With the dreaded International breaking ensuing, football fans are desperate for some action and their wait is made all the more unbearable with the fact that some tantalising matchups lie in wait on the other side.
In under a fortnight, the world’s biggest sides will go toe-to-toe for a place in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League and the buzz is slowly, but surely building into a crescendo.
There were some noteworthy results in the last-16, not least Real Madrid’s dismantling of Paris Saint-Germain or Sevilla’s upset of Manchester United, and you can bet that as the stakes get higher, there’ll be plenty of drama on and off the pitch as well.
While The Statesman doesn’t possess a fast-forward button to skip through the next two weeks, we can do the next best thing by looking into our crystal ball and divining the winners of each quarter-final.
So without further ado, our predictions are:
QF 1: Barcelona vs Roma (April 3 and April 10)
Somewhat surprisingly, Barcelona have dominated all and sundry this season.
After the humiliating manner of their loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in August, La Blaugrana had been written off but credit to Ernesto Valverde for sticking to his guns and as we near April, the Catalans are once again favourites to be crowned champions of Europe.
With a treble in sight (they lead the La Liga by eight points and are in the Spanish Cup/Copa Del Rey finals), can the unheralded Giallorossi stun the five-time champions?
With Turkish sensation Cengiz Under, Bosnian hitman Edin Dzeko, Belgian dynamo Rajda Nainggolan and Brazilian custodian Alisson, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side have a decidedly cosmopolitan look to them but there are notable weaknesses.
Winger Stephan El Shaarawy is too inconsistent and hardman Daniele De Rossi is definitely on his last legs at 34. Their backline has been exposed on a number of occasions and that doesn’t bode well for ahead of their clash with the prolific Catalans.
Lionel Messi is, well, Messi. Luis Suarez’s goal drought in Europe is alarming but the Uruguayan continues to work tirelessly for the team and manages to rack up assists despite not scoring and club-record signing Ousmane Dembele has started to find his feet at the right time.
Due to their vaunted forwards, Barcelona’s defence doesn’t quite get their due. They have conceded just 13 goals in the La Liga and two in the UEFA Champions League. Paraphrasing a certain Scot, those are the kind of stats that win you titles.
Sergio Busquet’s injury is one that could disrupt their rhythm, but Valverde’s men have more than enough quality in all areas of the pitch to see off the Serie A side.
Prediction: Roma to start brightly, but Barcelona to cruise into semis.
QF 2: Sevilla vs Bayern Munich
Sevilla’s reward for sparking mass panic for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United after dumping them out of Europe was a last-eight date with five-time champions Bayern Munich.
Die Bayern have successfully overcome an early-season crisis that brought about Carlo Ancelotti’s dismissal and once again, under ‘Godfather’ Jupp Heyneckes, look like the continental powerhouses they are.
While this is not meant to take away from Sevilla’s momentous defeat of the Red Devils, by which they scripted history, but they beat a sub-par and severely under-confident United side.
And Bayern are anything but.
They lead the Bundesliga by an gargantuan 17 points (champions elect at this late stage) and are in the finals of the DFB Pokal as well.
Fans of Barcelona and Real Madrid may scoff at Heyneckes repeating a 2013 treble, but be assured that the Bavarians, on current form, are the best bet to lift this year’s continental competition.
Polish forward Robert Lewandowski’s in lethal nick and is supported by a rejuvenated James Rodrigues while their midfield consisting of Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara and Arturo Vidal remains second to none.
Young winger Kingsey Coman is coming onto his own while Thomas Mueller continues to plug away. Veteran wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben remain ready to be called upon and they do boast of several top-class talents like Mats Hummers and David Alaba at the back.
If that wasn’t enough, then custodian Manuel Neuer is on the mend!
In stark contrast, Sevilla have been indifferent in the La Liga and it seems they have met their match. Wissam Ben Yedder’s goalscoring heroics were enough against the Red Devils but this Bayern side is a different beast and to bring it down, you’ll need a stellar team effort for 180 minutes (or more!)
Prediction: Bayern Munich to crush Sevilla’s fairytale run in typically ruthless fashion.
QF 3: Juventus vs Real Madrid
Revenge will undoubtedly be on the Bianconeri’s mind when they face 12-time winners Real Madrid in the quarters, but Zinedine Zidane’s men seem to reserve a special gear for a competition they have won two times on the trot.
Los Blancos crushed Massimiliano Allegri’s men 4-1 in the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final the last time the sides met and that painful loss in Cardiff will still be etched in the minds of Juve’s old guard like Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.
Paulo Dybala has rediscovered his top form to become a one-man wrecking team not unlike his famous compatriot and the oft-criticised Gonzalo Higuain remains on course to to score over 30 goals this season.
Things are looking good for the Bianconeri up top and while their midfield of Blaise Matuidi, Mirajlem Pjanic looks good, it seems Los Blancos have always have something in reserve.
The wildcard for the Italians is Douglas Costa, for the Brazilian’s bursts of pace can stretch a suspect Real defence.
Things at the back, however, haven’t been the same since Leonardo Bonucci departed for AC Milan at the end of last season and you can bet that Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. will look to exploit any weakness they spot.
Zinedine Zidane’s unit have struggled this season, most notably in the La Liga, but powered by Ronaldo’s goals they have been once again emerged as the team to beat.
Chiellini, in his post-match interview after knocking out fancied Tottenham Hotspur in the last round, spoke of Juve’s superiority in terms of their experience over the Premier League side as the main reason why they progressed, but the Italian’s words could come to haunt him.
For Real have an unmatched pedigree in the UEFA Champions League and the vast majority of this squad has won three titles in the past four years.
With Marco Asensio once again coming up with clutch performances, Real have been papering over the cracks like the underperforming duo of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
So it may not be pretty, but expect Real to continue their dominance over the Bianconeri to book their last-four berth.
Prediction: Real Madrid to just about edge past Juventus and keep hopes of a three-peat alive.
QF 4: Liverpool vs Manchester City
Is this a blockbuster quarter-final or what?
The Premier League’s most entertaining sides by a country mile, Liverpool and Manchester City, are set to renew a rivalry that delights neutrals to no end.
For past clashes between the Reds and the Sky Blues have almost always been goal gluts and this double-legged tie promises a plethora netbusters of the highest quality.
City, effectively Premier League champions and Carabao Cup winners, are seeking a treble while Liverpool are desperate to avoid ending their season empty-handed.
Jurgen Klopp has invested heavily in the transfer market, perhaps not as heavily as Pep Guardiola, but enough for fans to demand silverware and the pressure will be on the German to prove that his side can do more than just play ‘rock-and-roll’ football.
Mohamed Salah’s been the signing of the season and the Liverpool winger, alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, will be leading the line for the Merseysiders.
Guardiola’s great rival Jose Mourinho successfully managed to shut down the prolific Egyptian not once but twice and while the Catalan’s approach differs vastly from the Portuguese’s, he would do well to take a leaf out his book.
City’s defence, despite the fact that they remain on course for a treble, remains suspect and the Reds will draw inspiration from their earlier win at Anfield to back themselves against the Sky Blues.
However, while Salah is the rage on social media these days, it would be dangerously arrogant to overlook the fact that City’s young wingers, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, are the midst of an incredible season themselves.
Kevin De Bruyne’s pulling the strings in midfield, while Bernardo Silva and David Silva are working their magic in the final third and between the three of them, they have enough more than enough to outwit the best.
And of course, in Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, City possess one of the best attacking duos in the world, even if they are unlikely to play together.
Another South American, Ederson, has been making waves with his displays between the sticks and the young shot-stopper is a major reason why the Sky Blues have shipped the least amount of goals in the Premier League.
Liverpool’s defence, calamitous in the early stages of the season, has improved remarkably since Virgil Van Dijk’s arrival in January and it must be said, goalkeeper Loris Karius has improved in leaps in bounds.
However, City’s midfield, marshalled by the wily Fernandinho, holds the edge over the likes of Emre Can (an injury doubt) and Jordan Henderson.
While the margins will be ever so fine, expect the Sky Blues to win this entertaining clash of the Premier League giants.