Battle of the Titans

Champions league
Champions league

Despite the absence of English teams in the money-spinning stage of the Uefa League Championship, the quarter finals which kick-off April 2, will surely renew old rivalries in European football

By Vincent Nzemeke |  Apr. 1, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

The quarter final fixtures of the Uefa Champions League promises to be an exciting one. Before the draws were made in Lyon on March 14, some pundits had predicted that the failure of English teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to qualify for the quarter finals would make the money-spinning league a drab affair. Alas, such pundits were crestfallen. The quarter final pairings not only gave some low rated teams a chance to play at the big stage, it also renewed some old rivalries of European football. Below is an analysis of the fixtures which will kick-off this week.

PSG Vs Barcelona

Carlo Ancelotti will be studying the video of his former club, AC Milan’s first leg performance against Barcelona. He will be interested in how the club prevented Barcelona from playing incisive passes into the final third. But it is doubtful whether PSG has the required discipline to thwart Barça, as Barcelona is fondly called. Ancelotti has tried to cram his expensive attacking talents into the same side, but PSG hasn’t looked cohesive enough against top sides this season.

The return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the headline story, but if anyone’s out for revenge against his former club, it will be Thiago Motta. The last time the Brazilian returned to the Camp Nou, he was dismissed in the first half of Inter’s successful bus-parking exercise under Jose Mourinho, a victim of Sergio Busquets’s extravagant play-acting. Motta will be crucial in occupying the space Lionel Messi of Barca loves to work in – the highly rated Marco Verratti is a talented ball-player, but remains defensively unimpressive.

Malaga Vs Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund will start as overwhelming favourites – but Málaga is considered an outsider in a group containing Zenit St Petersburg and Milan, then battled back from a 1-0 first leg defeat in Porto in order to reach this stage. Manuel Pellegrini, an intelligent but incredibly relaxed, patient manager, has assembled a unified, motivated group of players that will fancy their chances of an upset.

The creative midfielder Isco, yet another versatile Spanish playmaker capable of fantastic long-range strikes, is the main attraction, but Málaga also has experience, with players such as Martin Demichelis, Jérémy Toulalan and Julio Baptista. They took a chance on the right-winger Joaquin and the mobile forward Javier Saviola – both highly rated a decade ago, but unable to fulfil their vast potentials at major Spanish clubs – and have been rewarded with fine performances.

 Real Madrid Vs Galatasaray

José Mourinho’s side benefited from an easy draw against the Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia last season, and for a second consecutive season will face the weakest team at the quarter-final stage. Fatih Terim is a very brave tactician but you wonder whether he might be too adventurous against a Real Madrid side that excels on the counterattacks. The January purchases of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba have forced Terim to cram both into the same side, along with the joint Champions League top scorer Burak Yilmaz. Terim has tried a 4-4-2 with Sneijder on the left, but against Schalke in midweek he selected a midfield diamond, with the Dutchman in his preferred No10 role.

Regardless of the formation, Galatasaray will struggle to hold back the tide. The job of stopping Cristiano Ronaldo will fall to Emmanuel Eboué, while the former Liverpool winger Albert Riera is used at left-back and will face the tricky Angel Di María. Both full-backs are admirably attack-minded, but Real will punish them at attacking transitions.

Much focus will be on Mesut Ozil – German-born, but of Turkish descent. “My technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game,” he once said. Having been booed by Turkey fans in an international fixture in 2010 for allegedly turning his back on the country, he will expect similar treatment at the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

Bayern Munich Vs Juventus

This match promises to be the pick of the crop. It is unquestionably the tie of the quarter-final stage, an exciting clash between two potential league champions. These clubs last met at the group stage in 2009-10, when Bayern recorded a superb 4-1 victory on Turin to qualify for the knockout stages at the expense of Juve – a result that meant that Louis van Gaal kept his job, and contributed to Ciro Ferrara losing his.

These are two contrasting teams – Jupp Heynckes’s Bayern is a typical modern side based around intricate passing in a 4-2-3-1 system, remaining compact without the ball and often pressing well. Juve are something of an anomaly in this competition, favouring a 3-5-2 system with rampaging wing-backs and a traditional strike duo up front.

The midfield battle will be extraordinarily intense – Andrea Pirlo remains Juventus’ key player in his classic deep-lying playmaker role, and will be up against Bayern’s Toni Kroos. When these two met in last year’s Euro 2012 semi-final, Kroos allowed Pirlo too much time on the ball, thereby allowing him to launch accurate passes in the final third. Meanwhile, the powerful duo of Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vital will battle against Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez – aside from Barcelona, these are the two best midfield trios in Europe.

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