The Champions League quarter-final ties are drawn and we now we also know the pathways to the final.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has faced Ajax five times in the Champions League, winning all five games, scoring seven goals. Indeed, aside from Juventus themselves and Bayern Munich, the five-time winner has had more success against Ajax in front of goal than any other team in this competition.
And, after orchestrating a blitz in the last round which accounted for Atletico Madrid, Ronaldo is hitting form at the right time in this competition.
Ajax were classy in their second leg against Real Madrid but that victory owed as much to the listlessness and disorganisation in the opposition ranks as it did to the confidence with which this fearless young Ajax side were playing.
Reaching this stage of the competition means Ajax have already surpassed their expectations for the season and Juve – with all their canniness, quality and experience – will provide a wholly different challenge to the one the Dutch faced in the last 16.
And Ronaldo will be expecting to gorge himself on goals yet again.
Losers: Manchester United
Had Presnel Kimpembe’s intervention not been given as a handball after consultation with VAR in the last round, then there is a good chance we’d be talking about Neymar’s return to Barcelona with PSG rather than Manchester United lining up opposite Lionel Messi and Co. in the quarter-finals.
It’s been played as some kind of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer masterclass but the truth of the last 16 contest is that United were lucky. Clinical, yes, but lucky.
How they would have fared had Neymar and Edinson Cavani – and more – been fit for PSG can only be speculated about. But the fact of the matter is the true level of United’s performance was more in evidence in the first leg when PSG beat them at Old Trafford convincingly.
Relying on your goalkeeper is not exactly the prime strategy to select when Messi and Luis Suarez are in town. Messi is ominously in form and passing up chances at this stage of the Champions League is not on his agenda.
Barca will dominate across both legs. There will be no happy homecoming for Solskjaer to Camp Nou, where he decided the 1999 final.
Winner: Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola has enjoyed a run of three straight victories against Tottenham Hotspur – including a comprehensive defeat of Mauricio Pochettino’s charges at Wembley back in October in the Premier League.
After initially struggling for results against Spurs – losing and drawing against them in his opening season – he has now got the measure of them, like he has for most opposition teams he faces these days.
We are now set for a triple showdown between City and Spurs, with the teams facing off three times in a matter of 10 days in the Champions League and the Premier League. City are due to host the Londoners in the lunchtime kickoff on April 20, by which time the semi-final place which is up for grabs in the Champions League will be sorted.
Depending on how well Spurs get to grips with City in those European games, then the league contest could have a big bearing on the title race too. If Spurs can take something from City in the Premier League – and with City then facing the Manchester derby straight after – it may well play into the hands of Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
Losers: Ajax and Frenkie de Jong
Secretly, some people will have been wishing for Ajax to draw Porto, in order to give them the best possible chance of reaching the semis. It hasn’t worked out like that so if they are going to do it, they are going to have to do it the hard way; Real Madrid in the last round, Ronaldo and Juventus in this one.
This is a really good Ajax team and in it are some outstanding talents. Dusan Tadic lit up the last 16 while the emerging expertise in Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs De Ligt are well known. This is a side which deserves the big stage and the big games.
They will be considered second best to Juve and are far too inexperienced in games like this to trouble a side like Juve at this level.
However, where that lack of experience exists, there is also fearlessness. There were no nerves in Santiago Bernabeu because Ajax had nothing to lose. They were already one-down and played freely, grabbing all the momentum.
If they can keep their nerve and play football like we know they can they Ajax have every chance of giving a good account of themselves.
If Jurgen Klopp – or indeed any of the coaches left in the competition – could handpick a quarter-final tie then it would have been against Porto.
That is not to downplay the achievements of the Portuguese champions in reaching the last eight but it is very obvious that they are the weakest of all sides left in the competition. They accounted for Roma in the last round – another team who are no great shakes – and will travel to Anfield more in hope than expectation.
Liverpool dismantled Porto last season in the second round before going on to beat Manchester City in the quarter-finals. And key players such as Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk are currently playing so well that they can be regarded as the best in their positions in all of European football.
Liverpool certainly landed on their feet – especially after negotiating a potentially tricky tie against Bayern Munich with relative ease – and are a safe bet for the semi-finals where they could play Manchester United or Barcelona.