Champions League – And Then There Were Eight…

We now have our Champions League quarter-finalists for the draw on Friday the 15th of March and it is a real mixed bag of teams from five different countries across the continent. The big question is who have the best chance of lifting the trophy at Wembley in May?


Bayern Munich
The German outfit have proved to be a potent force in the Bundesliga this season and currently sit atop the table with a lead of 20 points ahead of their closest rivals, Borussia Dortmund. Their defence has been outstanding in the league having only conceded ten goals, with their goalkeeper Manuel Neuer showing why he is considered as possibly the best in the world. Their solid defensive base allows them to fully exploit the art of a quick counter attack, boasting players such as Ribéry and Robben in their ranks, who enable them to exploit any gaps in their opponent’s defences. Their inspirational captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger will be desperate to lead them to glory this year, after losing on penalties to Chelsea on their home turf last season.


Borussia Dortmund
A team considered by most to be a dark horse in this year’s tournament after emerging top of the ‘Group of Death,’ brushing aside the competition of Real Madrid and Manchester City, with relative ease. Although they have disappointed domestically being 20 points behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, they have flourished in the Champions League and their main focus for the rest of the year will be to repeat the heroics of the 97’ Dortmund team who won the Champions League. Their main threat is the trio of forwards, featuring the prolific Pole, Robert Lewandowski, and the two German wonderkids, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. They should prove a match for any team in the quarter-finals.


The Qatari-funded French team have proved to be a formidable force in Ligue 1 this year, leading the table ahead of rivals Lyon and Marseille and also topping the goal difference charts. Topping a tough group with a total of 15 points they have shown their pedigree in Europe and further cemented this by overcoming the challenge of Valencia in the second round. The tempestuous Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has proved to be a key player with 2 goals and five assists, the most in the competition so far. The squad will go all out to prove their price tags and high salaries and bring European glory to the French capital.


Malaga, led by head coach Manuel Pellegrini and funded by Sheikh Al Thani of the Qatari Royal family, have proved to be a surprise package in this seasons competition. Their outstanding form in the group stages, qualifying ahead of Italian giants AC Milan, has continued into the second round after turning round a deficit to win the second leg and reach the quarter finals. This is only their second European competition in their history but due to UEFA’s ruling at the end of 2012 and on account of their unpaid bills, Malaga may not play in continental competitions for the next few years. Inspired by young playmaker Isco, this Malaga team will be looking to play up to the ‘plucky underdog’ tag and will give any team a run for their money.


Real Madrid
Languishing a sizeable 13 points behind Barcelona, you could forgive Jose Mourinho for wanting to focus more on the Champions League, and become the first manager to win it with three different clubs. Qualifying behind Borussia Dortmund, they progressed to the quarter finals after a tough-fought second round bout with Manchester United, some might say with the help of a controversial sending off. Undoubtedly, their key player is joint top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who, on from, can be called the best player in the world. With his pace, trickery, finishing and eye for a set-piece, he is a nightmare for any team to handle. At the back, their current star is young, French centre-back Raphael Varane who had Messi in his back-pocket in the two latest Clásicos. Under the tutelage of European veteran Mourinho, they will be tough to beat.


The Turkish club have been European contenders for years in the group stages but, until now, have not reached the quarter final stages in over a decade. After a shaky start, with two losses in their opening games, they found their way and qualified on the final matchday to qualify behind Manchester United. Their second round game pitted them against Schalke, who were favourites, but after a draw in the first game, they won 3-2 with a goal in the 95th minute of normal time, to progress. Burak Yilmaz, join top-scorer with Madrid’s Ronaldo, has provided the firepower so far in the competition, but with the January addition of former Champion’s League winners Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, they can provide the experience to inspire this side towards Wembley.


With their coach, Antonio Conte back at the helm after having his ban reduced, the Italian club have been flourishing in Serie A, opening up a 9 point gap at the top. The current Italian champions have gone about their business quietly in Europe so far, finishing ahead of last year’s winners Chelsea and Ukrainian side, Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stages. They had no trouble brushing aside Scottish champions Celtic in the second round with a 5-0 aggregate win. A key player is the ageing genius that is Andrea Pirlo, formerly of AC Milan. He has the ability to control the tempo of a game through the midfield and also provide a killer pass to set up a goal-scoring chance. Whoever Juventus meet in the quarter-finals should not underestimate their quality.


What more can we say about this team? Under Pep Guardiola, they became possibly the greatest ever club side, winning every competition they entered and playing ‘the beautiful game,’ exactly how it should be played. Under Tito Vilanova, they have continued in the same vein extending a lengthy lead at the top of the Spanish Primera table. Before Christmas they took top spot in the group, finishing ahead of a spirited Celtic. They truly showed their quality in the second round matches with AC Milan. They were beaten by Milan in the first game quite comfortably and also lost against Real Madrid twice in the same space of time. They answered any critics with a 4-0 trouncing of AC Milan in the second leg to progress. Each member of their team is absolutely crucial to Barcelona in terms of their ‘tiki-taka’ gameplay, but a player who stands head and shoulders above the rest, is Leo Messi. He scores goals for fun and breaks records almost every year. Barcelona have won 3 of the 4 Champions League competitions, who is to say they can’t do it again in May?


At this stage, everyone will have chosen their favourites, dark horses, underdogs and whipping boys, but when it comes down to the knockout stages of any competition, the formbook goes out the window. All I can say is that it will be interesting to see who ends up travelling to Wembley come May.

1 Comment
To Top