The Champions League is a competition that captures the imagination of millions of football fans across the globe, routinely producing the kind of iconic moments that remained ingrained in the collective memory of a fan base for generations. This season has been no different, with Manchester United completing a stunning, dramatic comeback against PSG in Paris and Cristiano Ronaldo dragging Juventus through, against all the odds, with a colossal performance. Now, the quarter final draw has been made, and with the elusive final and a chance of European glory on the horizon for 8 clubs, it is as good a time as any to preview the next round of fixtures and debate the chance that each club has of lifting the trophy come May.
Ajax vs Juventus
Ajax arguably produced one of the performances of the tournament when they dismantled Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. The likes of Matthijs De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong are integral members of a talented spine of young players, and Dusan Tadic has looked a shadow of his former Southampton self, registering 6 goals and 3 assists in the tournament so far. It would be hard to find a football fan outside of Turin that doesn’t want Ajax to proceed, but unfortunately, their chances are slim. Juventus are accustomed to success, commanding an 18 point lead over nearest challengers Napoli in Serie A. They have suffered only one solitary loss in the league this season, and their usually resolute centre back pairing of Chiellini and Bonucci should offer more of a challenge than a Ramos-deprived Real. Ajax would arguably need to improve further on their performance in Madrid in order to triumph over Juventus, and even if they did reproduce that level of quality, it would only take a mercurial performance from Ronaldo to put their dreams to bed. Stranger things have happened, but it is likely that Juventus will prevail in this tie and advance to the semi-finals at the expense of Ajax.
Liverpool vs Porto
Despite a somewhat unconvincing display against in the first leg at Anfield, Klopp’s men showed their quality to beat Bayern in Bavaria. When the attacking combination of Salah, Firmino and Mane are firing on all cylinders they are a worrying proposition for any defence, and with Van Dijk anchoring the back line they have remedied the defensive flaws that plagued them the in the past. Liverpool did seem to be storming towards the Premier League title, but draws against Leicester, West Ham, Manchester United and Everton since the start of 2019 have halted their momentum somewhat. This slight downturn in form might be a slight source of hope for Porto, who are perceived as one of the weaker teams to have made it to the quarter-finals. Porto did go unbeaten against Schalke, Galatasary and Lokomotiv Moscow in the group stages of the tournament, although Schalke’s demolition by Manchester City highlights that this group was perhaps incapable of posing a considerable challenge to the Portuguese side. Porto did prevail against last season’s semi-finalists Roma, although this was by no means a comfortable victory against a struggling side that sits a whopping 28 points behind Juventus and was demolished 7-1 by Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia. The likes of Iker Casillas and Pepe offer a wealth of Champions League experience, which will be crucial if they aim to neutralise a frightening Liverpool front three. Moussa Marega has scored 6 and assisted 2 thus far in the competition, and if he can maintain this rich vein of form Porto may give themselves half a chance. However, Liverpool should possess enough quality to overcome Porto, and their chances of reaching the semi-finals for the second consecutive season look to be rather healthy.
Tottenham vs Manchester City
This is one of the most mouthwatering of the quarter-final clashes, pitting two of England’s top sides against each other in a battle for a semi-final berth. City’s first leg tie against Schalke exemplified that they can overcome adversity, battling to a last-gasp 3-2 win in Gelsenkirchen despite losing Otamendi to a red card. The return leg saw City comprehensively dismantle their German opponents, with a 7-0 win that sent out a resounding message to the rest of the competition. Spurs will undoubtedly have been feeling unlucky to have drawn City, although their 4-0 aggregate win over Dortmund, which included a superb defensive display in the away leg, should instil them with confidence. When considering domestic form, however, Spurs have endured a miserable run in the Premier League of late, losing to Southampton, Burnley and Chelsea in recent weeks. Guardiola has an imposing attacking arsenal at his disposal, with the likes of Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Sane, Sterling and Mahrez all capable of causing serious damage if Spurs replicate their recent underwhelming performances. In order to win, Spurs need Lloris, Sanchez and Vertonghen to reproduce the resolute defensive display that secured their progression in Dortmund, and hope that key creative outlet Christian Eriksen is not stifled, allowing him to bring Son and Kane into the game. Yet, there are consistent questions about Spurs’ composure and consistency when the pressure begins to mount, and with a place in the semi-finals at stake, the likelihood of Spurs crumbling against a blistering Manchester City seems all too likely.
Barcelona vs Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team announced themselves as Champions League contenders with a stunning comeback against PSG, beating the Parisians 3-1 courtesy of a contentious Rashford penalty in the dying embers of the game. United may have needed a slice of luck, but given that they were forced to field inexperienced youngsters such as Chong and Greenwood, and displayed the kind of fighting spirit that all successful teams require, they deserve some commendation. Since taking charge of the Red Devils, Solskjaer has been able to extract the best out of the likes of Rashford, Lukaku and Paul Pogba, and he will certainly need these players at the peak of their capabilities if they are to overcome Barcelona. Barcelona's 5-1 victory over Lyon sealed safe passage to the quarter-finals, with Lionel Messi looking as imperious as ever. Barcelona have enjoyed another season of domestic dominance, putting El Clasico rivals Real Madrid to the sword on more than one occasion and sitting comfortably atop the La Liga table. Barcelona certainly don't look like a side that are going to be beaten easily, and although Solskjaer has only suffered 3 defeats as United manager, it looks as though he may add to his collection here. Lindelof and Smalling may have performed more brightly under their new manager, but this centre back pairing up coming up against the likes of Messi, Suarez and Dembele still feels like something of a mismatch. Solskjaer has an opportunity to write his name into Champions League folklore once again with United, and he will undoubtedly ensure that each of his players understands the significance of this tie. Yet, United's 2-0 home defeat to a PSG side lacking Neymar and Cavani laid bare some defensive deficiencies, and unless Solskjaer can inspire his time to another unexpected victory, Barcelona must be viewed as favourites to earn a semi-final berth.