Who will win this season’s UEFA Champions League?
All we know for sure so far is that Real Madrid will not make it four in a row.
Los Blancos’ submission before an ebullient Ajax was a death long foretold, with the exits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane in the close season and the cack-handed hiring and firing of Julen Lopetegui sure signs of a listing ship about to keel over.
Four teams have already made it to the quarter-finals but none were among the pre-season favourites: Ajax, Manchester United, Porto and Tottenham Hotspur.
This week we will know the other eight, with bigger Domino99 cannons being rolled out on deck. If the second legs throw up no shocks then Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City will be in the hat as well.
Atleti have the incentive of the final this year being played at their new home ground, the Wanda Metropolitano, and looked imperious in the first leg, winning 2-0. However, it is too early to write off the runaway Serie A leaders, Ronaldo and the cauldron of the Juventus stadium hauling back two goals. Los Colchoneros are favourites but this tie is far from over.
The same night, Tuesday, Manchester City host Schalke 3-2 up from the first leg. It is hard to see Pep Guardiola’s team squandering three away goals but the fact Schalke breached their defence twice in Gelsenkirchen will keep them on their toes. A strange rumour surfaced last week that the Catalan will swap the Etihad for Juve next season. But if he captures an unprecedented four cups in a season..?
Barcelona and Bayern both drew their away legs 0-0, the lack of away goals rendering their goalless draws less an advantage than they might appear. While the Camp Nou should prove too much for Lyon, the Bayern v Liverpool clash on Wednesday should be a real cracker.
Jurgen Klopp has plenty of history with the Bavarians, not least the 2013 final with Borussia Dortmund. His rejuvenated Liverpool were beaten finalists too last season and are hungry for success this season domestically as well as in Europe. Bayern however are seemingly perennial inhabitants of the last four of the Champions League and at home must start as favourites.
While Real failed to match their five straight European Cups from the 1950s, Spanish league teams have won the last five Champions Leagues. A win in 2019 for Atletico Madrid or Barcelona would equal England’s six in a row streak between 1977 and 1982.
After Spurs and Man Utd’s unlikely advances last week, the possibility remains of half the last eight coming from one country.
Now Real’s latest golden age is over, if Atleti or Barca are not to keep La Liga’s flag flying at the summit of Europe, then it could be the start of another English reign.