There's an element of familiarity in all of the four Champions League quarterfinal pairings and a series of tantalizing final possibilities after the road to Madrid was carved out.
The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals matchups are set, and so is the rest of the road to Madrid.
Friday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland, set the bracket for the rest of the competition, providing the four quarterfinal pairings in addition to shedding light on which teams would face one another should they advance. We're left with four matchups that all carry their own elements of intrigue: Liverpool vs. Porto, Ajax vs. Juventus, Tottenham vs. Manchester City and Manchester United vs. Barcelona. The Liverpool-Porto winner will play the Man United-Barcelona winner in one semifinal, while the Ajax-Juventus winner will face the Tottenham-Man City winner in the other, with the winners of those bouts advancing to the June 1 final at Atletico Madrid's Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
Take a closer look at the four matchups–and the potential finals that are now in play given that we know the semifinal pairings as well:
Liverpool vs. Porto
These two sides met last season in the round of 16, and it wasn't particularly close. Sadio Mane's hat trick sparked Liverpool's 5-0 win in the first leg in Portugal, and the sides sparred to a 0-0 draw in the second leg, with the result clearly in hand. This time around, Liverpool will host the opening leg, but it still boasts the same dynamic attack, even if Mohamed Salah isn't firing on all cylinders like he did in his magical 2017-18 season. Porto has beefed up its defensive ranks with the experience and guile of Pepe and Iker Casillas, who won't be daunted by the Anfield stage, but also are well beyond their prime Real Madrid years.
Liverpool will go in as the heavy favorite, not necessarily to win by five goals again, but to come out the victor. If there's a power ranking of the eight teams remaining in the Champions League field, Porto is likely in the eighth position. The draw couldn't have been kinder for Jurgen Klopp's side, though there's still plenty to be wary of in its opponent, and not having left back Andy Robertson available for the first leg due to a card-accumulation suspension does create an opening for Porto to attack.
Ajax vs. Juventus
After toppling Real Madrid, Ajax won't have any fear of a Juventus side that, despite not having lost in Serie A yet this season, has looked at times to be underwhelming and vulnerable in Europe. It won its group, but not overly convincingly, and it took until the club was facing a 2-0 aggregate deficit to Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 for Cristiano Ronaldo to come to life. He relishes the knockout stage in this competition, scoring 63 of his all-time record 124 goals in this phase, and he'll be a tough assignment for 19-year-old Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt–a player who excels beyond his years but also has yet to face a challenge quite like this.
On the other end, Ajax's dynamic attack left a stretched Real Madrid defense grasping at the Bernabeu in their second leg, and Juventus can be breached by a side capable of creativity and unpredictability like Ajax–provided it's not completely controlling the game like it did in the second leg vs. Atleti. The scale tilts in Juventus's favor, but not by as much as you might think.
For the history buffs, this is a rematch of the 1996 final, won by Juventus on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in Rome. That was the last Champions League trophy Juventus won (it's lost five finals since), and its side featured Didier Deschamps, Antonio Conte and Alessandro Del Piero. None of Ajax's Frenkie de Jong, de Ligt, David Neres, Donny van de Beek had been born yet at the time.
Tottenham vs. Man City
These two sides will get to know each other very well over the course of an 11-day span. The two legs of the Champions League quarterfinals precede the previously scheduled April 20 showdown between the two in the Premier League at the Etihad. By that point, they could both be spent from one another.
Man City won their earlier matchup this season, a 1-0 triumph at Wembley thanks to Riyad Mahrez's sixth-minute goal. That really doesn't have much bearing on the quarterfinal clash between two sides and two managers that know each other quite well and are at far different places by this point.
Both looked up to the challenge in the round of 16, thrashing German competition en route to advancing. Tottenham buried Dortmund with a 3-0 win in their first leg, got Harry Kane back for the second, and used a goal from the English striker to polish off a 4-0 aggregate win. Man City needed some late heroics to overcome Schalke 3-2 in their first leg before blowing the doors off the struggling Bundesliga side with a no-mercy, 7-0 thrashing in the second leg to advance 10-2.
While there won't be much that surprises either side given how well they know one another, there's the added curveball of Tottenham's new stadium. The first leg is set to be the played at the new venue, provided all goes smoothly with its upcoming test matches. Tottenham will open the doors in an official capacity sometime during the first week of April, giving little opportunity to get accustomed to the new setting before City comes to London. It's an odd scenario: neither side really having any familiarity with the stadium, and travel being little obstacle for the away fans.
Coincidentally, these are the only two clubs among the final eight who have yet to lift a Champions League trophy in their history.
Barcelona vs. Man United
This would've been so much more fun if Jose Mourinho were involved, but, then again, if he was still at the helm of Manchester United, the Red Devils probably aren't anywhere close to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. They've been rejuvenated and inspired under the guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and after their comeback against PSG, without 10 first-team players and turning to untested teenagers for late-game substitutions in Paris, they're forcing you to doubt them at your own peril.
It wasn't that long ago that Barcelona was publicly commenting on Paul Pogba as a potential January transfer target amid all the internal strife at Old Trafford, but times have changed in a big way.
Regardless, Barcelona will be the favorite going in, as the Spanish league leaders and with an in-form Lionel Messi leading the charge. Ousmane Dembele's injury puts his availability for the first leg in question and could put former Liverpool standout Philippe Coutinho in position to take on a bigger role in the opening leg in Manchester. Luis Suarez, who was once a villain and nemesis for Manchester United when he starred for Liverpool, also will make his return to England.
In terms of their Champions League history, the two sides have met in the final twice in the last 10 years, with Barcelona winning the 2009 and 2011 titles at Man United's expense and Messi scoring in each of the triumphs.
The final possibilities
After the quarterfinal draw was complete, UEFA set the remainder of the bracket, allowing us to peer forward at some of the potential matchups. Here are five of the best possibilities (from a neutral's perspective):
- Barcelona and Juventus cannot meet until the final, which means a Messi-Ronaldo trophy showdown to break all internets remains in play.
- An all-Manchester final is also still a possibility, should City and United handle their business and advance. It would be the third same-city final in six years after Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid played in the 2014 and 2016 finals in Lisbon and Milan, respectively.
- Liverpool vs. Man City would pit the two sides going down to the wire in the Premier League race against one another for European glory, as well.
- Juventus vs. Man United already happened this Champions League, twice in the group stage, but imagine a scenario in which Ronaldo is facing one of his former teams in one of his former cities? That might draw some attention.
- Ajax vs. Barcelona in a final would be intriguing, if only because one (de Jong), and perhaps two (de Ligt), of Ajax's top young talents are bolting for Barcelona this summer, presumably to make more money and compete in a tougher league, but also to play for European trophies–which, it may turn out, they don't have to go anywhere to accomplish after all.