He's got this knack, Cristiano Ronaldo, of making every opponent he faces look mediocre. It doesn't matter who they are, which team they play for or what the game plan is. If Ronaldo gets the ball one-on-one and takes a defender and then a goalkeeper on, Real Madrid is scoring a goal. He's proved it time and again so far this season in this competition, especially over those two legs against Schalke.
A player in the Champions League as relentless and as powerful against top-level opposition has never before existed. Some flicker. Some have a season or two. None measure up to what Ronaldo can do. He has scored 13 goals in this season's Champions League and weighed in with four assists for good measure. He has just matched Ferenc Puskas' Real Madrid goalscoring record, taking 25 matches fewer than the great Hungarian in the process. He is singlehandedly re-writing what it means to be a Real Madrid goalscoring legend. Fans will look back on the likes of Raul and Santillana and wonder if the were ever any good at all.
This is not intended to demean the rest of the Real Madrid squad, but it is intended to set Ronaldo apart as the best individual player in the competition. Real Madrid could be having a bad game, struggling, and all it would take is five seconds of possession for Ronaldo to get a goal.
So no matter who Madrid draws, if the collective can't beat them, the great Ronaldo will.
|PSG will show Manchester City how it's done
The plan is simple. Assemble a squad of talent - the best that money can buy - sit back and watch, firstly, the trophies roll in and, secondly, progress every season in the Champions League. Manchester City had a a three-year head start on Paris Saint-Germain as the Citizens were bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008. The Qatar Investment Authority did not get their foot in the door at PSG until 2011. Nonetheless, the progress made by the Parisians has been rapid domestically and, compared to City, light years ahead in Europe too.
City may have come up against Barcelona in the last 16 while PSG was given the relatively straightforward task of dispatching Bayer Leverkusen, but that is because the French side topped its group. City's inability to avoid defeat against Bayern at home eventually cost them. City, simply, hasn't appeared a team of European stature like PSG has since its return to the top table.
Leonardo, the now departed sporting director, barely got one move wrong in the recruitment process with string of high-profile, effective signings from Serie A. The recruitment process since the departure of the Brazilian and Carlo Ancelotti has been similarly sound. City, instead, seem to change tack every season.
PSG has the capacity to finish top of the pile in the Champions League this very season. That is an awesome achievement for the Parc des Princes side so soon after coming into money. It's easy to talk about buying your way to domination. Doing it, as the contrasting fortunes of City and PSG would attest to, is a different thing altogether.
|Bayern frailties will be seized upon
The big danger for Bayern Munich is starting to believe its status as the favorite for the competition. It was underachievement and heartache that provided the inspiration for Bayern's 2013 triumph and while leading from the front in the Bundesliga has come naturally, it can be a different story in European competition.
Pep Guardiola has continued the Jupp Heynckes project in effective fashion and his Bayern side can bully the opposition as well as pass them to death. Bayern's strengths are amplified when they are on the ball, and they are also sharp in winning the ball back quickly or killing the play with tactical fouls once teams take possession. But any sustained pressure in the Bayern half can make Guardiola's men look human.
The first 10 minutes of Bayern's last 16 tie against Arsenal were illustrative of the broad, yet relatively obscured, weaknesses in the team's ranks. Their central defenders are no better than at any other club. Defensively, on the flanks, Rafinha and David Alaba can become flustered.
When teams manage to take the game to Bayern, the Germans can look a little disorientated. There is a sloppiness about their defensive play at this stage of the season, as their recent goals-against column in the Bundesliga would confirm. They were heavily reliant on a Mesut Ozil penalty miss and a Wojciech Szczesny red card to safeguard their passage to the quarterfinals.
The pool of teams is now better and any frailties will be seized upon more ruthlessly - should the opposition take possession often enough of course.
|Chelsea will carry the English flag even further
The demise of England's Premier League teams in the Champions League has been well documented, but with Chelsea to the forefront, there will be a significant threat presented by at least one English club in the quarterfinals.
Do Jose Mourinho's men play football to set the pulse racing? No. It is, however, effective and well-suited to the contours of European football. Entertainment has rarely been the hallmark of Mourinho's teams but this Chelsea can pick teams off on the break and pounce upon opponents on set-pieces. Those are two key facets of any successful European push.
As a strategist preparing for a one-off game, Mourinho is as good as they come, which he proved in the recent Premier League win at a previously unbeaten Manchester City. It took a while for Mourinho's team to take shape this time around but his players seem to have got the concession of sloppy goals out of their systems, the loss at Aston Villa notwithstanding.
This team is scarcely recognizable to the one that lost to Basel at home and really picked up a head of steam over the winter period. Mourinho and his loyal lieutenants Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Samuel Eto'o know just what it takes to win the trophy from this stage on. Add in the magic of Eden Hazard and you have yourself a genuine threat.
|United fillip will change nothing
There was nothing starkly different in Manchester United's approach when it overturned Olympiakos in the last 16 - the team's progress owes a lot to the deficiencies at the front and back on the part of the Greeks.
This is a Band-Aid win for United and it is not an abrupt vindication for Moyes's methods or selections. If Olympiakos had one of its first-choice forwards available, they would have certainly converted one of their away-goal chances. The Greeks had some big opportunities and were only a little bit of composure away from the last eight.
That Ryan Giggs was United's best performer on the night is telling. The 40-year-old is not good enough for a place in the Premier League squad at present but pulled the strings against what was, ultimately, second-rate opposition.
The win no doubt provides a massive short-term boost for David Moyes and his squad as they head into the draw for the quarterfinals but the reality remains that every other team in the draw will be hoping for a trip to Old Trafford.
The backline which can be flat-footed, the deep midfield and an attack which still struggles to carve out clear-cut chances - it's all too much for a quick fix.
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