With the identity of the first four teams through to the Champions League quarter-final now known, Will Cafferky takes a closer look at the remaining teams’ prospects:
Barcelona vs. Manchester City
The Result: City’s first foray into the Champions League knockouts was brief, and somewhat ant-climactic. Many had billed this clash as the tie of the round, but it never really lived up to expectation. Two 90th minute strikes in each leg from Dani Alves may have added a bit of gloss to the aggregate scoreline, but Barca never looked like losing here. They were largely in charge of the tempo of both games. Aguero looked a shadow of his pre-injury self, and ultimately City failed to capitalise on the three or four strong chances they had.
Barcelona: Some shaky league form may have raised some eyebrows about Gerardo Martino’s credentials, but a 4-1 aggregate win over arguably England’s strongest squad speaks for itself. No one will want to discount the Spanish giants, especially with Lionel Messi once again in the ascendancy.
Manchester City: City will undoubtedly return to the Champions League next year, one would imagine under the keen eye of Pellegrini. In the mean time, they have a league to focus on. Success in the League Cup has largely been forgotten, especially after they were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by a tactically astute Wigan side. There’s no time to lick their wounds, with Liverpool and Arsenal hot on their heels, and Chelsea slipping up against Villa, this could prove to be the best title race the Premier League has seen for years.
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayer Leverkusen
The Result: PSG sent a signal of intent with their resounding 6-1 aggregate win over Leverkusen. Unlike Manchester City, they are no strangers to the competition, but their recently acquired wealth has made the prospect of replicating their 1995 semi-final appearance all the more likely. Leverkusen on the other hand are in freefall, and never looked like troubling Blanc’s side.
PSG: How far can this team go in the competition? Despite a strong squad, their reputation within the competition is undoubtedly dented by the standard of their league. Whilst perhaps lifting the trophy wouldn’t be a romantic tale of underdog triumph, it would certainly surprise a few. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them reach the semi-final, but any further may be a step too far.
Bayer Leverkusen: What began as a dream start to the Bundesliga season has quickly turned sour for Sami Hypia’s men. The hope now is that they can cling on to fourth spot and reach next year’s tournament, or else face losing their start men.
Atletico Madrid vs. Milan
The Result: Wind back the clock four years, and Milan were crowned Serie A champions while a dormant Atletico finished seventh in La Liga, scraping Europa League qualification. Fast-forward to 2014, and high-flying Atletico made light work of a disheveled Milan side, which languishes down in 11th place in Serie A. The enigmatic Balotelli wasn’t enough to muster a response from a beleaguered Milan, who lost 5-1 on aggregate.
Atletico: Despite their progress, the Champions League may be in the back of the minds of many Atletico fans. For them, there focus will likely be on the first three-horse title race Spain has seen for some time. Undoubtedly their chances of domestic achievement are greater, though they nonetheless present a tricky obstacle for any of the remaining teams to overcome.
Milan: In a fall from grace seemingly mirrored only by David Moyes’ Manchester United, Milan’s misery has been startling to watch. Clarence Seedorf has returned under the guise of the white knight, but the turnaround hasn’t been convincing. The talent is undoubtedly there, but motivation is becoming increasingly scarce.
Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal
The Result: Arsenal may have left the Alianz Arena with their heads held high after a hard fought draw in Munich, yet Bayern never really look flustered. Few will deny there is no team on the planet more intimidating than Pep’s side, and they have to be overwhelming favourites to defend their crown.
Bayern Munich: With the Bundesliga title as good as secured, and the DFB Pokal still a distinct possibility; there aren’t many who would bet against Bayern repeating their treble feat of last season. No team has ever retained the Champions League, but records are there to be broken, and few teams have ever looked as likely to break them as Bayern.
Arsenal: Another year of Champions League, another disappointment for Arsenal fans. What began as such a promising season has grown sickeningly familiar for Gunners fans. Whilst they remain outsiders in the title race, their greatest chance for silverware is the FA Cup, with only Wigan, and one of Hull or Sheffield United standing between them and that elusive piece of silverware.bookmark me