The Champions League draw has, as usual, thrown up storylines and intrigue aplenty.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær will return to the scene of his most famous night, Liverpool face familiar foes while Pep Guardiola will look to avenge last year’s quarter-final exit to the Reds when he leads Manchester City into battle against another Premier League outfit in the shape of Tottenham Hotspur.
The quarter-final first legs will take place on 9 and 10 April but, in the meantime, let’s take a deeper dive into the four ties.
Having ended Real Madrid’s 1,012-day reign as European champions – and doing so with a thrilling attacking display at the Bernabéu – Ajax won’t be easily intimidated.
Juventus looked down and out against Atlético Madrid only to turn the tie on its head in Turin with an unlikely comeback, headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick.
The two sides will have wildly contrasting agendas. Having ruled Italy over the last decade, Juve are determined to clinch their first Champions League since 1996 (when they beat Ajax in the final).
The Dutch side, however, and with all due respect, are thrilled to be in the last eight. Even with Real’s indifferent form this season not many expected them to capitulate quite as they did in the second leg against Ajax.
And this fixture has a rich history. Ajax, captained by Johan Cruyff, defeated Juventus in the 1973 European Cup final to complete a hat-trick of triumphs. They also met in the 1996 final when Marcello Lippi’s Bianconeri denied Louis van Gaal’s side a second successive Champions League. Juve inflicted more pain on their rivals the following season, running out 6-2 aggregate winners in the semi-final en route.
Overall, Ajax have won just twice in 12 meetings but history matters little. Erik ten Hag’s side have captured the imagination this season. Led by a couple of extraordinary young talents in Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt – and powered by the goals and ingenuity of Dušan Tadić in attack – write Ajax off at your peril.
Jürgen Klopp will unquestionably be the happiest Premier League manager. Having seen off Bayern Munich with a surprising degree of comfort, the Reds’ reward is a reacquaintance with Porto.
Sérgio Conceição’s Portuguese champions edged out Roma in extra time to reach the last eight but will be pegged as considerable underdogs against last season’s runners-up.
For a start, Liverpool thumped Porto 5-0 on their visit to the Estádio do Dragão last season. Sadio Mané bagged a hat-trick that night and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Senegalese forward repeat the trick this time around, given his scintillating recent form.
Unlike last season, Liverpool will have the opportunity to establish a lead before travelling to Portugal. However, to do so, they will have to rediscover the cutting edge that was sorely absent during their home game against Bayern.
But if Porto can frustrate the Reds at Anfield, they will be confident of causing an upset on their home patch, having won all four home games in this campaign.
That Tottenham’s new stadium is expected to be ready in time for this game certainly adds an extra layer of intrigue, but City are unlikely to be fazed by new surroundings.
Pep Guardiola’s side could barely have been more clinical when they mercilessly dispatched Schalke 7-0 at the Etihad Stadium in the most unavoidable expression of their European ambitions to date.
While Schalke are currently mired in crisis, it’s difficult to look past City over two legs here. Guardiola’s men have hit top gear at the perfect time, winning their last ten games in all competitions while scoring 27 goals in the process.
And while City go from strength to strength, Tottenham have suffered a dip in form over the last two months, going from outside title contenders to looking nervously over their shoulder at Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea in the race to be in next season’s Champions League.
Spurs also disposed of a German opponent, impressive in their 4-0 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund, but it’s difficult to see them progressing to the last four for the first time since 1962. In addition, Mauricio Pochettino has only won twice in 14 previous meetings with Guardiola, giving the Catalan a slight psychological edge.
It’s worth noting that the sides will meet each other three times in ten days, with a Premier League meeting at the Etihad also slated for April 20. That trilogy will be huge in shaping the seasons of both clubs.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 15, 2019
Solskjær did the unthinkable and led United past much-fancied Paris Saint-Germain and the Norwegian will require another monumental effort from his players to down Barcelona.
The draw put Barça at home in the first leg but seeing as United cannot play a home game in the same week as City – who play their second leg against Spurs at the Etihad – the draw was reversed.
It means United will welcome Ernesto Valverde’s side to Old Trafford before Solskjær makes his return to the Camp Nou 20 years after scoring an injury-time winner in the final against Bayern Munich to capture a historic treble.
United edged Frank Rijkaard’s Barça the last time the sides met at Old Trafford, Paul Scholes scoring to fire Sir Alex Ferguson’s men into the final to meet Chelsea in 2008.
But United have lost two finals to Barcelona since then and won’t relish another meeting with Lionel Messi, who boasts a stunning record of 22 Champions League goals against English opposition. The Argentine has eight in the current campaign and will be confident of inflicting more pain on United after having scored in the 2009 and 2011 finals.