Porto have the toughest battle on paper, and now face one of the favourites in the competition after scraping past Roma on the right side of controversy. Their quarter-final opponents, Liverpool, absolutely blitzed them at the same stage last season: 5-0 on aggregate, with all the goals coming in a cakewalk first leg.
That match was a counter-pressing masterclass from Jurgen Klopp’s men, and Porto simply couldn’t cope with their lack of space and Liverpool’s width. The Primeira Liga title-chasers are solid defensively this year, though, and head coach Sergio Conceicao may opt to shift his Real Madrid-bound centre-back Eder Militao to right-back, in order to deal with overloads.
That would allow him to keep his experienced pair of Pepe and Felipe in the middle – although they do catch a break not having to play against the suspended Andrew Robertson in the first leg. The odds are stacked against them, regardless of the tactical changes.
Tottenham are not the seventh-best team left – they’re above that. But their upcoming hurdle against Manchester City is among the toughest to leap.
What they have going for them now, however, is a relatively healthy squad. After beating Borussia Dortmund convincingly without key players in both legs, Spurs now have everyone available apart from Eric Dier, who is still recovering from a muscular injury.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men play Manchester City thrice in the span of 11 days: twice in the Champions League, and once in the league. Both teams are in the thick of each competition, and will have the challenges of rotation, tactical tinkering and keeping their best players fresh for a season-defining stretch. City have more depth to deal with it.
Since a mini-slump earlier this season, which had most pundits seeing Ajax as huge underdogs against (even this version of) Real Madrid, Erik ten Hag’s men have turned a corner. They dominated Madrid over two legs, flattering them with a 6-2 aggregate scoreline. They’ve won all their games since then bar one uncharacteristic loss to AZ Alkmaar, keeping the pressure on Feyenoord in the Eredivisie title race.
Ajax won’t let Juventus breathe as much as Atletico Madrid did in the second leg of their disastrous last-16 tie. But while Massimiliano Allegri’s men won’t have as much comfort building from the back – the Dutch side are good at providing coverage on the flanks to prevent crosses – Matthijs de Ligt and Daley Blind face one of the most unenviable tasks in European football by having to deal with Mario Mandzukic and Cristiano Ronaldo in the box.
5. Manchester United
This is perhaps generous. United barely pulled through against PSG, and now have a gigantic task against Barcelona. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men haven’t played well of late, and are going against a team that seemingly can’t lose – one with the unstoppable Lionel Messi and in-form Luis Suarez.
Fred will get annihilated if Solskjaer plays him as the team’s anchor, given how poorly he usually does when pressed deep. United will have counter-attacking opportunities, but must take the few chances they get.
Barcelona are good defensively in transition, and the margin of error against them is virtually zero. But United proved in Paris that they can be clinical from limited opportunities, and with their backs against the wall. It’s a glimmer of hope.