The Champions League quarter-final draw threw up the mouth-watering prospect of an all-English final at Wembley on May 28th, with Premier League heavyweights Manchester United and Chelsea drawn together whilst Tottenham will play the European giants Real Madrid.
Favourites Barcelona have been handed a testing tie against Shakhtar Donetsk, while the reigning champions Inter Milan will face Bundesliga strugglers Schalke. The semi-final draw ensures that the winners of the United-Chelsea match would not face Spurs in the semi-final, although the North London club will have to potentially battle past both Real and Barca if they are to stand a chance of lifting La
Spurs continue their European adventure against Real, the most successful club in the competition’s history. Having already played both Milan outfits, Harry Redknapp’s team continue to live the fairytale, and with their rampaging style of attacking football, Jose Mourinho will have a job on his hands to contain the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. The Portuguese coach will surely feel that he can devise a defensive plan to keep out a Spurs side that seemingly show no fear, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and the red-hot Karim Benzema up front, Real’s fans will be confident of progression.
While United and Chelsea fans will feel a certain relief that they will avoid a tie with the Spanish giants until the final, the tie between Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti’s sides will come at the precise point at which both teams will be looking to move ahead in the title race. Both managers will be grateful for the short midweek trip and extensive knowledge of each other’s tactics, although the sides will feel it an opportunity missed should they go out, for the semi-final tie that awaits is against Schalke or Inter Milan.
It would be foolish to rule out the Italians as they are the holders, and showed superb character to fight back against a resurgent Bayern side at the death. They also possess a lethal marksman in Samuel Eto’o, who shows no sign of nerves on the biggest of stages. However, the Italians are not as strong as last season – particularly after losing talismanic tactician Jose Mourinho to Real – and their once impenetrable defence is showing signs of bursting at the seams (particularly Julio Cesar).
Schalke are riding high on a wave of optimism following their qualification, yet they currently sit tenth in the Bundesliga. With only five points separating them from the relegation places, they replaced Felix Magath on Thursday despite the round of 16 success. One would expect Inter to progress.
Although Barca are the undoubted favourites, the tie against Shakhtar will raise some testing questions of Pep Guardiola’s stunning side. Shakhtar haven’t lost at home since March 2008, and Leo Messi and co. will have to work hard to break down the Ukrainians in the icy weather. With a pacy attack and stoic defenders, Shakhtar may just be the dark horses of the 2010/11 Champions League season.