Quarters no cakewalk in Champions League

Updated: 2014-03-23 08:10

By Agence France-Presse in London (China Daily)

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UEFA's four top-ranked teams - Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Chelsea - are on a Champions League collision course after being kept apart in the quarterfinal draw.

While Barcelona faces an all-Spanish tie against La Liga title rival Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid will attempt to avenge its 4-3 aggregate loss to Borussia Dortmund in last season's semifinals.

Holder Bayern, 2-1 winner against Dortmund in last year's final, will play stuttering Manchester United, with Chelsea's tie against dark horse Paris Saint-Germain completing the last eight lineup.

Here's a look at the tactical factors that will help to decide which teams make it through to the semifinals:

Barcelona (ESP) vs Atletico Madrid (ESP)

Barcelona remains the master of 'tiki-taka', but has handed its crown as the competition's ball retention king to Bayern Munich, which has averaged 65 percent of possession to the Catalans' 62 percent. Last year's arrival of speedy Brazil star Neymar has encouraged coach Tata Martino to adopt more of a counter-attacking style, but Barca's game is nonetheless still based on patient ball circulation, orchestrated by peerless Spain midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Under former player Diego Simeone, Atletico has adopted a high-intensity pressing game that has made it the most defensively robust side in La Liga. Los Colchoneros also pose a major threat from set pieces (a Barcelona weakness), having scored more goals from dead-ball situations (eight) than any other team left in the tournament.

Manchester United (ENG) vs Bayern Munich (GER)

United manager David Moyes was accused of regressing the club to a tactical Dark Age after it lumped 81 crosses into the box during a 2-2 draw with the Premier League's bottom club, Fulham, last month. It looked more like the United of old in the second leg of its last 16 tie against Olympiakos, but Robin van Persie, who scored all of his side's three goals in that game, will miss both legs of the Bayern tie with a sprained knee. Since arriving at Bayern, Pep Guardiola has instituted an uncompromising passing game reminiscent of the style he patented at Barcelona. The Bavarians passed Arsenal to death in the last 16, enjoying a staggering 73 percent of possession during its 2-0 first-leg victory. Having utilized a 4-1-4-1 system that saw full-back Philipp Lahm redeployed as a holding midfielder, Bayern has reverted to a 4-2-3-1 shape since Bastian Schweinsteiger returned from an ankle injury in February.

Real Madrid (ESP) vs Borussia Dortmund (GER)

The redoubtable pace of Cristiano Ronaldo and record-breaking signing Gareth Bale means Real Madrid remains a formidable counter-attacking side, but coach Carlo Ancelotti's decision to switch to a 4-3-3 formation has given it better control of the ball in the middle of the pitch. Madrid is also the competition's highest scoring squad with 29 goals - an impressive 25 of which have come from open play. Dortmund has gone off the boil domestically since last season, beset by injuries and left for dead in the Bundesliga by Bayern, but Jurgen Klopp's team remains one of the hardest working in Europe. It has made more tackles (24.6) and interceptions (19) per game than any other side still in the competition, according to the Who Scored website, and conceded fewer shots on goal (nine per game) than anyone apart from Barcelona and Bayern.

Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) vs Chelsea (ENG)

Since succeeding Carlo Ancelotti as PSG coach, Laurent Blanc has added a dash of flair to the French giant's domestic dominance, devising a 4-3-3 system in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic leads the line and record signing Edinson Cavani expertly patrols the right flank. In midfield, Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi respectively supply poise, artistry and lung-bursting energy, while Brazil captain Thiago Silva imperiously marshals the defence. After returning to Chelsea from Real Madrid, manager Jose Mourinho was quick to fall back upon the counter-attacking style with which he has forged his reputation. No Chelsea player has scored more than three goals in the competition, but in Eden Hazard, Willian, Oscar and Andre Schurrle, Mourinho possesses some of the swiftest attacking midfielders on the continent. He'll need them all to be in top form.

(China Daily 03/23/2014 page11)