The UEFA Champions League has reached the business end of the season with eight clubs preparing for the first leg of their quarter-finals. David meets Goliath on Tuesday as APOEL FC host Real Madrid CF, while on Wednesday FC Barcelona go to AC Milan in a clash of the titans.
APOEL FC v Real Madrid CF
“We’ve done something exceptional, something that can never happen again,” said APOEL president Phivos Erotokritou of a season in which his side have continued to astound Europe. Tuesday’s encounter at the GSP Stadium is the biggest match in the club’s history, but those expecting a Spanish stroll should note that APOEL have won five of their seven home games in this season’s competition.
Madrid have a near-perfect record in this year’s competition, winning seven of their eight games so far, the only blemish a 1-1 draw at PFC CSKA Moskva in the round of 16 first leg. Coach José Mourinho boasts a 100% record in his four UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, while in-form striker Cristiano Ronaldo has registered five goals in his last four European matches.
SL Benfica v Chelsea FC
The Eagles will look to swoop into the semi-finals for the first time in 22 years. Jorge Jesus’s charges are unbeaten in ten European home outings dating back to December 2010, and showed great character to turn around a round of 16 first–leg deficit against FC Zenit St Petersburg.
Despite a trying season on the domestic front, Chelsea have kept their powder dry in the UEFA Champions League where they are England’s last representatives. The Blues seemed down and out after a 3-1 loss at SSC Napoli, but following the dismissal of Portuguese coach André-Villas Boas, they reversed that scoreline under Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge, prevailing 4-1 on the night after extra time.
Olympique de Marseille v FC Bayern München
Marseille are another side who have used European competition to forget their domestic woes. They lost twice at home in the group stage and have captain and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, as well as defender Souleymane Diawara, suspended for the visit of Bayern. On the plus side, they have won their last two encounters with German opposition.
Jupp Heynckes’s charges completed a record-breaking 7-0 victory against FC Basel 1893 in the round of 16 second leg, and routed TSG 1898 Hoffenheim and Hertha BSC Berlin by six-goal margins in recent Bundesliga matches. Mario Gomez plundered eight goals and Arjen Robben seven in those three matches with Bayern determined to reach the 19 May final on their home ground.
AC Milan v FC Barcelona
These two giants met in the group stage, and while Barcelona have the bragging rights after a win and a draw, the Italian champions can draw confidence from having run Josep Guardiola’s side close on both occasions. “Milan always play their best in these kind of matches,” said the Diavolo coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Lionel Messi became the first player to score five in a UEFA Champions League match in the 7-1 thrashing of Bayer 04 Leverkusen last time out and is the competition’s top scorer with 12 goals. He will have fond memories of San Siro, having shone in the 3-2 victory there on matchday five.
1: Marseille/Bayern v APOEL/Madrid: 17 & 25 April
2: Benfica/Chelsea v Milan/Barcelona: 18 & 24 April
Final (19 May, Fußball Arena München, 20.45CET)
Winner semi-final 1 v Winner semi-final 2