The road to Lisbon has been well and truly mapped out! Will we see a first time winner of the trophy?
The semi final draw has ensured that one of the finalists is guaranteed to be a team that has never lifted the trophy previously. RB Leipzig, Atletico Madrid, Atalanta and PSG are all drawn in one side of the draw, guaranteeing that one of these teams will get the chance to win the Champions League for the very first time.
Of those four, only Atletico have even tasted a Champions League Final! The first one they contested, in 1974, went to a replay, eventually losing 4-0 to Bayern Munich, two days after a 1-1 draw (aet) in the initial game! A replay was never used to decide a final again. There was a 10 year wait for the next time the final to end in a draw, with Liverpool prevailing 4-2 on penalties against Roma, in Rome.
Atletico have though reached two of the last six Champions League Finals, losing 4-1 in a Madrid derby Final in 2014, before losing out to the same opponent on penaltieRs (5-3) just two years later! In the last six years, only Real Madrid have appeared in the final more, with four appearances, whilst both Juventus and Liverpool can equal Atletico's two!
PSG, Leipzig and Atalanta have never reached the final previously, although PSG have won European Honours (Cup Winners Cup & Intertoto Cup).
Given the pedigree and recent history of both teams, both PSG and Atletico must fancy themselves to reach the Semi Final and none of their potential Final opponents will be too comfortable facing either side in the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica, Lisbon, on 23rd August!
In the other side of the draw, there lies in wait 8 winners from the last 9 seasons, with Real Madrid (4), Barcelona (2), Chelsea (1) and Bayern (1).
The draw throws up some other noteworthy ties, with Leipzig and Atletico set to face each other for the very first time! Atletico's record against German opposition looks daunting for Leipzig, as they have won their last eight knockout ties against a team from the Bundesliga, dating back to 1980. Leipzig have a test that even Bayern Munich have failed in recent times!
Another first time match up sees Atalanta and PSG face each other, but this time it's the underdogs who may look to the history books for inspiration! PSG haven't beaten a team from Serie A in the last eight attempts, since a 3-1 victory against Parma in March 1996!
More ominously, the last three times Bayern Munich and Barcelona have met in the Champions League, the winner has gone on to lift the trophy! (Barcelona in 2009 and 2015, Bayern on 2013). The rest of the draw best hope that, either Napoli can cause a big upset in the Nou Camp, or, Chelsea can somehow turn around a 3 goal deficit in Munich to avoid a Bayern v Barcelona quarter final.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid could meet Juventus for a staggering 22nd time in UEFA competitions if Real can over come a 2-1 1st leg defeat at the Etihad and Juventus can come back from a 1-0 1st leg defeat when they face Lyon in their last 16 tie! Should Lyon and Man City hold on to their slender advantages, they will face off in a repeat of last seasons group stages, where Lyon took 4 points from a possible 6, including a shock 2-1 win at the Etihad.
Whatever happens, the 16 day feast of Champions League action starting with the completion of the last 16 ties on the 7th and 8th August, culminating in a Final in Lisbon on 23rd August, is sure to offer plenty of excitement across the continent!
Who do you think will win the Champions League? Comment below!