This season’s version of Europe’s most prestigious club competition has thrown up surprises and shocks along the way, with a number of sides in the last eight exceeding expectations and defying Champions League odds. However, the usual suspects and biggest teams in Europe remain, with four mouth-watering ties having their first legs played this week.
APOEL vs. Real Madrid
This tie arguable epitomises what the Champions League is all about; David vs. Goliath, minnow vs. superpower. The Cypriot champions have delighted their fans with a fantastic showing this term, becoming the first side from their country to make the knockout rounds and beating some strong sides, including Lyon and Porto, along the way.
However, their opponents in the last eight are quite the step up. Real Madrid have been in scintillating form this campaign, lead the Primera Division and are unbeaten in this year’s tournament. Jose Mourinho has the experience of winning this competition with two other clubs, and with a masterfully in-form Cristiano Ronaldo in Los Blancos’ line-up, Madrid have every chance of glory this year.
Benfica vs. Chelsea
A tie between two very-evenly matched sides, Chelsea will go in as favourites but not by much. The Portuguese side have been markedly better this term, and eliminated Manchester United in the group stages. With the likes of Javi Garcia, Axel Witsel and Nicolas Gaitan in a youthful and exciting midfield, Jorge Jesus’ men will look to get ahead in the first leg at the Estadio da Luz.
Chelsea staged a remarkable comeback to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat to Napoli in the last 16, and now must be considered as challengers. Roberto Di Matteo has sparked a bit of life in his seasoned squad, and if the English side can deal with a hostile reception in the first leg, will be confident of progression.
Marseille vs. Bayern Munich
Both Marseille and Bayern Munich have been inconsistent this term, with lacklustre domestic campaigns being redeemed by the progress on the continent. Didier Deschamps’ men played well to eliminate Inter in the last round, but have lost seven out of their last eight games in a terrible run of form; to stand a chance in this tie they must recapture some form and resolve.
Bayern started out of the blocks at a lightning pace this term and dominated the ‘group of death’, knocking out Manchester City in the process, but have stalled in 2012. With Dortmund looking odds-on to retain their Bundesliga crown, the Bavarians are desperate for glory in Europe. Much is expected of Jupp Heynckes men this term, especially given that the final is at the Allianz Arena.
AC Milan vs. Barcelona
Arguably the tie of the round, Italy and Spain’s champions go head-to-head. These teams met in the group stages, with a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou leading to a 3-2 Catalan victory at the San Siro. Milan are one of only a few sides that may be able to stop Pep Guardiola’s men from winning this year’s trophy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in form and will be motivated to beat his former employers, but Massimiliano Allegri’s side will need to win the first leg at home to give themselves a fighting chance.
Barcelona are lagging behind El Clasico rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but the Blaugrana have kicked into form recently, and have won their last nine games in a row in all competitions. Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi is in ominous form, becoming the club’s top all-time goalscorer in past weeks; the Argentine seems to deliver in all the biggest games, and no team has managed to figure out a way of nullifying him as yet.