The list has been trimmed, the weak have been removed, and in springtime, the Champions League has reached its quarter-final stage. It’s the stage where things begin to look real serious, teams no longer think of settling, and no matter what the managers and players say in public, winning it becomes the aim. This season might well be the one where just about every side in the last eight has every reason to believe they can get to Kiev in May and conquer.
Two of those sides are Juventus and Real Madrid, who have rich history in this competition, not least against each other. Just 10 months ago, both teams were slugging it out in Cardiff for the direct prize of winning Europe’s elite club competition, a battle in which Real Madrid came out on top. It was Real who came out on top 20 years ago, as well, in another final, but Juve have also had their fair share of big moments against Los Blancos, even if the reward hasn’t been as joyful. They saw off Real in the semi-final three years ago, knocked them out at the same stage in 2003, and beat them in knockout ties in 1996 and 2005.
The reward, as said earlier, haven’t always been as glorious, as in only one of those victories have they gone on to win the trophy, in 1996, incidentally the last time they were European champions. The wait has been long for the Old Lady of Turin, and there’s still the prospect of giving Gigi Buffon a nice and long-sought after- retirement gift. The Bianconeri are still in the hunt for a treble, being top of Serie A, and in the Italian Cup final, so won’t want for motivation.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, have this as their only shot of silverware this season, having found themselves out of the La Liga title race and eliminated from the Copa del Rey, which means they also have motivation as well. They also seem to be awakened whenever the Champions League rolls out, as Paris Saint-Germain in the last round- and Juve in the past- have found out, and Zinedine Zidane gave an indication of his target for the rest of the season when the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo and Sergio Ramos were excluded from the weekend league action at Las Palmas. In a game of two sides with a well documented past in this competition, only one can get to the immediate future.
Elsewhere, it’s an all-English affair on Merseyside, as Liverpool hosts Manchester City in a game that promises much. Liverpool are the only side to beat City back in the Premier League this season, in a high-octane and chaotic 4-3 game, and are one of only four teams to beat Pep Guardiola’s side all-season. With the attacking firepower both sides possess, and have shown this season, the prospects of this tie are more than fascinating.
In other games, Barcelona have a tie against AS Roma to negotiate, the first leg happens at the Nou Camp, while Bayern Munich, fresh from dismantling Dortmund in the league, travel to Sevilla. Good luck, Rojilblancos.
Juventus v Real Madrid
Liverpool v Manchester City
Sevilla v Bayern Munich
Barcelona v Roma