The Champions League is a competition of the elite of the elite, and with the quarter final round at hand there's only eight teams left in their battle for dominance. We're two and a half months from the final in Milan, and in order to figure out who's going to get there we need to figure out who plays who in the next round.
That brings us to Friday's draw, and all the pomp and circumstance it brings as everyone meets in Nyon, Switzerland to determine the matchups for the quarterfinal round. The draw procedure is the same as we usually see -- teams drawn one at a time to be placed against one another, with the side drawn first playing the first leg at home. The draw is completely open, meaning that there's no restrictions against teams from the same country playing one another, meaning we may see El Classico between Barcelona or Real Madrid crop up, which would be a must-watch battle to be sure.
So who all is in the draw for the Champions League quarterfinal round? Let's look at the teams.
As the defending champions and reigning treble winners, Barcelona are the team to beat. They're immensely talented and have looked nigh unbeatable of late. Lead by Lionel Messi and Neymar, their attack is almost impossible to predict or even slow down, and while their back line might not be physically imposing, but they play smartly and as a unit, making them tough to break down. They're the elite of the elite in Europe, and it's going to take one heck of a performance to knock them down.
How they got here: Barcelona thrashed Arsenal in the round of 16, winning by an aggregate score of 5-1. They looked like they were on a whole other level compared to their English opponents, scoring at will while completely frustrating all of the Gunners' attempts to get anything going in the tie. Arsenal are no pushovers, so to humble them so thoroughly is really something to see.
One of the traditional powers of Europe, Real Madrid have struggled this season with injuries and poor form from a number of players. That poor form was largely blamed on Madrid's previous manager, Rafa Benitez, and it was little surprise when he was fired and replaced with first-time senior manager Zinedine Zidane. The legendary French winger has played in many crucial Champions League matches, but he's still very inexperienced with managing those games. Madrid fans will be hoping for as kind a draw as possible in order to let him keep cutting his teeth before running into a truly massive challenge.
How they got here: Roma were no match for Madrid, falling 2-0 in each leg of the tie for a 4-0 aggregate loss. Still, the Italians did manage to trouble Madrid fairly significantly in the second leg, repeatedly knocking their defense off balance, though lacking the cutting edge to take advantage of it. If someone can figure out what Roma did to look so effective against Madrid and improve on it, the Merengues could be in a lot of trouble.
The German giants will be eager to aim for a Champions League title before Pep Guardiola leaves this summer, and they certainly have the talent to do it. They're deep and extraordinarily talented, and if they get even a little bit of momentum on their side they're going to be monumentally difficult to beat. They're one of the best teams around for a reason, and that reason is that both their squad's talents and how they play together is just on another level compared to almost any other team in Europe.
How they got here: Bayern won a dramatic tie with Juventus in the round of 16, giving up a two-goal lead in the first leg to find themselves on level terms going into the home leg of of the tie. Even the Allianz-Arena didn't prove to be an immediate advantage, with the Italians taking a two goal lead in the first half -- but Bayern came storming back with two late goals in regulation to force extra time, where they scored another pair to seal the tie.
The last English team still standing in the Champions League, Manchester City won't have an easy time of things. Their team has suffered from injury woes galore, leading to wildly inconsistent form because so much of their team has missed so much playing time. At their best, though, they can battle with anyone and come out on top -- it's just going to be a matter of how healthy they are when they play in the quarterfinals.
How they got here: Manchester City blasted Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine to the tune of a 3-1 final score in the first leg, but backed off to lick their wounds in the second leg, settling for a solid if uninspiring scoreless draw that secured their advancement. It wasn't the awe-inspiring display fans wanted to see, but it proved that Manchester can do the nitty-gritty things they need to do in order to get the job done, something they haven't always done in the past.
PSG finally seem to be realizing their significant talents and potential this season, with them having already secured the Ligue 1 title and cruised through the Champions League as well so far. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani have been a near-unstoppable force in attack this season, and their midfield and defense have both stepped up in a big way as well. They've got the ability to be a truly elite team in Europe, but something has held them back in years past. That something seems to have finally lost its grip on PSG, and now the whole continent should be on notice.
How they got here: PSG went head to head with Chelsea in the round of 16 and kicked them all over the field, both in Paris in the first leg and in London in the second. If anything, the 4-2 final aggregate score was flattering for Chelsea, who rarely looked like they even belonged on the same pitch as Paris Saint-Germain.
Atléti are a fascinating team. On paper, they look very good, but not elite. Thanks to Diego Simeone, however, they play at a much higher level than the sum of their parts would suggest. They're fast, they're aggressive, and they're willing to get down and dirty when they need to. There's no one way to stop Atlético -- even if you stop one avenue of their attack, they'll adapt and come at you another way, one that you probably weren't planning on or prepared for. That makes them dangerous, and no team still in the Champions League should take them lightly.
How they got here: We saw the first scoreless draw across two legs in the history of the Champions League knockout rounds, with Atlético unable to find a breakthrough against Dutch side PSV. They triumphed on penalties, though, and if they can figure out what went wrong in the last round, Diego Simeone and company won't repeat their follies again.
Last season's biggest and most fun surprise in Germany, Wolfsburg haven't had quite the same edge this year. Still, they're a plenty fun and dangerous team, and whoever they're drawn against will have to be willing to fight from first whistle to last if they're going to keep the Germans at bay. Wolfsburg have plenty of attacking talent that can go toe-to-toe with anyone -- the question is how their midfield and defense will hold up to however they're matches up against.
How they got here: While the 4-2 aggregate scoreline was relatively close, the run of play for Wolfsburg against KAA Gent was anything but. They absolutely dominated their Belgian opponents, and they proved that no one is safe from their high-flying attack.
Benfica aren't the strongest team left in the Champions League, but they've definitely earned their place here. Their effort and determination has carried them a long ways, and can still be extremely problematic for almost any team left in the competition.
How they got here: It took a hard-fought battle with Zenit St Petersburg for Benfica to advance, with two goals in the last five minutes of regular time to beat their Russian opponents. That kind of fight isn't the kind of thing that comes along by sheer luck, and they have the ability to pull that kind of thing off against a lot of different teams.
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The draw takes place in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday at 7 a.m. ET (noon local time). The matches for the first leg of quarterfinal ties will be played on April 5th and 6th, and the second leg will be played one week later on the 12th and 13th.