The UEFA Champions League quarter final draw has been made, pitting the remaining clubs against each as they battle for continental supremacy this season.
Here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the final eight…
Strengths: Ajax proved their quality by thrashing Real Madrid 4-1 at the Bernabeu to progress to the quarter finals. Their youthful fearlessness will have been emboldened further by that result in Spain, and while the club has always produced and developed excellent players, this is a golden generation not seen in Amsterdam since the class of ’95.
Weaknesses: The problem is that their age brings inexperience, especially at this level. As many as many nine of the matchday squad in Madrid were in the 18-man group two years earlier in the Europa League final against Manchester United, but the Champions League is a different beast and they won’t be used to playing against such intense quality.
Strengths: As long as Barcelona have Lionel Messi they have a chance. The Camp Nou superstar has scored 36 goals in 36 games so far this season and is winning the race for a mind boggling sixth European Golden Shoe. The Catalans are also boosted because they have a comfortable lead atop La Liga and might not have the same domestic distractions as others.
Weaknesses: Messi is so good, but could Barça be accused of over relying on their talisman? The two recent Clásico victories over Real Madrid are the only two out of the handful of games in which Messi hasn’t scored that Barça have won this season. That includes two of the last three Champions League games, with Lyon thumped 5-1 when he returned to the score sheet.
Strengths: As Serie A champions seven times on the spin and on course for an eighth title, as well as reaching two Champions League finals in the last four seasons, this Juventus squad led by Massimiliano Allegri knows how to win and progress through the knockout rounds. With Cristiano Ronaldo now on board as well, they might finally have it all.
Weaknesses: Perhaps as might be the case at Barcelona with Messi, it is possible that Juve could end up relying too much on Ronaldo to dig them out of trouble. For example, he only scored once in the group stage and the team laboured against weaker opposition. There is also a huge weight of expectation after losing seven finals and failing to win this trophy since 1996.
Strengths: Where Liverpool were defensively shaky last season, they are now strong. The Reds also have an incredibly dangerous attacking unit that has the potential to blow anyone away, while the club has become synonymous with big European nights that seems to feed further success. They will also be stronger for the experience of losing the final last season.
Weaknesses: Depth is a worry for Jurgen Klopp’s team, with arguably no reliable backups for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool are also in with their best chance of finally ending a 29-year domestic drought in the Premier League and may have to prioritise that if push comes to shove and fixtures pile up.
Strengths: Manchester City are the Champions League’s top scorer so far this season after netting 26 goals in their eight games. Last season they became the first Premier League team to manage 100 points in a season, fancying their chances of retaining the title, and are led by someone many consider to the best manager ever in Pep Guardiola. They are just very good.
Weaknesses: City simply haven’t ever been able to nail the big one in Europe. And, for all their obvious quality, this squad lacks the experience of actually winning this competition, with only Claudio Bravo and Danilo boasting previous medals. There is also the question of injuries, with Kevin De Bruyne enduring a nightmare season and Fernandinho also struggling of late.
Strengths: Manchester United have form, momentum and a feel good factor on their side, having been completely rejuvenated by the arrival of interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If anyone had any doubts about United’s chances, look no further than the way they made history to knock out Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16, all the while missing 10 first team players.
Weaknesses: Despite what Solskjaer has achieved and the quality possessed by individuals like Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and even Romelu Lukaku, this United is still not the finished article. There remain major doubts about their quality at the back and their ability to keep the best players in Europe – starting with Lionel Messi in the quarter finals – at bay.
Strengths: Porto are a much more ‘unknown’ quantity compared to the rest of the clubs in the quarter finals, with even their last 16 victory over Roma somewhat slipping under the radar after it happened on the same night that Manchester United beat PSG. Underestimate the Portuguese champions at your peril as no one took more points in the group stage this season.
Weaknesses: A cornerstone of Europe’s elite club competition, this is Porto’s 24th Champions League season, but their record in knockout ties over the last 10 years has not been good. Arsenal, Malaga, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Liverpool have all dumped them out, and now they face, in Liverpool, a team that thrashed them 5-0 at home just last season.
Strengths: Spurs have already matched their best ever Champions League display and have proven on several occasions this season (and last vs Real Madrid) that they can pull out big European results after games against Inter, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund. Top goalscorer and talisman Harry Kane is also back fit after a recent spell on the sidelines.
Weaknesses: For Spurs, it is always a question of whether they have the mental strength to go with their obvious technical quality. From being in the Premier League title race only a few weeks ago, the wheels have come off for Mauricio Pocettino’s team and they are now battling just to finish in the top four. That might be too much of a distraction to aid European progress.
Quarter final first leg ties will be played on 9/10 April, with return legs on 16/17 April.