Champions League quarter-finals preview: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich & Chelsea the favorites

This season’s version of Europe’s most prestigious club competition has thrown up surprises and shocks along the way, with a number of sides in the last eight exceeding expectations and defying Champions League odds. However, the usual suspects and biggest teams in Europe remain, with four mouth-watering ties having their first legs played this week.

APOEL vs. Real Madrid

This tie arguable epitomises what the Champions League is all about; David vs. Goliath, minnow vs. superpower. The Cypriot champions have delighted their fans with a fantastic showing this term, becoming the first side from their country to make the knockout rounds and beating some strong sides, including Lyon and Porto, along the way.

However, their opponents in the last eight are quite the step up. Real Madrid have been in scintillating form this campaign, lead the Primera Division and are unbeaten in this year’s tournament. Jose Mourinho has the experience of winning this competition with two other clubs, and with a masterfully in-form Cristiano Ronaldo in Los Blancos’ line-up, Madrid have every chance of glory this year.

Benfica vs. Chelsea

A tie between two very-evenly matched sides, Chelsea will go in as favourites but not by much. The Portuguese side have been markedly better this term, and eliminated Manchester United in the group stages. With the likes of Javi Garcia, Axel Witsel and Nicolas Gaitan in a youthful and exciting midfield, Jorge Jesus’ men will look to get ahead in the first leg at the Estadio da Luz.

Chelsea staged a remarkable comeback to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat to Napoli in the last 16, and now must be considered as challengers. Roberto Di Matteo has sparked a bit of life in his seasoned squad, and if the English side can deal with a hostile reception in the first leg, will be confident of progression.

Marseille vs. Bayern Munich

Both Marseille and Bayern Munich have been inconsistent this term, with lacklustre domestic campaigns being redeemed by the progress on the continent. Didier Deschamps’ men played well to eliminate Inter in the last round, but have lost seven out of their last eight games in a terrible run of form; to stand a chance in this tie they must recapture some form and resolve.

Bayern started out of the blocks at a lightning pace this term and dominated the ‘group of death’, knocking out Manchester City in the process, but have stalled in 2012. With Dortmund looking odds-on to retain their Bundesliga crown, the Bavarians are desperate for glory in Europe. Much is expected of Jupp Heynckes men this term, especially given that the final is at the Allianz Arena.

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

Arguably the tie of the round, Italy and Spain’s champions go head-to-head. These teams met in the group stages, with a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou leading to a 3-2 Catalan victory at the San Siro. Milan are one of only a few sides that may be able to stop Pep Guardiola’s men from winning this year’s trophy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in form and will be motivated to beat his former employers, but Massimiliano Allegri’s side will need to win the first leg at home to give themselves a fighting chance.

Barcelona are lagging behind El Clasico rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, but the Blaugrana have kicked into form recently, and have won their last nine games in a row in all competitions. Ballon d’Or holder Lionel Messi is in ominous form, becoming the club’s top all-time goalscorer in past weeks; the Argentine seems to deliver in all the biggest games, and no team has managed to figure out a way of nullifying him as yet.

 Published – Champions League Talk

Milan and Genoa – the unofficial feeder club agreement

Milan and Genoa have unofficially struck up an increasingly amicable business agreement that has seen a number of players move between the sides in recent times. Club supremos Adriano Galliani and Enrico Preziosi appear to meet on a regular basis, with the Scudetto holders seemingly, albeit not officially, having first refusal on players from the Stadio Luigi Ferraris who may have the potential to move to the next level. Similarly, players on the outskirts of the Giuseppe Meazza first-team are being farmed out to the less prestigious of the two sides to gain match experience.

The issue of joint ownership is one that has emerged, as in many of the deals agreed by the clubs, both parties share player rights. This seems to be a measure used by Milan to allow them to easily bring a player back to the San Siro if he excels, and for Genoa to participate in transfer deals without having to splurge their transfer budget.

Genoa to Milan

Kevin-Prince Boateng was snapped up by Genoa after an impressive World Cup showing, and in an odd move, loaned to Milan. The move was initially on a temporary basis, but the German born midfielder made 34 appearances for Massimiliano Allegri’s side in 2010/11, and a full transfer to the champions was agreed in May. Marco Amelia signed for Milan on loan from the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in June 2010 following 30 appearances for the Rossoblu, and the deal was made permanent last month. The 29-year-old is now a back up for first choice Christian Abbiati, and the ex-Roma stopper’s stock went up by gaining first-team experience in Liguria.

Stephan El Shaarawy may be a name unfamiliar to fans with only a passing interest in Italian football, but the Rossoneri have earlier this month finalised a co-ownership deal to purchase 50% of the player’s rights for €10m. The 18-year-old attacking midfielder of Italian-Egyptian descent has only made three top flight appearances, but impressed in a loan spell with Serie B side Padova last season and will look to further his footballing education with the Scudetto holders after progressing through the Genoa youth system.

Milan to Genoa

Kakha Kaladze moved from Milan to Genoa in August 2010 for an undisclosed fee, as the 33-year-old found opportunities with the Milanese club waning after nine seasons of service. Sokratis Papastathopoulos has bounced between the two sides, and signed for Milan after 51 appearances for Genoa between 2008 and 2010 for a fee believed to be around €14m. However, only a percentage of the transfer fee was paid in cash – the remainder was recuperated by Preziosi by securing half of the player rights for Milan’s Rodney Strasser, Gianmarco Zigoni and Nnamdi Oduamadi. The Greece international found first-team football opportunities a rarity in 2010/11, and is now back at Genoa.

Alexander Merkel is a German youth player with plenty of promise, who Milan snatched from the youth system of Stuttgart back in 2009. The now 19-year-old midfielder, despite promising much, could not oust the older heads in Allegri’s starting XI, and this month Genoa have bought half his rights and will have him at their disposal for next season.

It should also be noted that besides the fringe players cited in the Papastathopoulos transfer, Giacomo Beretta, Andrea Ganz and Alberto Paloschi also have shared ownership between the two clubs.

The future

Both sides are clearly prospering from the current arrangement, with Milan having the chance to snap up any players that outgrow the Genoa pool, and the smaller club’s Serie A status being protected by talent heading in their direction from the Giuseppe Meazza. However, the deals seem to generally favour the bigger club, as they will beat their rivals to the signing of any players that are ready for the step up, whilst at the same time improving their own fringe players by giving them first-team football. Any deal with part-ownership looks to benefit Milan, as if a player such as Alexander Merkel does well at Genoa and improves adequately, he can bought back at a lesser fee than if a full transfer has been previously arranged.

The future promises to see a continuation of the unofficial ‘feeder club’ agreement, with rumours linking Genoa’s Juraj Kucka with an upgrade after he picked up a man of the match award against Milan in February, and due to the size of the Serie A champions’ squad do not be surprised to see a plethora of non-first teamers making their way south in search of minutes in the future.

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