Heavyweight clash tops last-eight bill
The UEFA Champions League resumes this week, with the 14th edition of the ‘super clasico’ between AC Milan and Barcelona the highlight of the four quarter-final ties scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
The rest of the teams involved have yet to be acquainted with their last-eight rivals, despite an impressive array of former winners on show. No fewer than six of the sides have already clinched Europe’s most prestigious club competition and four of them will lock horns directly, with Marseille’s game against Bayern Munich mirroring the contest at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The most intriguing tie of the round surely features surprise package APOEL Nicosia, however, as they take on record nine-time former champions Real Madrid.
Match of the day
AC Milan-Barcelona, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Wednesday 20:45
Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since Milan’s unforgettable 4-0 victory against Barcelona in the Athens final in 1994. A player that day, the Catalan outfit’s coach Josep Guardiola is the only remaining link on either side to what was an extraordinary match, since when both clubs have enjoyed regular success in the competition. Between them, they have shared out five of the nine titles to be claimed since 2003 and they know each other inside out, not least since they have already met in the group stage this term – Barça prevailing 3-2 in Milan after a 2-2 draw in Spain. It would be all too easy to paint this encounter as a duel between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi, but Milan’s Swedish striker has certainly made no attempt to hide his desire for revenge after being judged surplus to requirements at Camp Nou. History favours Barcelona, meanwhile, with their last ten trips to the Giuseppe Meazza bringing four wins, four draws and only two defeats. Rossoneri coach Massimiliano Allegri must also contend without numerous key players, Mark van Bommel missing out due to suspension while long-term absentees Antonio Cassano and Gennaro Gattuso have been joined on the sidelines by Alexandre Pato and Thiago Silva, the man supporters had been hoping would keep Messi quiet.
The other matches
APOEL Nicosia-Real Madrid
David meets Goliath in Cyprus as history-makers APOEL continue their incredible odyssey against a Real side looking to claim the coveted title for the first time since 2002. The hosts have never beaten a Spanish team at this level, losing five of their ten attempts, but they will take confidence from their sturdy home form in the competition this year, having won five of their seven contests in Nicosia and tasted defeat just once. They must nonetheless cope without defensive stalwart Nuno Morais, who served under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and is the only player to have disputed every minute of their campaign so far. For their part, Real appear to be at their menacing best after swatting aside Real Sociedad 5-1 at the weekend, and they boast more than enough experience to avoid making the mistake of underestimating their opponents.
The Blues put in a superb shift last time out to down Napoli 4-1 at home after losing 3-1 in Italy, but the London club have proved an unpredictable proposition since the start of the season. Roberto di Matteo’s men lacked any genuine edge in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur that left them adrift of the top four spots in the Premier League, and they face a real test if they are to trouble Benfica on their own turf. The Eagles are unbeaten in their last ten European games in Lisbon, winning four and drawing two this term, and they are desperate to reach the semi-finals for the first time in more than 20 years. The history books give the Portuguese club a slight edge too, as they have won six of their previous meetings with English rivals, drawing three and losing four.
First-ever winners of the Champions League era, Marseille have been nothing short of an enigma this season. Despite toiling in Ligue 1, where Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Nice ended a run of seven consecutive defeats, the French side have excelled in Europe, eliminating Inter Milan in the last round. They also defeated Borussia Dortmund 3-0 during the group stage, but as they prepare to face another Bundesliga giant they must make do without two key men: suspended goalkeeper Steve Mandanda and defensive rock Souleymane Diawara, likewise suspended and now suffering a knee injury that puts the rest of his season in doubt. Bayern have their hearts set on disputing the showpiece in their own stadium, meanwhile, and they demonstrated their sublime attacking potential with a 7-0 home win against FC Basel to reach the last eight. Striker Mario Gomez was irrepressible in that game and boasts ten strikes in the competition this term, leaving him just two shy of Messi in the scoring charts.
Player to watch
Bayern forward Franck Ribery knows all about Marseille after notching 18 goals for the Mediterranean outfit in 89 matches between 2005 and 2007, and he is expecting a tough reception at the Stade Velodrome. “It won’t be easy,” he said. “We’ll have the whole city against us, but we’re Bayern.” The French international has certainly proved his worth since making the switch to the German powerhouse, scoring 65 times in 181 outings and racking up innumerable assists.
5 out of 7 – Chelsea will be keen to continue their excellent record at this stage as they contest their eighth Champions League quarter-final. The Blues have lost just twice in this round, to Barcelona in 1999/2000 and Manchester United in 2010/11.
What they said
"Barcelona are the best team in the world, but Milan have what it takes to cause them problems," former Barcelona B coach Luis Enrique after his Roma side lost 2-1 to Milan on Saturday.
Have your say
Which tie will provide the surprise of the quarter-finals?