The Champions League has reached the quarterfinals or, to be topical, its version of the Elite Eight. Here is a preview of today’s matches.
Bayern Munich vs. Juventus: Southern Germany and Northern Italy. Their intertwined political rivalry defined Western Civilization for more than a millenium. The regions’ largest soccer clubs, though, have forged isolated paths. Bayern Munich and Juventus have each been fixtures on the continental scene, winning 50 domestic titles and six European Cups between them. But the clubs have faced each other just six times, all within the past decade. This is their first meeting in a European knockout stage.
Had fate been more fair, this matchup would have been a semifinal or final. Bayern Munich have been Europe’s most dominant club side, cruising to a 23-1-3 record and a 20-point lead in the Bundesliga. Juventus might be the squad best poised to win the tournament. They have an organized defense in a 3-5-2, strong veteran leadership and the best goalkeeper in soccer. They keep clean sheets (four goals allowed in eight Champions League matches). They have not lost away from home in Europe since 2010.
Pressure will be on Bayern. The club’s German players dropped the Champions League Final last year to Chelsea at home. They followed that up by dropping out to Italy in Euro 2012 (an Italy led by Juventus stars Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon). Wresting the league back from Borussia Dortmund in dramatic fashion is swell, but it won’t palliate yet another grand stage ulcer.
Worth noting: Bayern rested some pivotal players during last weekend’s 9-2 destruction of Hamburg. Juventus had all hands on deck for a derby with Inter Milan.
Paris St. Germain vs. Barcelona: Barcelona are still Barcelona, but not quite the Barcelona of old. Their back four has fallen off. Their pressing game is not what it was. The power of Messi, though, absolves a lot of sins. The Argentine striker has scored in a record 19-straight league goals (29 goals in all). He’s been a bit more temperate in the Champions League this season only scoring seven in seven matches. Messi spearheaded Barca’s 4-0 second leg triumph over AC Milan, though that is what this team is capable of. It has not been their consistent output.
We suspect Barcelona will be caught out, but we’re not sure PSG is the right team to do it. They have petro-financed talent, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will face his former club after having his suspension rescinded. They have not, however, proved themselves against a top-tier opponent. The Paris side ducked club from England, Spain, Germany or Italy in a group. Their Round of 16 opposition, Valencia, was among the weakest clubs in the field.
David Beckham will get his one last Champions League hurrah. Left on the bench against Valencia, the soon-to-be 38-year-old will start for PSG against Barcelona. He has experience against them from his time at Real Madrid. He’s not a bad guy to be kicking balls toward Zlatan. That said, if you want an interesting but not very useful stat, Beckham has not assisted a goal in his last 12 Champions League appearances.
[Photos via Getty]