Atletico, Monaco, Bayern Munich, Juventus expected to advance in UCL
With the draw for the Champions League quarterfinals made, here's a look at how the matches could go. Apologies, Leicester fans, but the dream may end here.
Atletico Madrid vs. Leicester City
Of all the clubs Leicester could have met in the quarterfinals, they were drawn against the only one they had faced before. Admittedly, much has changed since Martin O'Neill's Foxes lost 4-1 on aggregate to Atletico in a UEFA Cup first-round tie in 1997, with Ian Marshall earning a place in the history books by scoring at Vicente Calderon. Atletico also beat Leicester 3-1 over two legs in the 1961-62 Cup Winners' Cup and, up until this season, had been their opponents in half of the European fixtures they had ever played.
In the here and now, Leicester can have mixed feelings about this draw -- that is, if they were minded to feel at all choosy. On the one hand, Atletico do not quite have the individual stardust many of the other contenders possess, and they have not been consistently at their uncompromising best this season. On the other, Diego Simeone's team know better than anybody how to win a game at this level through sheer guts and, like Leicester, are happy to cede possession in order to do so.
It may be that Craig Shakespeare's side have met their match -- an opponent that can do the dirty, unfussy work that brought them success against Sevilla but have that extra bit of quality where it matters. Atletico have done this all before; they can win a tie in many different ways and Leicester will have their work cut out. Only a fool would rule the Foxes out now, though.
Prediction: Atletico will go toe-to-toe with Leicester in the physical battle and have too much in the opposition box. Simeone's side reach the semis.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Monaco
In some ways, this clash of the great entertainers looks like the tie of the round. Both of them swashbuckled their way into the last eight, and there is little chance of their letting up now. Dortmund's style is a little sleeker than Monaco's high-octane, lightning-fast approach, but the emphasis on attack is similar; neither Thomas Tuchel nor Leonardo Jardim will be naïve enough to neglect their defences with so much at stake, but this should still be a shoot-out between Europe's two brightest young teams.
You would certainly pay to watch a race between Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe, both of whom have been elevated to "potential matchwinner" status on a higher level than they might have expected at this stage of their careers. Monaco will be hit by the absence of suspended midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko -- who scored the winner against Manchester City shortly after picking up the booking that ruled him out -- for the first leg, but their biggest threat comes down the flanks. And if attacking full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy are given space in the first leg, they may score a healthy number of away goals.
Dortmund will need to force them back and hope that Marco Reus, due back in early April after a hamstring injury, is fit to return by then. If not, there is always the thrilling promise of U.S. starlet Christian Pulisic, who deputised for him in the round-of-16 second leg against Benfica and duly scored. In a tie set up for the next generation to make their marks on the present, you wouldn't bet against him repeating the feat.
Prediction: Monaco are on a roll and will sneak a predictably see-sawing battle.
Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
It was a tie that seemed written in the stars. Three years ago, with a realistic chance of reaching the final after losing 1-0 at the Bernabeu in their semifinal first leg, Bayern Munich were destroyed 4-0 on their home turf by a Carlo Ancelotti-managed Real in a one-sided encounter that few saw coming. Ancelotti went on to lead his team to La Decima; now he finds himself on the other side, and the 23rd and 24th meetings between these teams will surely be closer. Confidence will certainly not be lacking after they scored 16 goals between them in the round of 16.
Both teams lead their domestic leagues, Bayern by a familiar-looking 10-point margin after RB Leipzig's early challenge faded. They have won 16 of their last 18 games in all competitions, drawing the other two, and have regained some of the fluency that was lacking in the early stages of Ancelotti's time in Bavaria.
Real's form has not been much worse, and perhaps this tie will be decided by clever management of resources. Both teams will enter the first leg on the back of big domestic games against Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid, respectively. Whoever is fresher at the Allianz Arena a few days later may be able to wrest an advantage that they don't give up.
Prediction: Ancelotti's knowledge of the Real squad to give him the edge; Bayern win.
Juventus vs. Barcelona
Juventus came through the round of 16 virtually unnoticed, profiting from early Porto red cards in both legs to progress with a minimum of drama. For Barcelona, it was the opposite and, in this rerun of the 2015 final, the first leg, in Turin, will be instructive in discovering just how much they have learned from the tie against Paris Saint-Germain.
In Paris, and to a lesser extent in the group stage defeat at Manchester City, they were blown away and looked every inch a team in terminal decline. The comeback three weeks later was all the more shocking for that but, remarkable though it was, owed more to a concentrated burst of unusual events than sustained excellence from Luis Enrique's side. Massimiliano Allegri will have taken note, and if they can produce a high-octane performance at Juventus Stadium, the Serie A leaders may fancy their chances.
The flip side is that Juve are yet to face a top-quality test in Europe this season. Lyon, Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla and Porto have not been the most inspiring opposition, while Manchester City and PSG have been genuine tests for Barcelona that have threatened to throw them off course. If Neymar, Lionel Messi and company felt that, after all that, nothing could stop them, then it would be difficult to argue.
Prediction: Unlike PSG, Juventus have the experience and backbone to expose Barcelona's frailties definitively. The Italians to go through.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.