Eight clubs are eagerly awaiting Friday’s draw for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, which takes place in Nyon, Switzerland at 12:00 CET.
Going into the hat are some of the usual suspects such as Manchester United and Barcelona, as well as some newcomers. Here are the teams which still harbour hopes of reaching the final at Wembley on May 28.
Barça booked their place in the last eight thanks to a 4-3 aggregate win over Arsenal, a tie which brought together two of Europe’s best passing sides. The Catalans dominated possession overall and in the end it was World Player of the Year Lionel Messi who made the difference, scoring two goals in the second leg at the Nou Camp. Barça are reigning Spanish champions and currently sit five points clear at the top of La Liga. Their future opponents will probably have to resign themselves to the fact that Barcelona will enjoy long periods with the ball, but as Arsenal proved in the first leg in London, they are fallible.
Chelsea have made the last eight without looking spectacular but manager Carlo Ancelotti has plenty of history when it comes to winning big European cup ties. Chelsea have an experienced squad and a big physical presence. On the plus side for Chelsea, they currently have most of their players fit, including the likes of Michael Essien, Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres. However, they will need to find some form and consistency before the quarter finals on April 5/6 and 12/13. The Blues have had a somewhat up-and-down season so far on the domestic front. With their hopes of a domestic English title looking slim, the Champions League is likely to be their only chance of silverware this year.
The current European champions looked set to be crashing out of the competition in Munich until a stunning late comeback against Bayern. That result proves this Inter side has character. It also has momentum. Since Leonardo replaced Rafa Benitez as coach in December, the Nerazzuri have climbed to second in Serie A and are now five points behind local rivals AC Milan. When Leonardo arrived the gap was 13 points. In Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto’o, Inter have players of genuine quality but also the worst defensive record of all the teams left in the Champions League, having conceded 14 goals in the competition this season.
Perhaps the side the other clubs wish to avoid the most in Friday’s draw. United have the most miserly defence of all the quarter finalists, having conceded just two goals in eight Champions League matches. On the other hand, they have only scored nine themselves. Barça, Tottenham, Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid have all scored at least double that many. As domestic league leaders and FA cup semi-finalists, they are still battling on three fronts and with the likes of Nani, John O’Shea, Rafael and captain Rio Ferdinand likely to miss the quarter-finals through injury, United will be hoping to avoid any further losses to their personnel.
If anyone can, Mourinho can. Real’s Portuguese manager has already lifted the Champions League trophy with Porto and Inter Milan. Real are one of only two clubs still unbeaten in this season’s CL competition (the other being Manchester United) and Mourinho, almost incredibly, has not lost a home match as a manager for nine years. The Spaniards, who have not reached the last eight of this competition for seven years, will be difficult to break down and dangerous on the counter-attack thanks to the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo and the return to form of French striker Karim Benzema.
FC SCHALKE 04
Schalke return for their second ever Champions League quarter final in disarray, making the Germans the team that, on paper at least, seems the easiest opponent for the others. Manager Felix Magath was sacked despite leading the club to victory over Valencia in the first knock-out stage. After finishing second in the Bundesliga last season, Schalke are currently tenth in the domestic league. Magath’s successor is not yet known although the name of former Hoffenheim boss Ralf Rangnick has been bandied around, a manager with no Champions League experience.
The Champions League quarter final stage is unchartered territory for the Ukrainian club, although it did win the UEFA Cup in 2009. Of the eight CL matches Shakhtar have played in the competition this season, they have won seven and lost one (5-1 away to Arsenal). Their home record is impressive as they are unbeaten on home soil in all competitions since October 2008, meaning there are few clubs who will fancy a trip to Donetsk. They have also won away fixtures in Braga, Belgrade and Rome during the campaign. A Brazilian-heavy strike force has netted 18 times in this year’s Champions League.
Spurs have made it to the quarter finals of Europe’s top footballing competition once before although that was back in 1961/62. Although perhaps not the most prestigious of the remaining clubs, they may be the most entertaining for neutral fans. The six group stage matches produced no fewer than 29 goals, with Tottenham scoring 18 of them. In the second round, they edged out AC Milan by a solitary goal. Tottenham often turn to the pace of left-sided player Gareth Bale and the height of striker Peter Crouch when going forward. Those two players have each scored four times in this competition.
Anyone can be drawn against anyone else on Friday, which means potentially