The Champions League Round of 16 produced some incredibly exciting ties, chief amongst them the ouster of Manchester City by Monaco and the 6-1 thrashing of French champions PSG by Barcelona after having been mauled 4-0 themselves in Paris a fortnight earlier.
When the draw was made, there was definitely a sense of anticipation with European football’s heavyweights inevitably having made their way to the quarters along with a couple of hipsters in Borussia Dortmund and Monaco accompanied by perennial dark horses Atletico Madrid and surprise package Leicester City.
All four ties are intriguing and with a myriad of sub-plots, revenge stories and heavyweight clashes, fans are in for a fiesta over four fascinating matchdays. We rank the ties in increasing order of excitement value.
Atletico Madrid vs Leicester City: A battle of attrition
Sorry Leicester fans and neutrals to burst your bubble, but this is truly the most “boring” tie on the cards if such a tag can be attributed to any of the matches in the quarterfinals as the Foxes play a club which come closest to matching their own style, more so than any other team left in the tie.
Don Diego Simeone’s men scored four goals against Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, effectively sealing the tie in the first leg but promptly shut shop in the second, rather blatantly. Atletico’s all-action, tightly packed midfield and compact pressing will ensure that Leicester suffocate, which the former Argentine international wants them to do.
Of the teams in the final eight, Leicester haven’t been exactly expansive, scoring nine and conceding eight. They seemed to have turned a corner under Craig Shakespeare dispatching Sevilla in the previous round but Atleti are as tough as they come and expect them to be set-up to thwart any counters that Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and co. can throw at them.
Yet, a fairytale lives on through the last English team in the competition and anyone who is not a fan of the Spanish team will be hoping for another scalp to be added to a burgeoning scrapbook.
On an ominous note, two of Leicester’s three previous European campaigns have been ended by Atleti, who have never lost to English opposition.
Our pick: Atletico Madrid
Juventus vs Barcelona: Defence vs Attack
After their heroics in a 6-1 win abetted by some questionable refereeing, the Blaugrana will be hoping that their luck can hold up against the tightest team in all of Europe. Neymar may be the key to this contest as the Catalan giants lost their next game in the La Liga without their Brazilian sensation.
While PSG imploded, the same can frankly not be expected of Max Allegri’s side as they have conceded only two goals in the competition all season, not a case of shut shop, more of the hatches being iron-clad and air-tight.
Along with Gianluigi Buffon and the defensive unit of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli that is in front of him, the MSN trio which has scored 18 of the 26 goals for Barcelona may face more opposition than Xerxes and the Persian army faced off from Leonidas’ 300 at the Hot Gates.
Claudio Marchisio summed it up perfectly, “It will be completely different compared with the final in 2015. In Berlin it was a 90-minute match; now we have two games against Barcelona and we don’t have to think of it as a matter of revenge at all.” Dani Alves, let go by the Spanish giants, may have a thing or two to say about that though.
The 3-1 is a thing of the past, and with Juve making zero defensive errors in the continent, Barca’s rather porous backline is expected to be tested by Paulo Dybala and the rest. With Luis Enrique departing in the summer, Allegri may not be reading his lines only for Arsenal.
Our pick: Juventus
Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid: Return and revenge
On paper, the two most complete squads in the competition face off, sharing three of the previous four Champions League titles among themselves.
More interestingly, Carlo Ancelotti was in charge of Real Madrid when they thrashed the Bavarians 4-0 at the Allianz Arena en route to La Decima and has every reason to be upbeat, after watching his team maul Arsenal 10-2 in the pre-quarters.
He will be itching to set the record straight as will be Xabi Alonso, the midfielder retiring at the end of the season, having experienced a re-birth in Germany. Toni Kroos, Real’s German medio will also be facing off against his former employers.
Real are expansive but not without their flaws as they conceded twice against Napoli, Keylor Navas less than impressive between the sticks. With Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly not leading the charge in Europe, others like Sergio Ramos have stepped up to provide the goals for Los Merengues.
Bayern, ten points ahead of Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga race, have only Thomas Mueller’s patchy form to worry about. Having been frugal in the league conceding only 13 in 24 games, they have been unusually leaky in this season’s competition, letting in a goal a game.
The winner of this tie may just be decisive in choosing this season’s victor.
Our pick: Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund vs Monaco: Recklessness re-defined
As predicted previously, Monaco vs Manchester City turned out to be a belter, and a classic at that. Monaco, certainly for their part did not disappoint, choosing to overwhelm Pep Guardiola’s side at home for a well-deserved victory.
The perfect tie may be a myth but in Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, you have two sides who have the best young talent in the business. With both willing to abandon defence in search for tidal wave after tidal wave of attack, these two games are expected to entertain.
Monaco, after years of splurging out big on continental class footballers, have seen a sudden spurt in talent at the Stade Louis, Fabinho, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy the cynosure of the rest of Europe and indeed, some of the other teams in the quarters.
For their part, Dortmund were Monaco before it became cool with the assembly line in Westphalia living up to an ever-burgeoning reputation with another bunch of cool kids in Christian Pulisic, Julian Weigl, Emre Mor and Raphael Guerreiro looking to upset the established order.
Chief amongst these youngsters, both of whom are likely to move for astronomical sums come July, are Dembele and Mbappe. The future of French football is enviable, and in rude health. It’s incredible to think that they are just 19 and 18, tearing up opposition defenders at will.
It would take a brave man to make a prediction here, and although they’re not the strongest teams left, no one will want to face the winner of these two legs in the semis.
Our pick: Monaco