- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Six past winners, three domestic league leaders and most of the world’s best players take their places this week in one of the strongest quarterfinal lineups in the 22-year history of the Champions League.

There appears to be no weak link in the last eight, with Manchester United unlikely to be written off by quarterfinal opponent and reigning champion Bayern Munich despite a disappointing Premier League season in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid meet in a matchup between Spain’s current top two team, nine-time European champion Real Madrid looks to avenge last season’s semifinal defeat to Borussia Dortmund while Paris Saint-Germain takes on Chelsea in a battle of Europe’s nouveaux riches.

Here is a lookahead to this week’s first legs in the Champions League quarterfinals:



United comes into Tuesday’s match on the back of a big win in the Premier League. Bayern heads to Old Trafford off a disappointing draw in the Bundesliga.

Don’t be fooled, though - that’s hardly a representation of their respective seasons.

While Bayern has breezed to the German championship with two months to spare, United has endured a woeful season under David Moyes in the defense of its English title and is languishing in seventh place in the standings.

United, which needs to win the Champions League to secure a return to the competition next season, has saved some of its best performances for Europe but will rarely have been a bigger underdog going into a two-legged matchup.

Bayern has already handsomely beaten Manchester City and Arsenal on trips to England this season and its attacking power should be too much for United’s flaky defense.



Despite their contrasting styles, it’s tough to have a more evenly matched pairing than Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

The two sides have already met three times this season and neither has been able to emerge victorious. They drew twice in the season-opening Spanish Super Cup (1-1 at the Vicente Calderon, 0-0 at Camp Nou), with Barcelona claiming the title on away goals, and then again (0-0 at Atletico) in the league.

Tuesday’s first leg at Camp Nou will pit the Spanish league leader in Atletico with its nearest chaser as Barcelona trails by one point with seven rounds to go. The two will meet a sixth time this season in the final round of La Liga, which - if neither drop points until then - would decide the title.

Both teams enter on winning streaks and with red-hot strikers - Lionel Messi has scored 36 goals in all competitions for Barca this season and Diego Costa has netted 33 times for Atletico.

The key to the match will likely be whether Diego Simeone’s team can again hold Messi and Barcelona’s passing attack in check as they so far have this campaign.

“Barcelona, for its history, is perhaps a slight favorite,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said, “but if we look at how both teams are playing now, we are on the same level.”



This may not be the same Dortmund side that ousted Madrid from the semifinals last season, but after appearing invulnerable during a 31-game unbeaten streak, Real Madrid has proven to be more than beatable.

Over the past week, Real slumped to its first back-to-back losses in the Spanish league since 2009, with defeats to Barcelona and Sevilla.

Madrid did manage to bounce back with a 5-0 rout of minnow Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, but even that lopsided victory was tarnished by bad vibrations both on the pitch and in the Santiago Bernabeu stands.

With the win clinched, Madrid stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale seemed reluctant to pass the ball, and some fans dared to jeer Ronaldo when he didn’t seek open teammates.

Ancelotti expected the mood to be different for injury-hit Dortmund, which has endured a frustrating season - particularly when measured against the previous three campaigns - and is 23 points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga.

Robert Lewandowski, who scored four goals against Madrid when the sides met in the semifinals last year, is suspended for Wednesday’s game, and Sven Bender, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Ilkay Gundogan, Marcel Schmelzer, and Neven Subotic have injuries.



PSG has muscled into Europe’s elite thanks to a huge injection of cash from its new Qatari owners, and the French league leaders are likely to be using Chelsea as an example as they seek to win the Champions League for the first time.

Bankrolled by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich since 2004, Chelsea has emerged over the past decade as one of the continent’s leading powers and is looking to qualify for a seventh semifinal in 11 Champions League campaigns.

PSG is in the quarterfinals for the second straight year but hasn’t reached the semis since 1995.

The French team has won its last nine matches in all competitions and is closing in on the domestic title but Chelsea, which relinquished top spot in the Premier League at the weekend by losing 1-0 at Crystal Palace, has the tactical edge under wily coach Jose Mourinho as well as more experience in these big games.


Associated Press writers Joseph Wilson and Trung Latieule contributed to this story.

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