Following the completion of the draw for the quarter-finals of the Uefa Champions League, Ian Hawkey runs a rule over the ties and predicts which four sides will be proceeding to the semi-finals.
Barcelona v Roma
Whisper it, but this is probably the outcome Barcelona, champions of Europe three times in the last nine years, wished for.
That is a meeting with a club who have not reached this far in the Champions League for a decade and are a rival without the domestic Spanish baggage that Sevilla, the other ‘outsiders’ in the last eight, would have brought to an all-Primera Liga tie.
Barca also avoided Madrid, which they will be cheered by, and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
The last time they met Roma, in the group phase two seasons ago, Barcelona put on one of their exhibitions, Leo Messi and Luis Suarez each scoring twice in a 6-1 win at Camp Nou, after a 1-1 draw in Italy.
Barca, whose journey through Europe has been as smooth as their progress to the head of Primera Liga this season, will note that Roma bettered Chelsea, whom Barca have just eliminated, in the groups this season, but they will feel confident nonetheless.
Prediction: Barcelona march on
Sevilla v Bayern Munich
Not much can bring Sevilla abruptly down from their Cloud Nine of a first European Cup quarter-final for 60 years, but the sight of the Bayern Munich juggernaut might just have them pause, and take a nervous gulp.
Bayern put eight goals past Besiktas to reach their sixth successive last-eight frontier. For Bayern, the last eight is seldom where it ends. The club replaced their head coach Carlo Ancelotti within months of his steering them to a quarter-final defeat against Real Madrid last April.
Jupp Heyckes, his replacement, targets a third Champions League title of his long career, which he promises will end, aged 74, for real after this season.
His opposite number, Vincenzo Montella, is almost 30 years his junior. Montella’s task is to burnish his reputation for timely and strategic decisions.
He eliminated Manchester United thanks to the late introduction of striker Wissam Ben Yedder last Tuesday. Now he must take on the German champions without influential midfielder Ever Banega, suspended for the Sevilla leg.
Prediction: Bayern to go on the last four
Juventus v Real Madrid
A rerun of last year’s final, although Juventus will hope the character of this confrontation of heavyweights follows a different direction.
Madrid beat Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff last June, having run of out gas and ideas after a sensational Mario Mandzukic strike had equalised the first of two Cristiano Ronaldo goals. From there Madrid took charge.
Zinedine Zidane, the Real head coach, oversees much the same personnel 10 months later, although their defence of one title from their marvellous 2017 has fallen away already.
Madrid, way back in the domestic race, will not be retaining their league crown, and symptoms of fatigue have affected several of their mainstays, even Ronaldo at times, over the last six months.
Juve, by contrast, are stalking the Serie A title yet again, and displayed their indomitable spirit to come from behind to knock out Tottenham Hotspur in the last 16.
A tie for Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira, both former Madrid players, to relish.
Prediction: Juventus to gain revenge for last year and knock out the champions
Liverpool v Manchester City
So much for the English blanket cast suffocatingly over the late stages of this season’s Champions League. The Premier League sent five clubs into the last 16; only one will survive to the semi-finals.
By the time those come around, City will almost certainly be the 2017-18 English champions, and very possibly by the time Pep Guardiola lifts that trophy, he will still be sitting proudly on a record that says they lost only once on the way to securing their league prize.
City’s defeat to Liverpool - 4-3 by the end, but 4-1 at 68 minutes, at Liverpool’s peak of swashbuckling command at Anfield - in mid-January is not a game Guardiola would care to replay too often, but it will be dissected again now, for fear of another such blitz.
This City seem well armed against misfortune repeating itself so anticipate better mechanisms to cope with Liverpool’s trio of speedy sophisticates up front.
And also a few pointed reminders of what happened when Liverpool went to City, as they must in the second leg, back in September. That finished 5-0 to Guardiola’s men.
Prediction: Guardiola and City to prevail.
The first legs of the ties will be played over April 3/4, with the second legs on April 10/11.
The semi-finals will take place between April 24/25 and May 1/2 with the final taking place at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev on May 26.