It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff. The quarter-finals are upon us, and there are some tasty clashes lined up for our viewing pleasure over the next couple of days.
Four English sides remain in contention but two of them – Manchester City and Tottenham – will go head to head. Manchester United face a huge task getting past Barcelona, while Liverpool will be wary of Porto despite hammering them 5-0 on aggregate last season.
We’ve raked through the final eight to deliver our verdict on who's most likely to come out on top...
On paper, Porto have a tougher task than anyone else as they take on one of the competition’s favourites in Liverpool – the same team that tore them to pieces with a 5-0 aggregate win at the same stage last season.
All of those goals came in the first leg as Jurgen Klopp’s side delivered a counter-pressing masterclass, but Sergio Conceicao has tightened his team up defensively.
One boost for the Portuguese title chasers is that Andrew Robertson will be suspended for the first leg, but the odds remain stacked against them.
To be clear, Spurs aren’t the seventh-best team left in the competition, but they face Manchester City in one of the hardest ties remaining.
However, they have a relatively healthy squad available and achieved a big win over Borussia Dortmund while missing key players in both legs. Now, Eric Dier is the only absentee as he recovers from a muscular injury.
These teams will meet three times in 11 days, with a league encounter coming just after the two European ties. It'll be a challenge for both to get their rotation and tactics right while they fight fiercely on both fronts, but Pep Guardiola’s squad has far more depth to cope with the challenge.
Ajax have turned their form around since a mini-slump earlier in the season, and conquered Real Madrid with a deserved 6-2 aggregate last-16 win which could have been even more emphatic in their favour.
Since then, the Dutch side have won all but one of their games as they fight with Feyenoord for the Eredivisie title, and they won’t give Juventus as much space to manoeuvre as Atletico Madrid did in their last-16 second leg.
But while Max Allegri’s team’s build-from-the-back approach won’t be executed as comfortably, Matthijs de Ligt and Daley Blind face one of the toughest defensive remits in European football by trying to stifle the threat of Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo.
5. Manchester United
Perhaps this is generous. United squeezed past PSG and now have the momentous hurdle of Barcelona in front of them, while they haven’t been in good form lately and are up against an unstoppable Catalan side with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez bang in form.
Fred will be destroyed if played as the midfield anchor, given how badly he deals with pressure usually, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side must make the most of the few chances they’ll be afforded on the counter.
Barcelona are good defensively in transition and there is almost no margin for error against them. However, the Red Devils displayed in Paris that they can be clinical with just a scattering of chances and their backs against the wall. You never know.
To be honest, the top four are interchangeable. Any team featuring Messi or Ronaldo has a chance, even if those around them have an off day. Barça might have a fairly comfortable time against Manchester United, but it’s the tests beyond that which could stifle them.
The Catalans have yet to be punished for their mistakes, with the two Madrid clubs failing to pounce on gifts presented to them when pressing deep or getting into space behind Barcelona’s full-backs.
Villarreal were two goals up against a defensively fragile Barça side recently, but couldn’t hold on and drew 4-4. Manchester City, Liverpool or Juventus won’t be as forgiving.
This is where Juve’s season becomes very interesting. They’ve strolled to another league title and Allegri superbly masterminded their comeback win over Atletico Madrid in the last-16 second leg.
You can’t afford to be dozy against Ajax, but the Italians have a solid defence, giants up front and big-game players who shine on the European stage. Any ruffles from poor domestic form should be smoothed out when it comes to the big nights.
That could be optimistic, though. Allegri’s side struggled in the first leg against Atleti under pressure and Ajax have already proved that they can sustain a high-energy gameplan over two legs, unlike the Spaniards. The Dutch side won’t be afraid to have a go in Turin, which could make for a thrilling tie.
Liverpool were considered one of the leading candidates to win the Champions League even before they were handed the easiest quarter-final draw against Porto.
That will allow Klopp’s side to get Andy Robertson’s suspension out of the way early, and while there were some concerns over their form around the time they got past Bayern Munich at the last-16 stage, they appear to be peaking at the perfect moment.
Sadio Mané is flying on current form and the rest of his team-mates are rallying around him. They are ready.
1. Manchester City
It’s not that City don’t have a big task ahead of them in the quarter-finals – they do. Spurs could realistically come out on top over two legs against anyone.
But when you’re the best, you’re the best. And at the moment, City have the tools to go further than anyone given their squad depth, talent pool and tactical flexibility.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side will provide a tough test, but the Premier League champions should go through and cement their favourites tag. Should they meet Liverpool again in the next round, it will be a juicy tie and a chance for Pep Guardiola to destroy his Jurgen Klopp kryptonite.
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.