The Champions League Round of 16 games were completed in entertaining fashion today, with two games yielding ten goals among each other. A rusty FC Barcelona shook off Gennaro Gattuso’s gritty Napoli side in an eventful game while Bayern demonstrated perfectly why the reinforcements being brought at Chelsea by Frank Lampard for next season are warranted, inflicting an embarassing 7-1 aggregate defeat on the London outfit.
This sets up a Barcelona-Bayern tie for the quarter finals, meaning that the only two teams who have won it before (and were strong favorites at the beginning of the season) are paired together, opening up the way for three potential first time winners to reach the semifinals.
Yesterday, Manchester City deservedly set aside Zidane’s Real Madrid, thereby eliminating the most titled club in the history of the tournament. This was the Frenchman’s first defeat in a Champions League knockout game as a coach. In the second game of the day, Olympique Lyonnais eliminated favorites Juventus on away goals, ending coach Maurizio Sarri’s short tenure with the club. Instead of Ronaldo being reunited with Real Madrid in the quarter finals, we now have Manchester City versus Olympique Lyonnais, both vying for a first UCL crown, in what will be an unbalanced duel between big Middle-East money and a modest, proud, self-sufficient club.
In the other two quarter finals, Atalanta face PSG and Athletico Madrid take on RB Leipzig. The German and Italian clubs are the surprises of the tournament. They are “novices” in terms of experience in the UCL and have lower budgets than some of the clubs who remain in the running but have impressed with their style of play.
In contrast, PSG have been emptying their petrol-money coffers on top players for the last few years to win the Champions League and it’s the first time since Laurent Blanc left the club in 2016 that they have gone past the Round of 16. Athletico have lost two Champions League finals in the past six years and are the club with the most experience in the competition after Barcelona and Bayern.
The two juggernauts will fancy their chances of bringing one more European trophy home after looking at the bracket. You could argue that the game between them is the actual final. However, we should not discount the other six contenders. The Champions League could use a new winner, which would show football clubs without the same history as the competition’s mainstays can also win the trophy. The last team to have achieved this was Chelsea back in 2011 and you have to go back much further in the past to find a similar scenario.
Spurs came close last year. Pochettino miraculously took his team all the way to the final only to be undone by Champions League stalwarts Liverpool FC. The London team was the only club, along with Manchester City, in the quarter finals never to have won the trophy before. Unfortunately, they faced each other.
This year, we have the complete opposite happening.
The two strong favorites and past winners will play each other while the other six, with zero UCL triumphs to their name collectively, will ensure the semi finals have three outsiders, giving us a 75% chance of having a new winner.