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Could an underdog go all the way and rest of the Champions League talking points

Europe’s premier club competition returns with four fascinating ties down for decision over the next fortnight. Who will book their place in the last four?

Updated at 18.00

THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE returns this week as the competition reaches the quarter-final stage.

While the elimination of the three Premier League clubs at the last hurdle means the English interest is over for another year, there are still four fascinating ties down for decision over the next fortnight. 

Here’s five talking points to digest ahead of tonight’s first-legs…

Ancelotti’s quest for salvation

Spain Champions League Soccer Source: AP/Press Association Images

The stand-out fixture of the week sees a repeat of last year’s thrilling final between bitter rivals Atletico and Real Madrid as the pair renew their battle on the European stage.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side prevailed in Lisbon a little over twelve months ago but Atletico have since reclaimed the bragging rights. Diego Simeone’s side blew their cross-city adversaries away in February, scoring four goals without reply at the Vicente Calderon.

It marked the start of a wretched few weeks for Real as they lost three times in La Liga, including to Barcelona, as they surrendered ground in the title race. However, the European champions have turned a corner and go into tonight’s first-leg on the back of three convincing wins, on an aggregate score of 14-1, with Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema to the fore.

Despite delivering the much-coveted La Décima, Ancelotti’s future in the Spanish capital is a constant subject of the debate but as the business end of the season approaches, he has a chance for salvation.

“The first objective is to get to the final of the Champions League, and the second is to win it,” he remarked.

“Real Madrid have all the conditions to compete at all levels in all competitions, with the objective of winning. We have to show that against Atletico.”

Ancelotti’s men have failed to beat Los Rojiblancos in all six previous meetings, drawing two and losing four, including that thrashing in February, but the former Chelsea coach knows if he can deliver back-to-back European titles, the murmurings of discontent during an indifferent season will disappear.

“Our objective is not to beat Atletico Madrid, but to dream about winning the 11th European Cup.”

The surprise package out to cause another upset

Britain Soccer Champions League Source: AP/Press Association Images

Having dumped Arsenal out in the last round, Monaco are the surprise packages of this year’s Champions League. Not many gave them a chance against the Gunners but they withstood a late onslaught to book a place in the last eight as one of two French sides.

Currently sitting third in Ligue 1, it will be a stiff task for Monaco to overcome one of Europe’s most colourful clubs over two legs but the French side will take confidence from the way they dispatched Arsenal.

Juve haven’t reached the semi-finals of this competition since they finished runners-up in 2003 and despite domestic domination, have been unable to restore the club to its former glories on the continent with the burden of an expectant following weighing heavy.

It may not be the most mouth-watering clash for the neutrals, particularly given Monaco’s defensive set-up thus far, but the clash of Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov, two former United strikers, is an interesting sub-plot.

Overall, Juventus should have too much fire-power for the visitors.

Has PSG’s time arrived?

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Group F - Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain - Camp Nou Source: Mikel Trigueros/UrbanandSport

After several years of building the foundations and putting the pieces in place, Paris Saint Germain delivered their most significant statement of intent by edging past Chelsea in the last 16.

Despite playing the majority of the return leg with ten men, the French champions showed great heart and character to prevail when the odds were stacked against them.

Indeed, they will be the underdogs again when a resurgent Barcelona arrive in Paris but Laurent Blanc’s side have the fire power to exchange blows with Europe’s powerhouses.

The absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a huge blow to the hosts’ chances with the onus on Edinson Cavani to take up the goalscoring mantle for a club that have invested £235 million in its squad over the last few years.

PSG lifted the Coupe de La Ligue last weekend and continue to dominate domestically but Barcelona provide a different calibre of opposition.

The pair are familiar foes. Barcelona progressed on away goals at the semi-final stage in 2013 and met in the group stages this year with each side winning one.

The Catalan club have won 20 of their 23 games in Spain since the turn of the year and currently hold a two point lead at the top of La Liga. Having failed to reach the semis last year, Luis Enrique will be determined to return Barca to the pinnacle of European football.

Bayern’s injury crisis gives Porto a sniff

Germany Bundesliga Soccer Source: AP/Press Association Images

Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich moved a step closer to a third straight Bundesliga title at the weekend with a 3-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt but the German side head into their quarter-final clash against Porto with a mounting injury list.

Given the wealth of resources available at the Allianz Arena, few are likely to have too much sympathy for Guardiola but their injury problems have quickly escalated into something of a crisis.

Bayern were only able to name four substitutes at the weekend while the absence of Franck Ribery and Bastian Schewinsteiger for the trip to Portugal has since been confirmed. The midfield duo join left-back David Alaba, Javi Martinez and Arjen Robben in the treatment room while doubts remain over the fitness of Claudio Pizarro and Jerome Boateng.

Ribery picked an ankle injury in the 7-1 demolition of Shakhtar Donetsk in the last round but has failed to recover in time while German international Schweinsteiger – the cog in Bayern’s wheel – has picked up a virus to add to his own ankle troubles.

While Guardiola is short on numbers, a glance at the side that won at the weekend is still full of high-class players with Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Thomas Müller spearheading the attack.

You get the feeling, however, that if Porto are to have any chance of causing an upset then they will need to may hay in Wednesday’s first-leg.

The missing stars

Italy Soccer Serie A Source: AP/Press Association Images

While Bayern are evidently devoid of many of their star performers, they are not the only side having to plan without key players.

At this stage of Europe’s premier club competition, we’re invariably treated to several intriguing match-ups between some of football’s luminaries but much of the talk in the build-up to this week’s games has been about who won’t be on the pitch rather than who will be playing.

In addition to Bayern’s galaxy of stars watching from home, PSG have to make do without their talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic after his sending off at Stamford Bridge while David Luiz is also sidelined.

Laurent Blanc is facing something of a selection dilemma in defence with Thiago Motta (thigh) and full-back Serge Aurier (suspended) unavailable as well.

With the stakes so high, teams are desperate to get any advantage they can so the absence of any influential player is a huge blow to their chances. That’s certainly the case for Juventus as they sweat over the fitness of the irrepressible Andrea Pirlo for the visit of Monaco particularly because Paul Pogba, who has scored eight goals this term, is already ruled out.

Champions League quarter-final fixtures:

Tuesday (all 7.45pm)

  • Juventus v Monaco
  • Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid

Wednesday:

  • Porto v Bayern Munich
  • PSG v Barcelona

Originally published at 09.00

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