The Champions League always cranks up a notch at the quarter final stage; all eight teams know they are one victory away from a last four shootout to reach the final of European football’s pinnacle.
Knowing that a 50/50 chance of glory awaits them if they can see off their fellow quarter finalist should help to settle the minds of all involved, and while the English interest is reduced to almost zero (Man City are unlikely to field an English player with both Joe Hart and Raheem Sterling injured) there is still plenty for punters to get excited about.
So here’s a quick rundown of the four fixtures in full.
PSG v Man City
There is an incredible symmetry in the ascent of these two sides from domestic also-rans to European contenders in the last ten years or so. Neither was troubling the trophy engravers a decade ago, and now they can both lay claim to being big fish in their own country: PSG wrapped up the Ligue 1 title with two months to spare, while Man City – despite not being at the races this term have won the Premier League twice in five years and have lured Pep Guardiola to the Etihad.
The secret ingredient? As we know in football money talks….and Middle Eastern oil based investment tends to scream loudest of the lot.
Of course, Man City have a chance to redeem themselves with victory in this tie; although this first leg at the Parc des Princes looks a tough old assignment. Remember, this PSG side has beaten Chelsea and drawn with Real Madrid at home this term, and in Ligue 1 have lost one of seventeen on their own patch.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men are no slouches on the road – they beat Sevilla and Borussia M’gladbach away from home in the group stage – although their form domestically reads W6 D5 L4 when playing away from the Etihad. Factor in the absence of Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart, who both offer a wealth of Champions League experience, and a narrative is starting to develop.
City looked much improved with Kevin de Bruyne back in the side on Saturday in their 4-0 romp over Bournemouth, but with all due respect to the Cherries playing PSG away from home is an all-together prospect. With Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala at the heart of the City defence, Zlatan & co will be rubbing their hands together with glee.
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
There’s a lovely contrast between these two: Barca with their relentless approach to possession football, high pressing and wave after wave of attack, and Atletico with their cautious, organised approach to conservatism. The result is sure to be an intriguing contest to watch; like chess on turf, but with people instead of pieces and….ah, you get the drift.
Both come into the clash in pleasing form with six wins from their last eight, but Barcelona’s 1-2 loss to their old rivals Real on Saturday night will surely be a factor here. Will Atletico face a Barca backlash, or a pussy cat licking its wounds?
It won’t matter too much to Diego Simeone, whose side have concede just 15 goals in 31 league matches this season. A return of 34 points from 17 games makes them La Liga’s best team on the road too.
As Real demonstrated so kindly, Barcelona can be beaten at the Nou Camp – albeit that was their first loss at home this season, and you don’t always want to believe the hype about Messi & co: 8 of their 24 wins this season have come by a single goal, while all five of Atletico’s defeats have come by a one goal margin.
Bayern Munich v Benfica
Now what Bayern have returned to full strength defensively after being beset by injuries, it is hard to give Benfica a chance in this one. If this match had been played a fortnight ago then maybe; Bayern were reeling after going three matches without a win.
But with a full squad to pick from, fresh from defeating a rampant Juventus and playing at an Allianz Arena home that has witnessed 13 wins in 14 for the hosts, expect Bayern to be a relentless force. Portugal’s Primeira Liga does not offer adequate preparation for such an assignment.
Wolfsburg v Real Madrid
Real’s victory over Barcelona at the weekend was a timely reminder – if any were needed – that despite languishing in third in La Liga they can still play a mean game of football.
Wolfsburg lost 0-2 at home to Bayern a few weeks ago, and that offers us a nice insight into this encounter, and with just two wins from their last six in the Bundesliga we have to make Real a heavy favourite to triumph on German soil.