No disrespect to the Premier League but there has been a distinct lack of wailing and gnashing of teeth elsewhere in Europe at the absence of English clubs from the Champions League quarter-finals.
The draw has set up four ties that are full of intrigue. It has also created the chance of classic semi-finals involving the two La Liga giants and the Bundesliga’s best. Spain-Germany was the match most people wanted to see at the European Championships last year, with Germany’s youngsters offering the best challenge to Spanish supremacy.
In the build-up to the World Cup next year there’s now a chance of a different sort of head-to-head. And in a season where the title-winners are already more or less decided in Germany, Spain and Italy as well as England the Champions League is certain to be the most competitive event.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are clearly favourites to go through, along with Bayern. Experience alone gives them a big advantage. Including baubles such as Super Cup those three clubs have accumulated 39 international trophies between them. Dortmund are justifiably the fourth favourite after emerging unbeaten from a group containing Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax and then brushing aside Shakhtar in the last 16.
Yet all these ties are more spicy than they might seem, most of all because of the personalities involved.
Galatasaray are rank outsiders — but they have two Champions League winners in Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder who have been itching for a reunion with their former boss and mentor Jose Mourinho.
Emotionally this will be a big occasion for all of them, but especially for Sneijder. His two years at Madrid were not happy, especially as they involved a break-up with his first wife. In Italy he remarried and found a father figure as well as a new wife, but he seemed a forlorn figure after Mourinho’s departure. There’s also a point to prove with his former club.
The other unknown is that Madrid have to play the second leg in Istanbul, never an easy proposition, and they do not always travel well. “We need to produce a big performance at home,” said Madrid’s PR man Emilio Butragueno when the draw was made. “The away leg will be tough.”
Malaga’s also have to travel for the second leg and against Dortmund that will be tough for them. Their league record indicates they have the second best defence in Spain, but they have a problem scoring goals away from their own Rosaleda stadium: just 11 in 13 games.
Dortmund can focus entirely on Europe now: the Bundesliga title is long gone and they are basically ensured of Champions League qualification. Malaga have nothing to lose: at present they are banned from Europe next season.
The intriguing aspect is how the two managers will face up to each other: man of the people Jurgen Klopp against Chilean aristocrat Manuel Pellegrini.
Pellegrini is one of the most underrated coaches in Europe. In his year at Madrid they racked up a club record 96 points behind Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona. He took Villarreal to the brink of the Champions League final — they might have made it but for a missed penalty against Arsenal. He is the only coach to have taken two clubs to the quarter-finals in their debut season.
Italy against Germany is almost always a dramatic affair: Juventus-Bayern promises to live up to that. Juve manager Antonio Conte is busily talking down their chances, and also talking up the chances of him leaving Italy. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge says it’s the tie Bayern didn’t want (along with Barcelona) and you sense a concern that the Italian defence will be hard to break down in the first leg in Munich. Javi Martinez is suspended for that game: it could turn into a contest of wingers against overlappers.
From an Irish viewpoint Paris Saint-Germain being drawn against Barcelona is a small bonus. Anything that can help to distract Zlatan Ibrahimovic has to be a good thing and he will certainly be anticipating his return to Camp Nou. The bad news is he’s suspended for the first leg in Paris, and so the distraction on Friday is likely to be minimal.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved