The Champions League quarterfinal ties are set, and to the surprise of nobody except the most cynical and conspiracy-ridden, Barça has drawn Juventus.
Why did this have to be? Because Barça will, absent any other mitigating factors, always draw the team that it has the most history with and the deepest backstory. So when Eto’o was at Inter, guess who Barça drew? Guardiola at Bayern, and guess what? This year, now that Dani Alves, former Barça RB, is back from his injury and setting the world alight — that’s right.
In looking at the list of possible opponents, other than Leicester City, it’s hard to argue with the comfort of Barça drawing Juventus. They are a strong side with a legend between the sticks, and are playing great football right now. But RM and Atleti are two of the best teams in the world, and Barça tormentors. Plus whose heart is ready to deal with a Champions League Classic? Not mine. Not yours, either. So don’t even lie.
Monaco or Dortmund? Do you really want those damn kids running around and being a pest among our dignified veterans? No. And I don’t, either.
Other than Atleti, Juventus is also the most staunch team defensively. They will be difficult to score against. The last time the two met in Champions League was the Rome final, a match that many culers have, in the mists of legend, believed to be easier than it was. This will be a tough, tough battle. And when Higuain doesn’t wear an Argentina shirt, he is an exceptional goalscorer. And don’t forget about Dybala, even though I know that you haven’t.
Neymar vs Alves. Yikes. That is going to be so much fun, even as they won’t often be directly matched up as Juventus will be looking to help out on that side as teams so often do against Barça, given Neymar’s role as catalyst and accelerant.
The other matchups are also very interesting. Conspiracy theorists will say that the suitcases of cash didn’t arrive in time to ensure that Real Madrid drew Leicester City, which would really have been the best team for them to draw as they would have destroyed the Lesters. Instead Atleti got them, in a matchup that will be very interesting, thanks to the frequent inability of Atleti to put the ball in the net.
Real Madrid/Bayern will be fantastic, especially if Bayern can win. We’re counting on native son Thiago Alcantara to do the world a solid and rid it of evil. Bayern is playing fantastic football right now, and have Bundesliga all but locked down, so they can focus on that matchup. Not so for Real Madrid who, like a certain Catalan club, is looking rather dodgy and vulnerable all too often this season.
Finally, the tie everyone was hoping for, Dortmund/Monaco, which features two “youth will be served” teams, both of whom feature fast, dynamic attacks and players that will buy some agent a new yacht in the not-to-distant future. For you folks familiar with American basketball, that is a Western Conference showdown all the way, Golden State against Oklahoma City. It’s going to be a riot, and there should be plenty of goals scored.
Picks? Ah, the hard part. But:
Atleti over Leicester
Barça over Juventus
Monaco over Dortmund
Bayern over Real Madrid
But I could be wrong.