Barring any spectacular surprises the semi-finals of the Champions League will be made up of Spanish and German giants. Also guaranteeing a box office final at Wembley.
Dortmund may rue all their missed chances but should overcome the Spaniards at home.
Real have taken a huge step towards the semi’s with a solid home win.
All Bayern need to do, is play the Italian way in Turin to progress.
The PSG equaliser in the dying seconds provides hope, especially with Messi likely out with a hamstring problem. Barca should have enough in the Nou Camp even without a full defensive complement.
The elimination of Manchester United and Arsenal may have provoked much introspection and wailing from the English media but the lack of English (or British) involvement does not lessen it’s quality or appeal.
Malaga v Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid v Galatasaray
PSG v Barcelona
Bayern Munich v Juventus
The Spanish big guns are still involved and brimming with confidence following their last 16 performances.
They are joined by their countrymen, Malaga who have progressed in spite of their financial problems.
Chilean coach, Manuel Pellegrini is the club’s main source of strength, working miracles like he did at Villarreal. It’s no surprise that both Manchester City and Chelsea seem eager to secure his services for next season.
The next tie however may be a bridge to far.
Dortmund have floundered badly in the Bundesliga this term but flourished in the Champions League. They topped the Group of Death : Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax and went on to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the last round. For many they are the form team of the competition and outside, favourites.
Real Madrid progressed via a dodgy red card decision.Of course this is not true as Real had more than been a match for Manchester United prior to Nani’s expulsion but the decision did change the game.
With Ronaldo at his peak, Mourinho’s expertise and a gaggle of Galacticos they should dispatch Galatasaray and move into the semis.
Then again, this is probably what Manchester United and Schalke thought and both suffered at the feet of the Turkish giants.
PSG have finally come good after huge investment. The recruitment of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and talisman, Ibrahimovich is finally paying dividends but It remains to be seen if they can overcome a resurgent Barcelona.
Many predicated that Barca would tumble out of the CL at the hands of Milan. Those same people heralded Barca’s 4-0 turnaround has the greatest ever quarter final club performance. Regardless, the Spanish champs have found their mojo after their mini-slump and 2 El Classico defeats. Could be the tie of the round.
Last up we have Bayern against Juve. Two giants of European football.
Munich stumbled against Arsenal, more due to overconfidence than anything. They are currently waltzing to the Bundesliga title and arguably have the most complete first team squad.
Juve soundly beat Celtic over 2 legs and will be hoping-like in last year’s Euros-German opposition brings out the best in Andrea Pirlo. The “Old Lady” are quickly becoming are Euro-powerhouse again but I think it is a year too early for the Italians.
The Champions League is only a week a way and as it falls into the last 16 it at last becomes interesting.
Manchester City and Chelsea were biffed out with barely a whimper joining Ajax and Benfica as the only real “big team” eliminated.
This leaves a very healthy looking draw with all of the big guns and some exceptional ties.
I’m going to go through them one by one and give a forecast/guess/punt:
1. Galatasaray A.S. (TUR) – FC Schalke 04 (GER)
Schalke have put their dreadful league form behind them and upped their game in this year’s CL.However Galatasaray did well to edge out Cluj to claim a last 16 spot, beating Man Utd on the process.
Much will depend on the 1st Leg and how the Germans can handle “hell”.
My pick : Galatasaray to progress through on away goals.
2. Celtic FC (SCO) – Juventus (ITA)
Celtic have been amazing so far and have proved to be a match for anyone at Celtic Park. If they can keep a clean sheet in Glasgow and protect a lead in Turin they could edge past a strong Juve. However I feel their midfield is too week to withstand the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
My pick: Juventus overpower Celtic in Turin.
3. Arsenal FC (ENG) – FC Bayern München (GER)
Bayern are simply too strong for a limited Arsenal. The Germans are running away with the Bundesliga thanks in main to the free scoring Mandzukic, Shaquiri and Muller (Gomez is injured).
The Arsenal defence looks porous with Mertesacker still to find his feet and goalkeeper Szczesny mercurial at best. Giroud and Walcott are impressing in EPL but that won’t be enough to overcome Bayern.
My tip: Bayern safely through by an aggregate of at least 3.
4. FC Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) – Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Despite falling 12 points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga, Dortmund have played well in season’s CL topping the Group of Death.In Lewandowski and Marco Reus they genuine class and a top manager in Jurgen Klopp.
Shaktar are no mugs and have a mix a Brazilians( Luis Adriano) and leading Russian players. That being said Dortmund should progress.
My tip: Dortmund to close the show in Germany.
5. AC Milan (ITA) – FC Barcelona (ESP)
Despite their purchase of Mario Balotelli the Italian giants will simply not have enough to beat Barcelona over two legs. Serie A has weakened drastically in recent years and Milan even more so.
Expect a Messi hat-trick and another Iniesta/Xavi show.
My Pick: Barcelona to breeze through.
6. Real Madrid CF (ESP) – Manchester United FC (ENG)
The tie of the round sees Ronaldo return to Old Trafford and Mourinho back in his element. Real trail Barca in the league but I feel they still have too much for Ferguson’s reds.
Man United have chanced their luck in the EPL and benefited from a weak EPL. Ronaldo and Ozil will run rings round Johnny Evans and embarrass De Gea.
My tip: Real Madrid rout in Madrid
7. Valencia CF (ESP) – Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)
Free spending PSG have the tax dodging Beckham and a host of international stars in their squad. They should have enough to eliminate Valencia , but i hope not.
The French giants have a bottomless pocket of wealth while the Valencianistas are broke as a joke.
My tip : Ibra is sent off in first leg and Valencia prevail.
8. FC Porto (POR) – Málaga CF (ESP)
The 8th tie is perhaps the weakest but the most evenly matched. Both teams did well to progress and at the expense of better funded Eastern European giants.
Porto currently top their domestic league while Malaga lie in 4th in the stronger La Liga.
My tip : Porto to progress by the odd goal.
The draw for the champions league draw has just been made with Group D looking like the “Group of Death”.
After an underwhelming maiden tournament last year Roberto Mancini will be hoping to qualify for the next stage. However with Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund (all champions of their respective countries) in their group it will be a hard task to complete.
Celtic could of got it easier with Barcelona and Benfica but they can hold realistic ambitions of a 3rd place and Europa league spot along with Spartak Moscow. Their away form seems to be improving and they are a match for any at Celtic Park.
Holders Chelsea got Juventus,Shakhtar Donetsk and newcomers FC Nordsjaelland.
Arsenal face trips to Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier and Man Utd will play Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj in Group H.
Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb.
Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier.
Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga.
Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.
Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland.
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov.
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic.
Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj.