Analysing Real Madrid's potential UCL quarterfinals opponents
With the Champions League draw taking place in Nyon, Switzerland, on Friday, Real Madrid blogger Rob Train takes a look at the seven sides Los Blancos could meet in the quarterfinals and their odds to win football's greatest club competition. Real are third favourites at 11/2.
The makings of sleepless nights and cold sweat on the Real Madrid brow: Barcelona, three times in 10 days. The same thing happened in 2010-11 under then-manager Jose Mourinho, though then the nightmare was firmly in the football that the pragmatic Portuguese had dreamed up, as the sides met four times in two weeks, across three competitions. It is still remembered as The Dark Time.
Barcelona are currently unbeaten in 37 games in all competitions, have one hand on the Liga trophy, are firm favourites to beat Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final and are widely expected to become the first side since Milan in 1990 to retain Europe's greatest prize. Under Luis Enrique, Barca have conceded one goal at home in the competition in the past two seasons and have the most feared strike force in Europe.
If Real are to claim the undecima in May, they'll probably have to beat Barcelona at some point. It's safe to assume they'd prefer to try over 90 minutes rather than 180.
Bayern Munich (11/4)
The last time Real and Bayern met, Pep Guardiola's side suffered a 5-0 drubbing over two legs in the 2013-14 semifinals -- the season when Carlo Ancelotti delivered the decima. But few at Real would bet heavily on a repeat of that scoreline if the sides are drawn together now.
Bayern have suffered a slight setback in their Bundesliga defence but still remain five points ahead of second-place Borussia Dortmund -- and have a domestic cup semifinal to play yet. Minor inconveniences but inconveniences nonetheless. Guardiola has had plenty of injury problems at the back this season and will be missing Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber for the tie as things stand.
Juventus showed the way to rattle the Bavarian cage in their round-of-16 second leg: Bayern did not enjoy being on the back foot against the Serie A side at all and were seconds from going out until stoppage-time-saviour Thomas Muller inevitably popped up. It would be a mouthwatering tie and arguably a 50-50 job on paper.
Paris Saint-Germain (7/1)
Nacho was the unlikely hero in the group stages when the Liga and Ligue 1 heavyweights met. PSG failed to find the net over 180 minutes but the two matches were light sparring with both sides pretty much assured of going through whatever the results. It would not be the case again at this stage of the tournament, and the Parisians pack plenty of punch, not least in the form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
PSG have already won Ligue 1, which says as much about the competition they face as the brilliance of Laurent Blanc's side, who have never been past this stage of the competition. They have been awfully close, though, going out on away goals to Barcelona and Chelsea in the past three seasons before being thumped 5-1 by Luis Enrique's side last season. No club will want PSG, but Real will be quietly confident of getting the better of Blanc's team.
Atletico Madrid (11/1)
Atletico scraped through to the quarterfinals, beating PSV Eindhoven 8-7 on penalties after a goalless 210 minutes against the Eredivisie leaders. The tie summed up Atletico this season: extremely hard to score against but also containable if Antoine Griezmann, the source of the vast majority of their goals, is targeted.
The balance of power has shifted in the Spanish capital in recent years. The rivalry used to be one-way traffic. Diego Simeone has gradually turned that around to the extent that, in the league at least, Atletico go into derbies as slight favourites. In Europe, though, Real still hold the advantage. The decima was won dramatically at the expense of Atletico, and last season Carlo Ancelotti masterminded a second defeat of Real's neighbours over two legs at the quarterfinal stage.
Neither club will relish the prospect of a last-eight repeat this year, though.
Manchester City (16/1)
City's odds are based on the Manchester club's European inexperience -- they've never featured in the last eight -- but could equally be applied to the probable absence of captain and defensive leader Vincent Kompany. With the big Belgian, City's back four resemble that of a Champions League quarterfinalist. Without him, the side's record in the Premier League is a goal conceded every 65 minutes. When Kompany is in place, Manuel Pellegrini's side have conceded once every 194 minutes.
Star striker Sergio Aguero is also prone to injury, and while City are still in with a chance -- however slim -- of the domestic title, Pellegrini won't be tempted to rest the Argentinean. Nicolas Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne are also unlikely to feature in the last-eight tie. City will be looking below them with fingers crossed.
Wolfsburg topped what looked a tough group on paper, beating Manchester United and PSV at home and CSKA away but also losing to the former two on the road, scoring nine in the process and conceding six. The Germans sit eighth in the Bundesliga, with 38 scored and 33 conceded. In the last 16, a late Gent rally extended the Belgians' interest in a tie that should have been over with Wolfsburg 3-0 up away. That is Wolfsburg's main issue this season: keeping clean sheets.
Summer signing Julian Draxler provided two goals and an assist in the 4-2 aggregate win over Gent, but the sale of De Bruyne has been keenly felt, and a runners-up league finish to match last season is now impossible, though there is a glimmer of hope Wolfsburg can qualify for the Champions League again next season via the Bundesliga. It is extremely unlikely they'll do it by lifting the trophy in Milan.
Benfica have the problem of a battle on two fronts, the domestic one being to hold off Sporting in the Portuguese league title race. There is a little more at stake there as well: preventing their city rivals from securing a double after Sporting knocked Benfica out of the cup in the fourth round.
It would be a mistake to underestimate Benfica's ability to have their day, but the rigours of the Primeira Liga do not translate easily onto the European stage. Jonas has banged in a remarkable 28 goals, with 11 assists, in 26 league matches but just two and two in Europe. Kostas Mitroglou, on loan from Fulham of all places, also has two in Europe, the same number as former Atletico striker Raul Jimenez. The Champions League is where Nicolas Gaitan, who seems to be forever linked with a move elsewhere, chooses to shine. The Argentinean has four goals and three assists in the competition, and if he is in the mood, anything is possible.
Benfica will be hoping for Wolfsburg. And vice versa.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.