My blog this week, before the conclusion of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, asks whether Paris Saint-Germain FC and Juventus can reach the last four considering they face two of Europe's in-form teams, FC Barcelona and FC Bayern München.
The French leg of PSG's tie against Barcelona finished 2-2 thanks to Blaise Matuidi's added-time equaliser. The midfielder's absence through suspension for the second leg is a blow for the Ligue 1 leaders, as a trip to Camp Nou is daunting for any side, especially considering Barça beat AC Milan 4-0 at home in the last round.
However, PSG have more than one reason to be optimistic. First, Barça are lacking personnel at the heart of their defence. Carles Puyol remains injured, while Javier Mascherano's ban leaves coach Tito Vilanova with a big dilemma. Does he hand the role of partnering Gerard Piqué to 22-year old Marc Bartra, or does he use either Alex Song or Sergio Busquets, both midfielders by trade, in that position?
Éric Abidal has also returned, playing against RCD Mallorca at the weekend, for the first time since his liver transplant. The Frenchman can play centre-back as well as left-back, but it is difficult to know whether Vilanova would risk him up against an in-form Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Sweden striker was a handful throughout the first leg, scoring one and making the other against his former club.
Barcelona won 5-0 on Saturday without Lionel Messi and a number of first-choice players, but while they are on the brink of clinching the Spanish title, they are not invincible at home. In the group stage, Celtic FC and FC Spartak Moskva came very close to earning points against the four-time European champions in Catalonia. Benfica, meanwhile, claimed a 0-0 draw, with the Blaugrana fielding a changed yet still strong team on matchday six. Real Madrid CF have won at Camp Nou this season too and perhaps lessons can be learned from their approach.
Arguably, the task for Juventus is even more difficult. Bayern could have triumphed by more than the 2-0 they had to settle for in their quarter-final first leg. While the German team secured their 23rd championship at the weekend, there will be no victory hangover – the players will not enjoy their traditional celebrations of donning lederhosen and drinking beer at the Marienplatz in Munich until the season's end.
Bayern have this unique balance of being tremendously physical and robust while boasting some of the most skilful and quick players in world football. The Bianconeri felt the full brunt last week. Rumours suggested coach Antonio Conte would add another midfielder to his lineup at the expense of a striker for the trip to Munich. However, after Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri scored in the previous game, a win at FC Internazionale Milano, they both started. The Serie A champions failed to get a grip on the first leg, however, registering seven goal attempts to Bayern's 21.
Even so, the advantage is only two goals. Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon says the back three in front of him is the best defence he has ever played with. High praise indeed, but they will need to be at their peak to prevent Bayern notching a crucial away goal.
Striker Mirko Vučinić has now fully recovered from illness and got two goals in the weekend victory over Pescara Calcio, while Andrea Pirlo's influence cannot be understated. Bayern's attackers did a wonderful job of pressing and not allowing him to play his usual game last time. If Conte can find a way to liberate the Italian international, his ability to pull the strings could enable Juventus to find a way back into the tie.
On Tuesday's Matchday Live we will have commentary from Borussia Dortmund's home match against Málaga CF – 0-0 after the first leg – with updates from Istanbul as Real Madrid look to seal their semi-final place at Galatasaray AŞ's expense.
We will find out whether PSG and Juventus can come back to claim spots in the last four in Wednesday's edition, from 19.30CET. PSG at Barcelona is the main game, with updates from Turin throughout the show.
Paul Saffer and Andy Brassell are among our panel guests this week. Tweet your thoughts on who you think will progress to @championsleague using #matchdaylive.
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