Fitness has been a big problem for Reus so far this season and his regular injury layoffs have been a big contributor to the club’s abject domestic form. But when he’s fit and firing, Dortmund have a world-class forward on their hands and someone who can breath fresh initiative into this toiling season.
Verdict – Last 16: The Champions League has been a small fillip of positivity in a horrendous season for Klopp’s side and although they shone in the group stages of the competition, Juventus are a team that will expose their flaws in earnest in their last 16 clash.
There’s something rather ominous about this Chelsea team. A year-and-a-half on from taking the reins at Stamford Bridge for the second time, Jose Mourinho’s principles are well established, the personnel in the squad is of the highest calibre and that unerring knack of how to win matches even though they aren’t at their free flowing best is becoming increasingly prevalent.
The Blues are a balanced group and while the aesthetic abilities of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and Willian make them great to watch, they are unyieldingly uncompromising in their defensive duties too. John Terry is a player reborn under the Portuguese’s tutelage and in Thibaut Courtois they have one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers.
Mourinho knows exactly what it takes to win this competition too. Having triumphed in Europe’s top tier competition with both Porto and Internazionale, he’s a boss who can steer his side through the unforgiving final rounds; you suspect that a European Cup triumph with the Blues would surpass those previous successes.
Any weaknesses? The team isn’t quite as irresistible as it was earlier in the season and Mourinho’s notoriety for working with a small squad could could leave the Blues a little fatigued, especially given they’re still fighting on three different fronts. But if Chelsea have a sharp, stocked squad, they are amongst the big favorites to sample glory in Berlin.
Key Man – Diego Costa
Love him or loathe him, there are not many supporters who would decline the chance to have the tumultuous centre-forward in their squad. Costa has been a magnificent signing for the Blues this season, with his rough and tumble brand of centre-forward play giving Chelsea a completely different edge to their attacking forays.
The gusto he demonstrates on a weekly basis is complimented by some forensic finishing in front of goal too and in tight games his predatory instincts will be so important for this Blues team. After coming so close to winning this competition last season, the Spanish international will be insatiable in his intentions to sample glory with the Londoners.
Verdict – Semi-Finals: Chelsea were in sensational form at the start of the campaign and while they’re romping clear atop of the Premier League, some minor cracks have appeared in recent weeks. They’re a tremendous team, but if they draw one of the elite sides early, even Mourinho could find it difficult to drag them to the title.
After a turbulent qualifying campaign, Juventus eventually progressed from a difficult group stage. Now the onus will be on this established side to make a long overdue impression in the knockout stages of this competition.
The Bianconeri have dominated things on the domestic front for the last three-and-a-half seasons and look set to win a fourth successive Scudetto this year. With that in mind, it’s little surprise that the supporters of this great soccer club are hungry for victory on the European landscape, especially when they have a team capable of delivering.
Not only do Juve have classic Italian solidity at the back, but their midfield four can rival any side in European soccer and leading the line is Carlos Tevez, who is enjoying something of a renaissance in Serie A. All the components are there for a potential championship-winning side, but there are some intangible concerns that linger ahead of their clash with Borussia Dortmund.
Most of them centre around the mental state of this team. Most of this group have yet to flourish in the latter stages of the competition and in Massimiliano Allegri the Bianconeri possess a manager that has yet to guide a team into the latter stages of this tournament.
Key Man – Paul Pogba
The Frenchman has been in simply ridiculous form since the turn of the year, enhancing his reputation from potential superstar to thoroughbred world-class midfield man. He’ll be at the heart of the Bianconeri efforts and has the ability to turn a game with a moment of sheer genius.
Pogba has so much to his game and his fearless approach should serve Juve well as they go in search of what’d be their third European Cup triumph. Whether bossing the midfield with his brute physicality or incomparable poise, the young man is a player very difficult to nullify and someone capable of inspiring this Juventus side to great things.
Verdict – Quarter-Finals: The players are there for Juventus to be one of the dark horses for this title and a last-16 win over Borussia Dortmund should give this group some impetus going into the quarter-finals. But you just wonder whether they are streetwise enough in the Champions League to get any further than that.
A cornerstone win over AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico suggested that Manchester City have finally sussed out how to play on the road in the Champions League, but things haven’t been going particularly well for Manuel Pellegrini’s team as of late.
Injuries to key players have shunted their form in the Premier League, as has the loss of Yaya Toure on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. But with their midfield star back in the fold, Sergio Aguero beginning to find form and Wilfried Bony on hand to lend some support in attacking areas, positive times don’t look too far away for this group.
The clash with Barcelona gives City a fine chance to avenge their loss to the Catalonians at this stage last season and they’ll take some encouragement from the fact that they were in with a chance in both clashes. But they’ll have their work cut out this time against a Blaugrana team that are in sensational goalscoring form.
For City, the game at the Etihad Stadium is vital to their chances of progression; the win over Bayern Munich in the group stages gave us an emphatic indication of what the home crowd can do for this team. With memories of that evening still relatively fresh, the City supporters—who have been previously nonplussed by the Champions League—should conjure a cracking evening.
Key Man – David Silva
The Spanish maestro knits everything together during City’s attacking ventures forward. If they’re to get at the Barcelona back-line, his ability to pick pockets, thread dangerous passes into the box and jink past opponents with his patented panache will be the catalyst.
Silva is the kind of player who could easily slot into this Barcelona team and with the Catalonians likely to dominate possession in both legs, it’s imperative that City’s midfield star make the most of his time on the ball. The Etihad faithful will be hoping he turns it on and pushes them towards a quarter-final berth.
Verdict – Last-16: Pellegrini showed a willingness to be adaptable in the Champions League in the group stages, but a draw against Barcelona represents one of the most difficult in the entire competition. City are making strides when it comes to the Champions League, but they haven’t made quite enough to best a side of the Blaugrana’s pedigree.
There will have been sighs of relief in unanimity from the Emirates when Arsenal were pitted against Monaco in the last-16 of the competition, but to dismiss the principality club out of hand would be extremely premature.
There’s little denying that this Monaco team are worse off without the creative talents of James Rodriguez and the forensic finishing of Radamel Falcao, but they’re a side who still boast some classy operators. If anything, the sale of the aforementioned pair has made them a more organized unit and that’s something Arsene Wenger and his team must be wary of.
Indeed, no team in Ligue 1 has a better defensive record than Monaco, it’s the other end of the pitch that they’re having problems. So far they have only been able to bag 25 goals in 24 league games and with players like Dimitar Berbatov, Joao Moutinho and Lacina Traore in situ, that’s simply not enough.
They are a team that could definitely spring a surprise, though. Monaco have the defensive acumen to go to the Emirates and frustrate Arsenal, but it’s vital they discover an attacking edge to compliment their underpinning fortitude.
Key Man – Joao Moutinho
Moutinho is the most talented player in this squad and a midfield who has the cutting edge to unlock even the most stringent of defenses. The Portuguese playmaker isn’t enjoying the best of campaigns, but at this stage of the competition Leonardo Jardim will be looking to him to carry this team to a pair of important performances.
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