Champions League

Expect the unexpected in the Champions League

2017-03-19 06:02
HIT: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is the club’s top hitman and has become a favourite with the fans. (TF-Images, Getty Images)

Johannesburg - When you get to this stage of the Champions League, every encounter is epic. Even those games that you might consider less tantalising turn out to be classics and you end up cursing yourself for being out of the conversation because you opted for an early night.

Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

The final before the final, as many would say.

Munich are untouchable at the moment, as evidenced by their unassailable lead at the top of the Bundesliga.

Their 10-2 destruction of Arsenal over the two legs of the last 16 was no fluke.

Arsenal fans blaming the rout on past-expiry-date manager Arsène Wenger are also partly correct. Carlo Ancelotti’s charges are a sure-fire mean machine and were always going to make the quarterfinals. The question was whether it was going to be routine passage or a humiliation.

With old man Arjen Robben being as dependable as ever, this self-belief is at its peak.

Madrid hold a slim lead at the top of La Liga, and their passage into the last eight was more respectable than their rivals. Their recent performances have not been as ruthless as the Germans, but Zinedine Zidane will be determined to upstage the man to whom he was a sidekick when Madrid won La Decima three seasons ago.

Decline any requests for meetings and dates on those two days.

Barcelona vs Juventus

Based on what they did to Paris Saint-Germain on that memorable second-leg night at Camp Nou, predictions are that Barcelona will go through to the semis.

But these ignore the fact that they welcomed their visitors trailing 0-4. This shows that, for all their beautiful and ruthlessly effective football, Luis Enrique’s men are vulnerable.

When they met in the 2015 final, Barcelona triumphed 3-1. This Juventus side is a more clinical one, having been accused of taking the excitement out of Serie A as they cruise to a sixth consecutive title. Enrique needs to end his Barcelona tenure on a high and nothing would beat leaving the team that made him the player he was and the coach he is with this, the second most-prized jewel in football.

If you are a betting man (or woman) don’t bet on emotion or that last 16 magic at Camp Nou. The Italians’ defence is notoriously stingy, so Barcelona’s MSN (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar) will have to conjure up something really special.

Borussia Dortmund vs Monaco

This will be a viewers’ dream, both on an off the field. Off the field, there is the “Yellow Wall”, the Dortmund fans who stand behind the goal and make a hell of a racket – the spice of great football stadium atmospheres.

On the ground, there will be the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scores beautiful goals in the most improbable situations.

On the other side, there is the sensational 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé, whose last 16 performance broke the hearts of Manchester City fans and reduced Pep Guardiola to just another coach.

While the Dortmund team is the more accomplished, dazzling Monaco ensured the world stops associating French football only with Paris Saint-Germain.

Leicester City vs Atletico Madrid

This is Cinderella vs former Cinderella.

Leicester City were not supposed to be here. Last season, they gate-crashed the top ranks of European football by winning the English Premiership. This season, they collapsed spectacularly on the domestic front, but miraculously kept their European flame burning.

Going into the second leg of the last 16 trailing Sevilla 1-2, virtually everyone on our planet concluded the fairy tale was over. But here they are, up against a team that also bulldozed its way to the top of La Liga and secured a permanent place at the top table of European giants.

Logic says this has to be the end of the road for Leicester. Atletico are too organised and experienced to succumb to this surprise package. But that is what we all said in the magical 2015/16 EPL season, and that is what we said last week before the Sevilla clash.


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