The last-16 and then the quarter-final line-up of this year’s Champions League has been said, by many pundits, to be arguably the competition’s weakest in many seasons.
The lack of Premier League clubs, particularly multiple finalists Manchester United, plus the unfamiliarity of some of the names left
including Cypriot’s Apoel Nicosia and Swiss champions FC Basel, had led to suggestions of a poorer standard in Europe’s leading club competition.
However, going into the second legs of the last-eight matches, the potential semi-finals already have the makings of absolute classics.
You would expect Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Barcelona to all reach the last-four given the results in last week’s first
Madrid and Munich, certainly, are all but there already. Jose Mourinho’s La Liga leaders hold a three-goal advantage ahead of their home tie with minnows Nicosia, while the German outfit scored two away goals to lead Marseille 2-0.
Chelsea will be confident having brought Benfica back to Stamford Bridge with a 1-0 lead, although the Portuguese side will still feel they
have a chance.
Barcelona should be capable of dismissing AC Milan at fortress Camp Nou following the entertaining 0-0 draw at the San Siro. Milan’s recent away record, despite a 2-2 draw at Barcelona in the group stages back in September, isn’t something for Lionel Messi and co to fear. They need only look at how the Rossoneri almost threw away a 4-0 first-leg lead over Arsenal at the Emirates in the last-16. And in Serie A on Saturday, the Italian champions were held to a 1-1 draw at Catania.
So it looks very likely that Madrid will face Munich and Chelsea will renew old acquaintances with current Champions League holders
Barcelona in two gripping semi-finals.
It could be argued that three of the top four teams in Europe will have therefore reached the last four. Perhaps if Chelsea were
swapped for Premier League leaders Manchester United, that would be the desired line-up of all neutral football fans. The big four of European football.
Chelsea, providing they see off Benfica at Stamford Bridge, will of course have earned their place in the last-four. As will
Marseille and Milan if they pull off the unexpected and surpass their hosts this week. As for Nicosia, it will take the greatest ever performance in the history of the Champions League to upset Ronaldo and his Madrid team-mates to deserve their place.
Assuming the quarter finals pan out as predicted the semi finals will pit Madrid v Munich and Chelsea v Barcelona. In Madrid you have the most successful side in the history of Europe’s premier club competition. In Barcelona you have the holders, victorious in three of the last six finals. With Munich you have the side whose stadium will host the final. A side at the top of their game with the likes of Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez in blistering form for the four-time winners. And even Chelsea. Yet to win the competition, but finalists in 2008 and twice more semi-finalists.
It is going to be fascinating.
Tags: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Champion's League, Chelsea, Real Madrid