Champions League, Europa League W2W4: Will PSG or Man City advance?
With the Champions League and Europa League quarterfinal second legs this week, Miguel Delaney recaps the storylines worth watching.
Which of the super-rich two will make the least cheap errors?
Manchester City have the advantage over Paris Saint-Germain after claiming a 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes, but the question now is whether they have the nerve to keep strong and ensure it gets them to the semifinal. Or, will we see the errors that completely characterised the first leg? If the latter is the case, then this could end up a genuine free-for-all and it's difficult to imagine either side keeping a clean sheet.
It is certainly likelier to be the case now that Vincent Kompany's absence has been confirmed, while PSG have had the boost of Laurent Blanc at least being able to name Marco Verratti in the squad. The French champions just looked so much looser and lacking in cohesive creativity without the Italian midfielder, and it undoubtedly played into the mistake-strewn openness of the first leg.
This is supposed to be the stage of the competition when things get serious, the point at which errors are punished and there's a focus to go with the quality that you just don't get as commonly during the group stages. We didn't see anything like that in the first leg. If one of them can do it this time, or at least just make fewer mistakes than the opposition, they will reach that long-awaited semifinal.
Can Wolfsburg continue the shockwaves by staying steady?
Since Real Madrid finally returned to the Champions League semifinals in 2010-11, they have got to that stage every single season. In the same period, in fact, there has only been one campaign when one of Real, Barcelona or Bayern Munich have not been in the last four. That was 2013-14, when Barca were eliminated by a surging Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals.
Wolfsburg are on nothing like the same trajectory as that Atletico team, which is why their potential elimination of Real would be so refreshing even allowing for their own wealth.
The Germans have given themselves an excellent chance of pulling off the feat, having been full value for their 2-0 first leg win. It also offers a return fixture that is rather finely balanced, and arguably set up for entertainment given the qualities of the two sides. Real have to look to their stellar attacking line-up to play at their best and produce, but all while trying to keep Wolfsburg out. It could ensure a game that is at once tense and free-wheeling.
"We know that we are capable of scoring goals, but we have to remain careful," manager Zinedine Zidane said. We need balance. "Real Madrid have had some extraordinary comebacks in the past." Zidane was referring to the "spirit of Juanito" and the club's history of remarkable European recoveries in the 1970s and 1980s. That old quality will be needed to maintain their new hegemony in European football.
Will Simeone try the same, or something different vs. Barcelona?
For so much of the first leg, Atletico Madrid seemed to have Barcelona rattled and anxious; manager Diego Simeone's tactical plan was perfectly working. The Argentine's side were 1-0 up, and the Catalans were up to nothing like their usual level. Then, key characteristics of both sides were taken to logical consequences.
Fernando Torres' foul may have been debatable (and even then it wasn't the worst of Atletico's physicality) but when you are that aggressive a team, something is eventually going to give in a game that big. Barcelona's forward line was not at its best but against 10 men with that kind of class, one of them is usually going to score, and usually more than once. That was what happened, as Luis Suarez struck twice.
Given how close the game was (a 2-1 win home only sees first-leg victors go through 51 percent of the time) it poses a question to Simeone. Will he play the same way in the hope of frustrating Barca and nicking the solitary goal that will take Atletico through? Is that really the best way to play against an attack like this, one that almost always scores and almost always eventually takes advantage?
It is the odd inversion. Atletico literally have to attack to go through, but their best qualities are in defence. How Simeone sets up will say so much.
Guardiola has a big problem to correct at Bayern
Bayern Munich claimed the first leg win they needed against Benfica after all the nerves and tension of the last-16 tie with Juventus, but they didn't really put in the convincing performance or scoreline to remove a longer-term concern. Guardiola's record in away legs is actually oddly poor. He has lost six of 19, a surprisingly high 32 percent. If it goes any higher, Bayern could be out.
The oddity is that this is a situation with which Guardiola isn't too familiar. By quirks of the seeding and then the open draw system, he has usually tended to have the benefit of playing second legs at home. That is not the case now. They have the lead and they just have to keep doing what they do in their own stadium. The suspicion is that they will have too much for Benfica to overcome but it remains puzzling as to why this is so oddly skewed.
Will Liverpool's defence stand tall again?
Since Jurgen Klopp took over at Liverpool (and partially because it's not yet his own squad) it's been hard to full tell where they're at. They've gone from sensational performances to really unconvincing ones, from calamitous defensive displays to some impressively solid ones. Their Europa League quarterfinal first leg against Borussia Dortmund undeniably saw the latter in terms of the back line, and it was all the more impressive because given the context (and that this is the last trophy available), this was probably their biggest game of the season so far, against one of the best attacks in Europe this season.
Liverpool seemed to just subdue Dortmund. Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren were particularly good. It fostered a 1-1 draw and means Klopp's side only need to hold on to what they have to go through. So, they only need to defend again. Can they repeat the show of resolve?
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.