There are few sporting events that draw the attention and talent of the Champions League. While the tournament itself has only grown in stature, the teams also continue to grow in strength as they vie for one of the biggest prizes in football. In fact, according to some players and managers, the Champions League now dwarfs the World Cup or any other tournament in terms of importance and marks an even greater achievement for the club/manager/and player to win-it-all. As we enter the stretch run of this Champions League campaign, the remaining teams all have the ability to hoist the trophy, but this quarter-final will see four of Europe’s best squads sent packing…who will continue on?
Although we already covered what all of the CL’s Spanish giants will see this season, there are still two mouthwatering fixtures in store.
For last season’s champions in Bayern Munich, the draw will have provided them what many are calling the “easiest” fixture. Manchester United will also feel that they have drawn the “hardest” fixture. However, the possibility here is for something truly magical to happen once the players take the pitch. Bayern could field 11 children for the rest of their Bundesliga campaign and would probably still win the title. No other team will be able to afford the Champions League as much focus as the Bavarians and that could serve as a positive AND a negative. 99% of the world will have Bayern strolling through this fixture towards the semi-final, but that means that the possibility for a slip-up only grows. If Munich does not put United away early in the opening fixture, then the fear of the biggest upset left in the tournament could be on the cards.
For United, a victory here could actually retell the story of their entire season. It could save Moyes’ job and it might convince a few of their players to extend their stay instead of heading for greener pastures…such is the gravity of these 180 minutes. United will also enter into this fixture unlike any other that they have played this season – with nothing to lose. A loss is what is expected, so putting in a good showing or even progressing through to the semi-finals would be HUGE. Looking at the EPL table, the only way to maintain CL football at Old Trafford would be for United to win the competition…a thought that is definitely in the back of every United players’ minds. No pressure for one club and the other club being touted as winning the fixture long before the whistle actually blows means that we are in for some special minutes.
Elsewhere, a Champions League mainstay will be testing the legitimacy of a new European power in the Chelsea v PSG fixture. It will be interesting to see the originator of “buying trophies” going up against the newest member of the “big-money” clubs, with major amounts of talent being present on the pitch when the two clubs face-off. For Chelsea, a slip-up against Aston Villa will mean that the London blues will always have one eye back towards the EPL when they are going up against PSG. Despite manager Jose Mourinho’s insistence that Chelsea are not title favorites, it is difficult to argue with sitting on top of the table and the Portuguese manager will be hoping that this big CL tie only aids his team’s case instead of making them slip up even more. In terms of attacking, PSG stands as the clear favorite, but the midfield and defensive areas of the pitch (at least on paper) seems to be where Chelsea can assert their dominance. Can Chelsea have success within their domestic league and in the CL? Success over the next few weeks will certainly show their trophy credentials…
For PSG, this is where the club can prove whether they can be successful outside of France. Despite boasting impressive amounts of talent nearly everywhere on the pitch, PSG have yet to truly enter the echelons of Europe’s elite. However, with Zlatan involved, anything is certainly possible. PSG also have a more comfortable cushion in their domestic league than Chelsea does, with 8 points separating them from 2nd placed Monaco with 9 fixtures left to play. Still, the “Special One” knows that he only needs a draw when Chelsea visits France as the magic of Stamford Bridge always seems to see Chelsea come out on top. For PSG, making a big statement when Chelsea visits France will be vital to continuing this season’s CL journey.
Big clubs, big fixtures, big players, big managers, and big stadiums help make the Champions League a true footballing spectacle. Will Bayern repeat as CL champs or will a new victor emerge from the final 8 clubs? As the European landscape changes, the best time to prove the difficulty of your league, the strength of your squad, and the legitimacy of your power comes at this point in the Champions League. Who will continue on and who will be sent packing?
Check out Part 1 on Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Dortmund.