6 Bold Predictions for the Champions League Quarter-Finals
Rarely has the Champions League reached the quarter-finals stage with so many of the tournament's big guns still alive.
This week, Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid in an all-Spanish affair, Manchester United face reigning champions Bayern Munich, Real Madrid play Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea meet Paris Saint-Germain in a series of fascinating clashes.
There are clear favourites in most of the ties, with the England v France encounter the hardest to pick, but as always, we can expect a few surprises.
Here are six bold predictions for the quarter-finals.
Atletico Madrid and Barcelona Will Produce Plenty of Goals
Much has been made of the fact that the three matches between Atleti and Barcelona so far this season have been tense, low-scoring encounters.
There have only been two goals scored in total in all three games, both of which came in the first leg of their Spanish Cup clash, so there is a degree of pessimism surrounding this Champions League matchup.
Though Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone is indeed a pragmatic character and would no doubt be over the moon if his side progressed to the semis with a 1-0 aggregate win over the two legs, this tie still has all the elements in place to break out into a wildfire of goals.
Something as simple as an early Barcelona strike would change the mood completely, forcing the Madrid side to focus more on attack.
With two of Europe's most prolific strikers in Lionel Messi and Diego Costa on the park, and attack-minded midfielders such as Andres Iniesta and Koke in top form, this game could soon turn into a goal-fest.
PSG to Cruise Past Chelsea
Possibly the most difficult contest to predict of the four quarter-final ties, Chelsea against PSG may well be deep into the second leg before it is clear who the winner will be.
Just as easily, though, the French club could blast its way past its English opponents and ensure the tie is never really in doubt.
Despite Jose Mourinho's comments during the week that his side is out of contention for the English Premier League title, the Blues are mathematically very much in the race and will no doubt continue to battle for that honour.
In contrast, PSG are 13 points clear in France with little pressure coming from the sides below them.
Laurent Blanc's men can concentrate their full attention on Europe, and this does not bode well for the Blues.
Cristiano Will Go Goalless
Portuguese prancer Cristiano Ronaldo clearly expects to score every time he takes the field for Real Madrid—and for good reason.
He has 28 goals already in the league this season and an incredible 13 goals in the Champions League after the first knockout phase.
So prolific is the forward that it is always a surprise when he doesn't score.
Though he has managed a single goal in each of Real's last three matches, Ronaldo has recently shown signs of regressing into the petulant state that sometimes affects his game when things are not going his way.
A loss to Barcelona on March 23 was followed by a shock defeat to Sevilla, and Madrid's 29-year-old star had a quiet time in both games.
Against well-organised defences, Ronaldo can often become frustrated and drift out of the game. If Dortmund can keep him shackled in the early going on Wednesday, it could set the tone for the remainder of the tie.
Klopp Will Surprise Us with His Tactics
Competition heavyweights Real Madrid are hot favourites to defeat Borussia Dortmund over two legs.
The Germans made it all the way to the final last season to the surprise of many but are not expected to be strong enough to overcome Carlo Ancelotti's chargers.
Robert Lewandowski was the four-goal hero when Dortmund downed Madrid in a memorable semi-final last time around, but he will be missing through suspension for the first-leg clash this week.
With his team the clear underdog and his most important player absent, eccentric Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp may try to surprise the Spanish team with a tactical variation of some kind, perhaps utilising the in-form Marco Reus in a position that we are not used to seeing him.
Cavani May Steal Zlatan's Thunder
It is difficult to talk about PSG without focusing on the team's charismatic Swedish genius, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The enormous forward is capable of incredible feats on the football field and terrifies many defenders due to his size, touch and vision.
Chelsea's veteran back line will certainly have detailed plans on how to deal with the PSG talisman, but to concentrate on him entirely would be foolish.
There are many other outstanding footballers in the Parisiens line-up, including the brilliant striker Edinson Cavani.
Failure to pay close heed to the athletic Uruguayan could see Chelsea severely punished.
Bayern to Let Their Guard(iola) Down at Old Trafford
The most one-sided of all the quarter-final ties on paper appears to be Bayern Munich v Manchester United.
The Bavarians, who won this competition last year, have already romped to the German title and can now focus their full attention on the Champions League.
United, meanwhile, are enduring a horror season after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, having slumped to seventh in the league.
The task of overcoming Pep Guardiola's wonderful side is likely to be too much for David Moyes' side to achieve, but it could well offer up more of a fight, in the first leg at Old Trafford especially, than many expect.
Bayern have lost one of their midfield hubs in Thiago Alcantara to injury and central defender Dante to suspension.
Though they were able to rest players in the Bundesliga on the weekend, such a tactic can sometimes result in the loss of rhythm when the side is reassembled at full strength.
There is also the risk of complacency in the German squad, though Guardiola will no doubt be trying to eradicate any such sentiments, if they exist.
Ian Herbert of The Independent gave an indication of how confident German pundits are ahead of the clash with this tweet:
German optimism abounds here at Old Trafford where Moyes and Giggs to talk. 'Will Bayern score 7,8 or 9?' German TV just asked me #mufc— ian herbert (@ianherbs) March 31, 2014
The Red Devils may offer up a bit more of a scrap than many anticipate.