Comfortable first-leg winners at home to Galatasaray and Juventus respectively, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are well placed to advance to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, though they can take nothing for granted with tricky away trips coming up.
In contrast, the other two ties are too close to call. Despite a dominant performance at Malaga last week, Borussia Dortmund failed to score and still have much to do to prevail in their goalless tie, while Paris Saint-Germain’s late rally against Barcelona secured them a 2-2 draw and a lifeline ahead of their visit to the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
The odds are heavily weighted in favour of Spain’s big two and the German duo. Based on all previous Champions League first-leg ties ending with the same scorelines as those recorded last week, Real Madrid have a 94 per cent chance of progressing, while Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund respectively have 82, 80 and 67.4 percent chances of doing the same.
This week’s fixtures
Tuesday 9 April
Borussia Dortmund-Malaga (0-0 on aggregate)
Galatasaray-Real Madrid (0-3 on aggregate)
Wednesday 10 April
Barcelona-Paris Saint-Germain (2-2 on aggregate)
Juventus-Bayern Munich (0-2 on aggregate)
Match of the day
Barcelona-Paris Saint Germain, Camp Nou, Barcelona, 20:45
The long-awaited returns from illness of French defender Eric Abidal and coach Tito Vilanova have brought Barcelona some welcome stability, with the Catalans celebrating their respective recoveries with a 5-0 defeat of Mallorca at the weekend. Playing at their fluid best despite the absence of Lionel Messi, who is expected to start the second leg on the bench, Barça showed their struggling Liga opponents no mercy, with Cesc Fabregas deputising ably for the Argentinian and scoring a hat-trick and Alexis Sanchez chipping in with two goals of his own.
Barcelona’s problems lie at the back, where they are without the services of Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano. Having made a quicker-than-expected recovery from injury, Adriano is likely to line up alongside Gerard Pique in the middle of defence, while the livewire Pedro will make his return up front.
As for PSG, the two Thiagos, Silva and Motta, are both doubtful starters, and Blaise Matuidi will miss the game altogether through suspension, though coach Carlo Ancelotti does have plenty of options available to him in his well-manned squad. The Parisians have to win or earn a high-scoring draw if they are to advance, a tall order at a stadium where Barcelona are unbeaten in 20 Champions League matches, their last home loss surprisingly coming against Rubin Kazan in October 2009.
The other matches
Both clubs enjoyed a productive weekend, Juventus earning a hard-fought 2-1 win over Pescara to all but retain their Serie A title, and Bayern clinching their 23rd Bundesliga in record time, having opened up a 20-point lead over closest challengers Borussia Dortmund with six games remaining. The return of Javi Martinez will further buoy Bayern ahead of their trip to the Juventus Stadium, where they will set about defending their 2-0 lead.
Juve never recovered from David Alaba 23-second opener in the first leg and will be hoping to make a fast start of their own on Wednesday, though suspensions for Arturo Vidal and Stephan Lichtsteiner will force coach Antonio Conte to reshuffle his pack in a bid to blunt the threat posed by Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Sebastian Giovinco is also out with injury, leaving most of the attacking burden on the shoulders of Mirko Vucinic, their top scorer this season following his brace against Pescara.
The only undefeated team in the competition, Borussia Dortmund will be banking on their vociferous supporters to help them break down Malaga’s stubborn defence. Even if the Germans do get a sight of goal, however, they will still have to find a way past Argentinian goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who pulled off six crucial saves last week.
Unbeaten at home so far, competition debutants Malaga have little pressure on them, having come through the play-offs and exceeded their expectations. If the Spanish are to continue their fairytale run, they will have to do so without their hardworking Chilean midfielder Manuel Iturra and their captain and central defender Weligton, both of whom are suspended.
Though guilty of some lax defending at the Bernabeu last week, Galatasaray remain hopeful ahead of the return leg in Istanbul. “We’re learning. We’ve got a young team and we know there’s room for improvement,” said their veteran striker Didier Drogba. “It was a good lesson and it’s up to us now to show that we’ve learned it.”
The Turkish side will be hampered by the absence through suspension of leading marksman Burak Yilmaz, who has struck eight times in the competition, which makes their task even more daunting. While Real have never won in Turkey, losing to Gala in 2001 and drawing 1-1 with Besiktas in the 1958/59 European Cup, they have progressed on each of the seven occasions they have held a three-goal lead from the first leg.
Players to watch
Mesut Ozil has become Cristiano Ronaldo’s official goal provider, serving him up with seven assists this season, four of them in the Champions League in 461 minutes of game time. Not far behind is Angel Di Maria, who has given the Portuguese star five assists in 592 minutes of play.
Thanks largely to the quality supply he receives from his team-mates, Ronaldo is the leading goalscorer in this season’s competition with nine. Ozil has also been in among the goals recently, helping himself to a late brace in Saturday’s 5-1 romp against Levante.
1050 - The number of passes Barcelona’s Xavi has attempted in this season’s competition so far, 930 of which have been completed, a success rate of 89 per cent. Following him on the list of the tournament’s top passers are three team-mates: Andres Iniesta, who has made 519 successful passes out of 620, Jordi Alba with 492 out of 590, and Sergio Busquets with 478 out of 532, figures that underline Barcelona’s unmatched ability to dominate possession.
What they said
“Football is my life and I didn’t want to retire without making a return to the game first. I didn’t want to stop just like that and I've fought to come back,” Barcelona defender Eric Abidal discusses his return to action.
Have your say
How many of Spain’s three representatives will make it through to the semi-finals?