Pitchside

Europe awaits draw for best-ever Champions League quarter-final

Pitchside

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Friday’s draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League is remarkable for several reasons.

For one, it is the first time that an out-of-sorts Manchester United are rated as the least likely side to progress from this stage, with bookmakers offering both them and Borussia Dortmund as joint odds-on favourites to go out at the next stage.

[UNITED ODDS-ON TO GO OUT]

[FOLLOW THE DRAW LIVE ON EUROSPORT FROM 11:00 GMT ON FRIDAY]

That makes sense as, in addition to being far from convincing over two legs, they are the only two teams not still challenging for their domestic league title – even though Dortmund are second in the Bundesliga, they are so far behind Bayern Munich that, well, there’s almost no point.

Technically, however, United are the second-worst team left in the draw, despite being well short of the Premier League top four. The Euro Club Index – which uses complex mathematical formulae to factor in recent history, strength of opposition in domestic matches and European form to even out blips in results – shows that Dortmund are actually the lowest-ranked side remaining.

An interesting fact from our friends at Opta highlights why, even when they are poor, you just can't write off United:

But even then, this piece of data is quite unusual in that Dortmund are ranked 11th, meaning that these quarter-finals are pretty much the cream of the crop –Manchester City, Arsenal and Juventus are the only top-10 sides missing from the draw.

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How one views Manchester United with respect to Dortmund – whether based on algorithms or opinion – is irrelevant though, there are several undeniable facts that make this draw the best-ever in the Champions League:

1. This is the first time in the Champions League’s current format that all eight group winners have reached the last eight

Bayern, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United all won groups of varying difficulty.

The given order is no accident – that is the ranking bookmaker William Hill has for the likelihood of outright victory.

Personally, I would promote Real Madrid and Chelsea by one place, but that would be splitting hairs. The best teams in the competition – regardless of domestic form – are here when it counts.

How about that for an example of the cream rising to the top?

2. Six of the eight are former or reigning European champions

Bayern won last year’s Champions League, Chelsea the year before, Barca the year before that. United last won it in 2008, Real in 2002 and Dortmund in 1997.

PSG and Atletico are yet to be champions of Europe, but the French side won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996, while Atleti have won two Europa Leagues, a Cup Winners’ Cup, a Super Cup and were runners-up in the old European Cup in 1974.

That is what you would call exalted company. And, if recent progress is anything to go by, don't bet against PSG and Atletico joining them in the near future.

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3. Six of Europe’s richest seven are present

This is not necessarily a good thing for the game on a wider level, but Manchester City are the only absentee from the top seven clubs by revenue.

As you can see from the image below, Deloitte’s estimations on football’s riches are based on last season’s data. With the extra TV and sponsorship money made available to Premier League sides – and PSG’s boost in income from reaching the latter stages of this tournament – expect those figures to be significantly higher next time out.

Massive props go to Atletico though, a mostly selling club whose presence in the top 20 is arguably only due to the revenue they gather from flogging the likes of Radamel Falcao and, this summer, probably Diego Costa.

Although if they go on to win the thing, that could suddenly change.

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Data from Deloitte

4. The top nine players in world football will, in theory, feature

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Cristiano Ronaldo (Real), Lionel Messi (Barca), Franck Ribery (Bayern), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG), Neymar (Barca), Andres Iniesta (Barca), Robin van Persie (United), Arjen Robben (Bayern) and Gareth Bale (Real) are all, injury permitting, set to start the first legs.

That is the FIFA Ballon d’Or top nine, in order. Juve’s failure to escape the group stage means Andrea Pirlo is the only top-10 player missing from the quarters.

Of the top 20, Robert Lewandowski (Dortmund), Xavi (Barca), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Mueller (all Bayern), and Edinson Cavani (PSG) will also be there, with only Pirlo, Falcao, Yaya Toure, Mesut Ozil and Luis Suarez absent.

So that means 15 of the world’s top 20 players are all going to be mixing it in the last eight.

5. It’s not just we fans and pundits who are excited

Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos, who has of course been linked with a move to fellow quarter-finalists Manchester United – cannot wait. And neither can we.

Reda Maher (@Reda_Eurosport) and Martin Mosnier (@MM_eurosportfr)

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