With all the brouhaha surrounding the creation of a special league to replace the UEFA Champions League perhaps there is no greater moment to put the argument to rest than now. The Quarter-Finals are upon us and the luck of the draws have been kind enough to throw up some very interesting ties.
The argument of the like of Florentino Perez in backing the creation of a new league to replace the current Champions League format is that fans want to see more exciting ties between the biggest names in the business and of course sponsors want to see more returns on their investment. However, only the fans should be able to speak for themselves and not some corporate executive whose love for the game is often tied to money.
For the teams and players, they can do us a world of good by putting on entertaining and spectacular football over the next couple of weeks to remind these executives that the Champions League as it is makes for not just profitable reading but for an exciting one as well.
Now to the fixtures themselves.
BARCELONA v ATLETICO MADRID.
When the draw was made it would have been interesting to see who the happier of the two sides would have been. Two years ago Atletico Madrid knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League en-route to a Final appearance were they lost to eventual winners Real Madrid. For Barcelona, this season has been nothing but spectacular. Off the back of their treble winning heroics of last season, they have gone one better. They have broken the longest streak for an undefeated team in La Liga as well as establishing the MSN – Messi, Suarez and Neymar as the best attacking trio in the world. In the build up to the El Classico last weekend, Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t even make it into a team comprising players from both sides.
So who does this tie favour exactly? I would say none. Diego Simeone has built a reputation in world football as a manager who can get the best out of his players and should they click on any given day it might be difficult to stop them. Nothing entertaining, but brilliantly efficient. As for Barcelona, well Barcelona is Barcelona. Defending Champions and the best team in Spain where the same Atletico reside.
What role would Barcelona’s defeat to Real Madrid in El Classico have on the tie? Does the fact that Atletico were recently beaten by Barca in La Liga play any role? MSN had previously gone 17 games with at least a goal from one of them but they drew a blank on Saturday, does that mess with their minds? These are some of the questions that would need answers tonight and I am sure we would get them.
No doubt tactics would be the defining factor in this match. Do Atletico press Barcelona like Real Madrid did? Or do they invite the pressure like they have always done and catch them on the break? The first idea has not been practiced by a Diego Simeone side so it might be new but the second has worked previously and they might look to employ it again. Whichever one happens, the game we hope is a reminder of why the UEFA Champions league should remain as it is.
PARIS ST GERMAIN v MAN CITY
For years City were weak or so we wrote, they lacked the intelligence to succeed in the Champions League, they were naive, they hadn’t spent their money wisely. For City they argued the luck of the draws had not favoured them, they had been unlucky with playing Barcelona twice. Now they play their equals PSG. Both teams crave the Champions League and have spent heavily to achieve that. However there is only room for one in the Semi-final and all the glamour that follows.
PSG have already wrapped up the Ligue 1 title in the most dominant fashion ever while Man City are all but out of the title race in England. At the start of the season it was supposed to be the other way around, City to win the Premiership and struggle in the Champions League. If City are able to make it to the Semi-Finals I am pretty sure they would not mind. With Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi out injured the task is even harder.
PSG on their end can boast of an in form Zlatan. However in the last round against Chelsea one can argue that he struggled in moments against an out of sorts Chelsea side.
The game is up for grabs for either of the two. Performances on the dat would be the defining factor due to the unpredictability of both teams.
BAYERN MUNCHEN v BENFICA
Pep Guardiola would leave Bayern Munchen at the end of the season and all the talk has been about his legacy. Can we truly say he has been a success in Germany without winning the Champions League. Yes he has won the league in dominant fashion, yes he has won the German Cup but so have other managers before him. The Champion League has always distinguished them. It the reason Ottmar Hitzfeld is still remembered and Jurgen Klinsman isn’t. So the mission for Pep is simple, win the Champions League. Last season they got destroyed by Barcelona in the Semi-final but things might have changed a little since then.
Benfica are no pushovers in anyway, getting to the Quarter-finals of the Champions League is feat in itself.
REAL MADRID v WOLFSBURG
When Zinedine Zidane took over from Rafa Benitez as Manager the question immediately asked if he could win the Champions League. Compared to the La Liga, the Champions League trophy was just seven games away and because it was not week in week out like the La Liga it was actually possible to pull off. Roberto Di Matteo was able to succeed in the Champions League while he struggled in the League.
Now with their win over Barcelona at the weekend, the morale must be high and confidence in full flow. Luckily this tie is an easy one at least on paper and Wolfsburg should not pose such a big threat. If the BBC are on their A-game like they were at the weekend, over two legs they should be able to get the job done.
We hope by the end of the Quarter-Finals we are reminded not to tamper with a system that is already working but that job is over to the players and their respective coaches.