UEFA Champions League preview
Bayern Munich-Manchester United and Arsenal-Barcelona provide the pick of the first-leg ties this week as the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League begin. The Bavarian giants take on the English champions in a repeat of the legendary 1999 final, while the Gunners will be out to avenge their 2-1 defeat to the Catalans in the 2006 showpiece.
The week’s engagements also include the all-French match-up between Lyon and Bordeaux, while Inter Milan will put their impressive European record to the test against CSKA Moscow.
With the competition’s top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo unable to add to his tally of seven goals following Real Madrid’s elimination, a posse of six players with four goals have the chance to overtake him in the coming weeks. That group includes the in-form Lionel Messi, the scorer of a brace in the last round against Stuttgart.
Tuesday 30 March (return legs on 7 April)
Bayern Munich-Manchester United
Wednesday 31 March 2010 (return legs on 6 April)
Inter Milan-CSKA Moscow
Match of the day
Bayern Munich-Manchester United, Allianz Arena, 20.45
This meeting between two titans of the European game revives memories of their heartstopping 1999 final, when United stole the continental crown through late goals by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Bayern earned revenge two years later by knocking Sir Alex Ferguson’s side out at this stage of the competition en route to winning the trophy for the last time. Since then, the Germans have fallen in the last eight on four occasions.
The English champions have been in excellent form away from home this season and are looking to reach the semi-finals for the fourth time in a row. Wayne Rooney’s has superbly shouldered the club's main goalscoring burden since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, helping the Manchester giants climb to the top of the Premier League, a position they retained at the weekend with a comfortable 4-0 win at Bolton Wanderers. With Chelsea set to visit Old Trafford on Saturday, a game sandwiched between their showdowns with Bayern, United’s season is about to enter a vital phase.
Bayern face a similarly decisive few days. Beaten 2-1 at home by Stuttgart on Saturday, Bayern relinquished their Bundesliga lead to Schalke, who provide their next league opponents in Gelsenkirchen next weekend.
The other matches
Revenge on the menu: The reigning European champions limbered up for this reprise of the 2006 final with a narrow 1-0 win at Mallorca at the weekend, a notable triumph achieved with a much-changed side. Unbeaten away from home in Europe so far this campaign, the Catalans will have to make do without the injured Andres Iniesta and will be looking to Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to provide further signs of his growing understanding with Lionel Messi.
For their part, the Londoners will need to pick themselves up after conceding a late equaliser at Birmingham City on Saturday, a goal that has severely dented their championship aspirations. Arsene Wenger’s charges have been impressive at home in the Champions League this season, however, scoring 16 goals in five consecutive wins at the Emirates. All in all, it promises to be quite a game between two of the continent’s most entertaining sides.
French pride at stake: For the first time in the history of the competition two French sides will be facing off in the last eight. Champions at home for seven straight seasons, Lyon have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals in three attempts. Unbeaten at home and improving with every game, as their classy performance against Real Madrid in the last round showed, Les Gones are determined to break new ground at the expense of the side that ended their recent domestic supremacy.
Yet Bordeaux have been equally impressive in Europe this year, having gone unbeaten to date and winning their last seven games, five of them without conceding a goal. Laurent Blanc’s side have slightly lost their way on the home front in recent weeks, however, and went down 3-1 to Marseille in the League Cup final at weekend.
CSKA size up Italian job: Inter served notice of their European ambitions by ousting the formidable Chelsea in the Round of 16. Strangely though, their Serie A form has taken an untimely dip, a fact illustrated by Saturday’s 2-1 reverse at Roma, a result that saw their lead over I Giallorossi cut to a single point. Aside from a string of poor league results, Jose Mourinho will also be concerned at the frequency with which his defence has been caught out for pace, not to mention the fact that all four of his rearguard are on yellow cards.
Looking to exploit those defensive uncertainties will be CSKA’s combative Czech striker Tomas Necid and their nimble Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda. Worryingly for the Italians, the Moscow side should be fresh and full of running. The new Russian season has only just begun, with CSKA earning a 2-1 win at Anzhi Makhachkala to move fourth in the table after three games.
Player to watch
Barcelona’s visit to the Emirates Stadium will be a special occasion for Thierry Henry, the top scorer in the history of the London club with 226 goals in 369 appearances between 1999 and 2007. “If I do play I’ll be giving it my all,” he said. “I am mentally ready but it’s going to be weird to run out on the pitch wearing a different shirt. It’s like Xavi leaving Barça one day and coming back to the Camp Nou with another team.”
3 - The number of times Inter coach Jose Mourinho has taken a team to the quarter-finals. The Portuguese achieved the feat with Porto in 2004 and with Chelsea in 2005 and 2007. On each occasion his teams won through to the last four.
What they said
“There’s no such thing as tiredness when you’re in the final straight. That’s something we were more likely to feel in the first half of the championship, when the memories of what we’d just achieved were still fresh.” Barcelona coach, Josep Guardiola
Have your say
Can CSKA Moscow pull off the shock of the quarter-finals?