise through the group stages as well as the Round of 16.

    With 10 goals under his name, Gomez is in the race for top scorer in the Champions League just two behind Messi and four ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. His four-goal display against Basel proved his quality, and Bayern shall need him to fire all cylinders when they take on Marseille if they are to make the semifinals.

    Loic Remy (Marseille)

    The 25-year-old highly-rated youngster has been one of the vital players for Marseille this season. His pacey runs along with his dribbling qualities makes him one of the most dangerous strikers in the world.

    Marseille manager Didier Deschamps will be banking on the Frenchman to fulfill Marseille's goalscoring duties when they take on Bayern in their first quarterfinals since 1993.

    Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)

    The ex-Chelsea man has been the spine for the Bavarians this season. Robben's exploits this season has been rather spectacular. Playing at the right wing, he drives in superb cross and passes out of the blue.

    His ability to create chances out of nowhere as well his eye for goal has seen him become a vital part of Bayern's attack. The Dutchman has already found the net three times for Bayern and will be looking to add to his tally.

    Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)

    Nicknamed "the small bike," Valbuena is the dynamo of the Marseille midfield. The timid Frenchman possesses tremendous pace and superb dribbling qualities which he utilises perfectly to draw out defenders out of position and free up space at the opposition box.

    His excellent technique and industrious nature has seen him become the spine of Marseille midfield. With eight goals and 11 assists under his name, Valbuena could be the key to Marseille's further progress.

Portuguese Connection: SL Benfica vs Chelsea

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    One comes with the record of having lost just once in the last six matches against an English club. The other has just registered their name in the greatest comebacks in the history of the competition.

    High-flying Portuguese club SL Benfica's manager Jorge Jesus had dreamt of getting drawn against Chelsea in the quarterfinals, and it seems his wish has been fulfilled. Chelsea on their part too would be content playing a team like Benfica instead of AC Milan, Real Madrid or Bayern.

    While this is the first time the two clubs will be facing each other in an European competition, Chelsea has a good understanding of their opponent since the likes of Luiz and Ramires were all former Benfica players.

    The Old Guard (Chelsea) 

    Instead of naming each player separately, it was better to name the group. Chelsea's aged players like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry delivered a brilliant game of football to help the Blues register one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the competition.

    While Chelsea are preparing for life without the older players, the Old Guard are making it hard for the club by performing superbly. Against Napoli, Chelsea needed Terry's defensive stability, Lampard's midfield control and Drogba's goal-scoring form to overcome the seemingly impossible task.

    If Chelsea are to overcome Benfica (who are now seen as the EPL club-killer), they shall need their older players to rise up to the occasion and deliver.

    Oscar Cardozo (Benfica)

    Benfica's Paraguayan striker has played an important role in the club's progress so far in the competition. Three of the four goals he scored in the Champions League have been crucial ones that turned the tide of the match in Benfica's favor.

    His powerful shot, free-kick skills and superb finishing qualities has made him one of the best strikers in the world. An in-form Cardozo anyday is capable of wreaking havoc in any opposition defense.

    Juan Mata (Chelsea)

    Against Napoli, the Spaniard was a constant threat on the wings and one of the best performers of the day. He has been Chelsea's most consistent player this season with his creative moves and goal-scoring abilities. The Blues shall require both of that if they are to break Benfica's defense as well as score goals.

    Nicolas Gaitan (Benfica)

    The 24-year-old Argentine winger has already attracted top European clubs with his exploits this season with Sir Alex Ferguson heading his list of admirers. He has provided seven assists so far whilst scoring twice to help his team make it to the quarterfinals for only the second time since the Champions League started.

    He has been Benfica's main goal-feeding source. What he misses out on experience he more than makes up by for it with his gifted technical ability, along with a great understanding of the game and his perfect cross or passing ability. Chelsea need to be wary of the player who made United suffer in the group stages.

War for Supremacy: AC Milan vs Barcelona

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    Perhaps the pin-up match of the quarterfinals will be the one between two of the most successful clubs in European competition, i.e. Barcelona and AC Milan.

    The Rossoneri have hit top gear this season after spending a few tough years both domestically as well as in Europe. AC Milan are leading the Serie A and have progressed to the quarterfinals of the Champions League comfortably, except their last match against Arsenal where they somehow managed to deny the Gunners' an incredible comeback.

    Barcelona, on their part have faltered once having drawn AC Milan in the group stages. Barca's 10-2 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen lend further credibility on their ability to defend their European champions crown successfully.

    When the two teams meet in the quarterfinals, it will be another clash for supremacy amongst the past and present most successful clubs in the world.

    Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

    No need to waste words describing the importance of the diminutive Argentine in Barcelona's quest for another European crown. With 12 goals and four assists, Messi is the best player so far in the Champions League and the most dangerous player to play against presently.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan)

    The lanky 30-year-old Swede proved that his Barcelona misadventure was just a one-time thing. He has been sensational for the Italian giants and has surpassed his last season's overall goals tally already. With five goals and three assists for the Rossoneri, the ex-Barcelona man has reclaimed his glory days back.

    The pair of Robinho and Ibrahimovic has been incredible much to the joy of AC Milan. AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri will need the Big Swede to deliver another of his top class performances if Milan are to overcome the defending European champions and continue with their resurgence.

    Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)

    Barca's prodigal son returned to his childhood club at the start of this season, and his decision proved a good one for both Barca and himself. While Cesc has already won his first trophy at Camp Nou, Barcelona too has found a in him a suitable partner for Messi.

    The Argentine and Spaniard has forged up a brilliant partnership for the Catalan giants this season. With three goals and three assists Fabregas has emerged as a vital player in the Barca midfield. When they face AC Milan, the Spaniard will be looking to play his part in helping his club win their fifth European cup and his first.

    Thiago Silva (AC Milan)

    The Brazilian centre-back has gone on to become the spine of AC Milan's defense since his arrival in 2008. He has been one of the vital reasons behind the Rossoneri's resurgence this season. Though he looked nervy during AC Milan's 3-0 loss to the Gunners, Milan needs his stability and defensive prowess to keep Messi & Co. at bay.