The first intriguing tie is the all-French clash between the Ligue 1 Champions Bordeaux and the team who were kings of French football until they were dethroned by Bordeaux, Lyon.
Bordeaux came through their second round tie quite easily but then again they were expected to against Olympiacos and they remain the only unbeaten side in the tournament.
Domestically though, things have begun to unravel for Laurent Blanc’s team with only one win from their last six league games but as Inter showed against Chelsea, league form and Champions League form are not always the same.
Bordeaux have already beaten Lyon this season back in December and Lyon’s league form has been indifferent but in Europe Lyon are a totally different animal. They produced arguably the performance of the round against Real Madrid last time out, they were outstanding in the first leg in France and although they rode their luck in Madrid they definitely deserved to go through.
This is also the first time that Lyon have entered the competition with they aren’t French champions which might have relieved some tension from them. All eyes in France are on the champions Bordeaux and whether they can do what Lyon have done in the past and sustain success. Lyon are also superstarless this year. Juninho and Karim Benzema have left and the team seems to be a more solid unit and their team spirit got them through a very difficult first half in the Bernabeau.
Although Bordeaux are the champions and have already beaten Lyon this season I expect Lyon to squeak through to the semi final where they will meet the winner of….
Bayern Munich v Manchester United
Two of European Football’s powerhouses square off in a repeat of one of the most memorable Champions League finals of all time when United came out on top after a heart-stopping climax in the Nou Camp in 1999.
United enter the match as the favorites and rightly so after demolishing Milan over two legs, 7-2 on aggregate, while Munich, who struggled through their qualifying group, struggled again to get past a stubborn Fiorentina. United currently hold the record for consecutive away fixtures without defeat in the champions league and if they can keep that run going and avoid defeat in Germany one would imagine they would be too strong for Munich at Old Trafford in the second leg. But if Munich were to get a favorable result at home in the first leg everything could change.
Bayern did prove in their qualifying group that when the chips were down and they needed a result to get through they went to Turin and walloped Juventus 4-1, so they can perform in Europe when they really need to.
They also have something in the side that can really trouble the United defence and that’s tremendous pace from their two world class wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, the latter might consider this a good time to show European big spenders like Madrid and Chelsea what he’s capable of doing.
If Bayern win the first leg anything can happen but if United get a draw or win in Munich it’s hard to see them not sealing the deal in Manchester.
Arsenal v Barcelona
Another final redeux, this time it’s the 2006 final when Barcelona came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1. This is the tie of the round and if all goes according to plan it should be an amazing exhibition of football. Both teams are a joy to watch and it could go down as one of the great games.
Arsenal must be cursing their luck. They’d have fancied their chances against Bayern Munich and then one of the French sides in the semis, but unfortunately for the Gunners their route to the final in Madrid has hit a monumental road block in the shape of the holders.
Defensively Arsenal are arguably better than the European Champions but they have been dealt a major blow if Wenger is right and Gallas doesn’t make it in time for the first leg.
If he doesn’t, does anyone think Sol Campbell would be able to cope with Messi or Ibrahimovich? From the midfield to attack, Barcelona are awesome and as they proved in the final last season when they embarrassed Manchester United, if they are allowed to play they can destroy the very best teams in Europe.
Arsenal need to learn from Chelsea’s semi final with the Catalans last season. Do Arsenal have it in them to stifle Barca? To get physical with them and defend as if their lives depended on it?
Barcelona are probably too strong for everyone in Europe right now. Arsenal are not defensive enough to stop them and with Chelsea out of the tournament, is there anyone who can stop Barca?
Inter Milan v CSKA Moscow
If Inter take on CSKA like they took on Chelsea, this should be a comfortable passage to the semi-finals for the Italians. They were exceptional at Stamford Bridge and they played like champions.
The trouble could be trying to replicate that intensity when they are playing a team that they’re expected to beat.
Inter’s form in Serie A has not been good in recent weeks and from being miles ahead of the chasing pack a month ago they’re now stuck in a race for the title with their city rivals Milan.
While it could be looked on as a distraction from their Champions League campaign it could make the difference for Inter. In the past few seasons they’ve effectively wrapped up the title by March so when the knockout stages of the Champions League come around they’ve not been able to find the correct level of intensity to help get the most from their players.
If they’re neck and neck with Milan in the title race, suddenly every game becomes more important and if they start to win those matches their confidence will grow and their momentum could be enough to take them to Madrid in May.
If Inter beat CSKA and Barca beat Arsenal, the semi-final meeting could determine who wins the Champions League this year. Mourinho might just be the man to charge his troops and put their defeat in the Nou Camp from the group stages behind them and prevent Barcelona from joining Manchester United in the final.