Then there was eight. The Champions League quarter-finals will consist of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco and Leicester City.
The group stages of Europe’s premier club competition generally tend to be predictable with a lot of one sided games as the cannon fodder is annually exposed of. This season has been no different but the first knockout round has made it worthwhile as we were treated to some pulsating drama and reminded again why football is the world’s most popular sport.
Barca’s epic comeback against PSG stands out along with that sensational Monaco vs Manchester City tie which featured the resurgent Falcao’s exquisite chip in the first leg. Arsenal went into meltdown as they got crushed 10-2 on aggregate by a brilliant Bayern Munich side. Sergio Ramos continues to be a revelation for the holders in scoring big goals when they need it most while the Leicester City fairytale has extended to Europe as they blew a fancied Sevilla side away in a historic night at the King Power Stadium.
The quarter-finals should throw up more great footballing moment. The usual tournament favourites are there along with two exciting young attacking teams in Borussia Dortmund and Monaco. Shakespeare’s foxes will look to write another memorable chapter against one of Europe’s big guns.
However, there is one big name that has gone under the radar and that is Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus. The Old Lady have gone about their business quietly comfortably disposing of Porto 3-0 on aggregate.
Allegri is closing in on guiding Juve to an incredible sixth consecutive Serie A title but the prize they will want above all other is that elusive European Cup.
The Italian giants have just two European Cups to their name despite domestically being Italy’s most successful team. This pales in comparison to rival AC Milan’s seven European Cups.
They have been knocking on the door a number of times including defeats in the 2003 and 2015 finals to Milan and Barcelona respectively. Last season they let a two-goal lead slip running out of steam against Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
It is clear that every team left in the competition deserves to be there but also have their weaknesses included Barca, Real and Bayern – the three clubs ahead of Juventus in the betting odds. Most notably, those weaknesses lie in defence.
That, in turn, is Juventus’ strength and thus it is harder to pick out an obvious weakness in Allegri’s team. Gianluigi Buffon is still one of the best around while the Italian trio of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli are masters at the art of defending.
Juventus have been accused of not having the attacking prowess in the past to win the Champions League. This season, they boast significant firepower in strikers Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain.
23-year-old Argentine striker Dybala has all the potential to be a world superstar. The versatile forward has a number of strings to his bow including adapting the role of playmaker as well as scoring goals.
It is his compatriot and record signing Higuain who is the chief goalscorer with 19 Serie A goals so far and counting. Eyebrows were raised when Juve splashed 90 million Euro – virtually all the Pogba cash on Higuain from Napoli.
However, the forward has proven he is one of the most lethal predators in the box in world football.
In other areas, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro offer another attacking dimension down the flanks while the central trio of Claudio Marchisio, Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic form a strong midfield.
The likes of Mehdi Benatia, Hernanes, Juan Cuadrado, Marko Pjaca and Mario Mandzukic offer much-needed strength and depth.
They have the solid defence and attacking firepower and perhaps most crucially in Allegri, one of the world’s best tacticians who is even rated higher than Antonio Conte in Italy.
Juventus are a team to fear as they go in search of a third European Cup.