Manchester United? Gone. Arsenal? Well, they have officially gone eight seasons without a piece of silverware. Barcelona? They just proved their European credentials by pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history in their last-16 tie against Milan.
After some superb strikes, questionable refereeing decisions and memorable matches, the Champions League quarterfinal round is set to begin on April 2.
Can Dortmund continue their magnificent run to Wembley? Will Madrid and Barcelona continue their march
toward European glory? How will Bayern react following their near-historic collapse against Arsenal? Here are my thoughts on this season’s Champions League quarterfinals.
Malaga vs. Borussia Dortmund
Managers: Malaga: Former Real Madrid boss Manuel Pellegrini. Borussia Dortmund: Chelsea target Jurgen Klopp.
Key Players: Malaga: Paraguayan striker Roque Santa Cruz. Borussia Dortmund: Polish goal scorer Robert Lewandowski.
Key Matchup: Malaga defensive midfielder Jeremy Toulalan vs. Borussia Dortmund creative midfielder Mario Gotze.
Verdict: One of these two darlings of European soccer this season will continue their surprising run into the semifinals of the Champions League when the Spanish outfit takes on the German double winners from a season ago. In Malaga’s come-from-behind aggregate win over Porto, Isco made sure that the Spanish side’s maiden Champions League appearance would continue. The Spanish sensation scored a wonder goal to level the score in the second leg, and in the middle of the second half, Santa Cruz came off the bench to score the goal that sealed their progress into the next round. Dortmund is in a confident state of mind following their 5-2 aggregate win over Shakhtar. Gotze and local product Marco Reus continue to wreak havoc, while Mats Hummels has put in many impressive performances at the back. Eliseu and Joaquin are high-flying wingers for Malaga, but their defense will find it hard to contain Dortmund’s dangerous attack.
Borussia Dortmund to advance on aggregate, 5-3
Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray
Managers: Real Madrid: Two-time Champions League winner Jose Mourinho. Galatasaray: Former Turkish national team manager Fatih Terim.
Key Players: Real Madrid: German attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil. Galatasaray: Ivorian hitman Didier Drogba.
Key Matchup: Real Madrid center-back Sergio Ramos vs. Galatasaray playmaker Wesley Sneijder.
Verdict: Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho will come against two familiar players as Sneijder and Drogba will look to power the Turkish giants to a shocking semifinal berth. Madrid is coming off an astonishing 3-2 aggregate victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. After the Red Devils took a 2-1 aggregate lead at Old Trafford, Portuguese winger Nani was dubiously sent off and Los Blancos took full advantage with goals from Luka Modric and former hero Cristiano Ronaldo. Galatasaray is coming off a 4-3 aggregate win over German club Schalke, including a 3-2 away win with Hamit Altintop’s goal the zenith of the match. Galatasaray do possess an abundance of quality, but Madrid’s attacking prowess, including Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, is arguably the best in the world. With Mourinho’s job status hanging by a thread, he cannot afford to look past goal machine Burak Yilmaz, who has scored eight Champions League goals in eight appearances this season, and company lightly.
Real Madrid to advance on aggregate, 5-2
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona
Managers: Paris Saint-Germain: Two-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti. Barcelona: First-year manager Tito Vilanova.
Key Players: Paris Saint-Germain: Global icon David Beckham. Barcelona: Spanish winger David Villa.
Key Matchup: Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Barcelona center-back Gerard Pique.
Verdict: One Spanish team beaten, another one to go for Paris Saint-Germain. If the Parisian giants want to
be known as an elite club across the continent, beating Lionel Messi and Barcelona would be a great start. The table-toppers in Ligue 1 advanced past Valencia in a 3-2 aggregate win. After missing the second leg of the Valencia tie by picking up a red card in the dying moments of the first leg, Swedish superstar Ibrahimovic will need to be at his best against his former club.
Carlo Ancelotti, like Jose Mourinho is looking to win his third Champions League title after winning the European crown with Milan in 2003 and 2007. He will find it hard against the team many consider to be the best in the world. Messi continues his incredible goal-scoring pace, while David Villa adds the missing link from last season’s semifinal exit against eventual champion Chelsea. Midfielder Marco Verratti looks quite the prospect for PSG, but going up against Xavi and Andres Iniesta will be some challenge.
Barcelona to advance on aggregate, 5-2
Bayern Munich vs. Juventus
Managers: Bayern Munich: Ex-Real Madrid chief Jupp Heynckes. Juventus: Former Juventus player Antonio Conte.
Key Players: Bayern Munich: German right-back Philipp Lahm. Juventus: Chilean center-midfielder Arturo Vidal.
Key Matchup: Bayern Munich defensive-midfielder Javi Martinez vs. Juventus center-midfielder Claudio Marchisio.
Verdict: For the first time in seven seasons, Juventus will make an appearance in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. For the first time since 2009, the Bianconeri will square off against runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich. The Old Lady of Italian soccer is coming off a comfortable 5-0 aggregate over Scottish champions Celtic. Many believe the leaders of Serie A can reach the final in Wembley based on current form. Bayern will look to rebound following their 2-0 home loss to Arsenal in the round of 16. The Gunners had chances to eliminate the Germans, but nonetheless, the Bavarian giants are still on course to win their first Champions League title since 2001. Dutch winger Arjen Robben and French winger Franck Ribery will be counted on to attack the Juventus defense and set up chances for strikers Mario Gomez and Mario Mandzukic, while Juventus will try to slow the game down and wait for their chance. Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer are two of the top goalkeepers in the world, so goals will be hard to come by in the tie of the round.
Juventus to advance on aggregate, 3-2