The Champions League quarter-finals draw threw up some interesting clashes, chief among them the Premier League champions’ near-impossible task against the titleholders
By Peter Staunton
As the balls were drawn in Nyon, the sense of foreboding was palpable. The hypothetical nightmare draw for Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-finals was Bayern Munich. It has come to pass.
The Olympiakos victory stoked the fires of recovery for David Moyes and his beleaguered players but here comes Pep Guardiola to throw a big bucket of water over that.
Bayern are the strongest team in the competition and will lift the Bundesliga title before they lace up their boots at Old Trafford. United, on current form, are the weakest side left in the Champions League.
Bayern, despite the presence of a new coach, have serenely negotiated their way to this point of the season with only the occasional flicker of uncertainty. At the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, this season of transition has been more traumatic than anyone expected.
Where the Bavarians have strength in depth incomparable at any other European team and are resting players as often as they feel like, United were reliant on a 40-year-old Ryan Giggs to see them through the most important game of 2014.
The contrasting form and fortunes at these two clubs could scarcely differ more and it would be a myopic Manchester United fan who predicted anything other than elimination at the last eight.
Consider the heavy work United made of Olympiakos in Greece for a sense of what lies in store. Granted, they did well to turn the game around but nobody really expected the Greek champions to present any sort of an obstacle to the Premier League titleholders. But with Olympiakos now knocked out, it is they who are the ‘gimmie’ draw.
The only danger for Bayern is overstimating the ease with which they will come through this time. Their Champions League programme has feauted bouts of complacency and when they are in a rut during a game they do not snap out of it readily. Guardiola will need to be on his guard alongside Matthias Sammer on the bench to ensure that Bayern do not let up over the course of 180 minutes.
For Moyes, this draw can only have a positive effect. The level of expectation will be zero and so by overcoming Bayern, he buys himself additional credit. Lose without being humiliated and he will have fulfilled what is expected of him.
Elsewhere in the draw, an intriguing tie is Paris St-Germain against Chelsea. PSG, for all their domestic dominance and commendable European progress, have yet to find their way past a genuine Champions League heavyweight in a knockout round. This is a huge test of the credentials of Laurent Blanc’s side, who have enough talent in their ranks to be a match for any team.
On form and ability, this is a tough one to call. Jose Mourinho wil be quietly confident of snaffling a crucial away goal and finishing the job at Stamford Bridge.
Barcelona have played Atletico Madrid three times this season and are yet to win. Diego Simeone, provided he has a fully fit contingent to call upon, will fancy his chances of preparing a fresh blueprint for success against a Blaugrana side who have blown hot and cold at times.
As bad as things are for Manchester United, a thought too should be spared for Borussia Dortmund. It’s fair to say not many people expected them to overcome Real Madrid at the semi-final stage last year but they nonetheless overcame. This year, though, they would appear to be without a prayer.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have not been at their best this season, in the league or in Europe. The attacking strength of Real Madrid, featuring the immense Cristiano Ronaldo, will prove irresistible.