The official draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League will be midday on Friday from Nyon, Switzerland, but let’s take a sneak preview at FC Barcelona’s next potential opponents. Remember there are now no selection limitations whatsoever, so everyone is as likely a rival as the others.
1. Real Madrid: Personally, I hope not. For only the reason that I find these games have become over-saturated – too many, too often. But if that is the draw, Barça will have a challenge on their hands with Real Madrid clearly among the favorites. Mourinho is out of Madrid come June, but he would prefer to leave with another trinket for his personal collection and with the league out of grasp, all merengue focus is on the decima.
Opposition Ranking: 1, i.e. they will prove Barça’s most unfavorable draw. Madrid has had the upper hand this season with only 1 defeat in the 6 meetings, and aside from the fact Madrid are a top class side, this match up has the potential to turn nasty with the pressure likely to resurface a lot of that bad blood Mourinho engineered his first season.
2. Málaga: Manuel Pellegrini is showing this season again what a top manager he is. Well actually he never has slipped up, irrespective of what the Real Madrid media like to peddle. Despite losing their key player Santi Cazorla over a chaotic off-season, Pellegrini has drilled his side into a complete team, with an extremely stingy defense that quickly evolves into intricate attack. Isco is a proper player as well.
Opposition Ranking: 7, i.e. I rank this the most favorable draw. In the 3 encounters this season, Barça has managed to score 9 goals, 7 of those on our travels. Being in this competition is still a new experience for most of this squad and traditionally FC Barcelona have enjoyed favorable results against Málaga.
3. Bayern Munich: Many pundits’ favorites. Running away with the Bundesliga title, Munich are a force in 2012/13. Even more impressive than their 20 point league lead is the fact they have conceded just 10 goals in 25 games. However, they have been more porous in the Champions League. Yes, Arsenal did just beat them 0-2 in Germany, but that could make them even more dangerous. Like Barça often need and profit from, this defeat has created an uproar of criticism and will provide a wake up call. Bayern’s starting 11 is stellar but also benefit from excellent depth with Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben, and Swiss starlet Xherdan Shaqiri waiting in the wings.
Opposition Ranking: 2. No getting away from it, Bayern will represent a true clash of titans.
4. Juventus: The Old Lady are back in a competition they once dominated. Conte has injected tangible passion, intensity, and purpose into a side that do not forget went undefeated the entire 2011/12 Serie A season. They have a terrific starting 11 with Gigi Buffon guarding the net, the hard working Lichsteiner on the right, Italian trio Barzagli, Bonnuci and Chiellini completing the defense, Pirlo running the show in the middle supported by Marchisio, Asamoah and the tough Chilean Vidal, ending upfront with the trickery of Mirko Vucinic and mercurial ability of Giovinco. Off the bench they also can bring on prospect Paul Pogba, the master of wondergoals Fabio Quagliarella, and promising Italian poacher Alessandro Matri.
Opposition Ranking: 3. Juventus will make a truly intriguing matchup. They play possession based football but with more directness and pace. In fact, aside from FC Barcelona, Juventus had the highest average possession statistic in the 2011/12 season. Juventus are hungry, motivated, and equipped.
5. Borussia Dortmund: What a truly exciting team that play wonderful football. Manager Jurgen Klupp is the real deal. They will relinquish their German crown after two successive league triumphs, but the focus has been on Europe this season, with the side thinking this could be the last real chance for a golden group of players to capture the ultimate crown. Key striker Robert Lewandowski appears to be on the move in June, so this is seen as the moment. There is special talent in this group in the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, and Mats Hummels, but they are much more about the collective unit than the individuals, that is their strength.
Opposition Ranking: 4. Maybe many will have had them higher, but my reasoning is that Dortmund are very similar to Barça in style and philosophy, and that usually works in FC Barcelona’s favor. Dortmund are used to dominating the ball so defensively and are not the force of someone like a Chelsea that base their game on having very little of the ball. Yet, they have electric counter attacking speed on the wings with both the defenders and midfielders instructed to break out. Forget their ranking of 4, Dortmund will prove meaningful opposition and a sexy matchup that many are hoping will happen.
6. Galatasaray: A Turkish side is back in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001. Gala is as all Turkish sides are, especially those under the stewardship of legendary manager Faih Terim, full of passion and industry. Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz is having a terrific season, tied top scorer in the Champions League, and he is supported by Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder. Traditionally Turkish sides rely on their home field advantage to succeed, but Gala has been more impressive on the road with wins in Portugal (Benfica) and Germany (Schalke).
Opposition Ranking: 6. It won’t be an easy match, but it’s definitely one FC Barcelona would welcome in this field. Barça has a strong history against Turkish sides, winning 5 of 8 total encounters and only losing once. If a performance even 70% as good as Tuesday’s can be repeated, there is reason to have confidence in this matchup.
7. Paris Saint-Germain: I have made it a point this season to watch some PSG games in Ligue 1. They play some seriously uninspiring, mostly dreadful football on the eye. But, when their starting 11 hits the screen, you can not help but be impressed. It’s a who’s who of names, very Championship Manager style, with Maxwell, Van der Wiel, Alex, Sakho, Thiago Silva, and then the attacking monsters Lavezzi, Pastore, Moura, Menez and of course Ibrahimovic, who digs them out of hole after hole. David Beckham is there also, and while he is mostly now a name, he still provides a great cross. Watch out for talented midfielder Verratti, not one of the star signings but he dictates the tempo and could be as vital as anyone in the side.
Opposition Ranking: 5. PSG look at times like too many chefs in the kitchen. It always sounds great to create a team of super stars, but in reality they do not always make a cohesive unit and that is very much what PSG look like at times. This group of players are still very new to one another and while the names shine, their performances very often do not. This is the case particularly with Pastore and Menez, while Moura is hugely injury prone in addition to still very fresh from the Brazilian league. Again, none of the 7 possible teams will be easy, PSG certainly won’t be, but in the field FC Barcelona will take an inexperienced work in progress over the seasoned veterans.
However the draw goes, this is a genuinely exciting final eight. Tune in to totalBarça tomorrow for the actual draw results. And while you’re waiting, voice your opinion in our official poll here.