Things always look greater with nostalgia. The Champions League is no exception.
I am sure we can all remember the days when Clive Tyldsley’s unmistakable voice was booming throughout your living room on a Champions League night. I certainly can. And to me, ever since we have been deprived of free to view Champions League nights it hasn’t quite been the same.
This season feels different. This season it feels more exciting – and yet Real Madrid could be on their way to a third successive trophy – something that has never been done before them. And in an era where we hadn’t seen a repeated champion for over a decade, this hardly points us in the direction of a more exciting campaign.
It is also worth considering that I am a passionate Liverpool supporter so my vision may be slightly blurred here. Of course I am going to say this season is special. It is. But, ask most neutrals and they will tell you it’s great to see Liverpool back amongst the big boys of Europe. European nights at Anfield are special occasions, unless you are a Manchester City fan. Sorry lads.
Getting back to the original point, why am I saying this season’s Champions League has been better than any in recent memory? It’s simple. Unpredictablility.
Arguably the greatest shock in recent memory is Leicester City making the quarter finals last season. We have all heard the Leicester City story countless times before and will never forget it. For them to reach a Champions League quarter final was incredible considering their history and resources available to them. However, in the greater context they were the Champions of England. That is by far the greater achievement and should theoretically translate to them doing reasonably well in the Champions League, taking away slightly from their European feat.
I would also like to stress I am not discrediting the amazing things we have seen in the Champions League recently, Barcelona’s Hollywood comeback against Paris Saint Germain last year was something to behold, and Mario Mandzuckic’s spectacular goal in the final for Juventus was simply outstanding. But looking at the competition overall, this year’s kicks last year’s into touch.
We have a final four of Liverpool, Roma, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. All four sides are from different countries – the strongest four leagues in Europe. The last time this happened was 1981, so it is a first for the modern era. Whilst Real Madrid are the favourites to retain their crown and we could see another Spanish victory, the competition has been utterly dominated by Spanish sides so it is refreshing to see a change this year.
Who would have expected Liverpool – who are the only unbeaten team left in the competition – and Roma to still be here at this stage of the competition? Especially Roma. If the pair get drawn together (this piece is being written the day before the draw) at least one of them could be in the final. Who knows what could happen then? Although Roma fans you will be without your best friend the away goal should you contest the final in Kyiv. Their comeback against the at-the-time unbeaten Barcelona was simply incredible. Everyone had written them off with them needing to beat the Catalan giants 3-0 in Rome, after losing 4-1 on the Spanish coast. Rome was not built in a day but Barcelona was destroyed in ninety minutes, with Roma doing the unthinkable and winning the match 3-0, progressing via the away goal rule for the second round in succession. The scenes afterwards are some of the greatest I have ever seen in football. Look it up. Don’t concede against Roma at home.
Sticking with the unpredictability theme, early tournament favourites Paris Saint Germain crashed out in the round of 16. It was at the hands of the Spanish giants Real and their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, but PSG were setting records in the group stage. People were touting PSG to sweep aside Madrid.
And what a campaign Ronaldo is having. Love him or hate him – I’m sure a lot of you fit into both categories – he has been on a different level. He has scored in every single game he has played – that’s ten so far – and scored fifteen goals. This is a new Champions League record for the competition’s most lethal striker. And of course, that goal , a scrumptious bicycle kick that received a standing ovation from the Juventus supporters. Real endured an incredible scare as Juventus made history themselves over turning a three goal defecit away from home in the second leg of their match up, only to concede a penalty that has divided opinion, which saw club and national legend Gigi Buffon sent off in his final European game. For me, it was a penalty. And Ronaldo scored with absolutely no fear. Whether he and Madrid can ride to overall victory, only time will tell.
Bayern Munich have been going about their business quietly. They were my prediction to win the tournament after the group stage purely because of Jupp Heynckes. He’s already wrapped up the Bundesliga so all attention will be on the Champions League.
The Champions League is always exciting for football fans the world over. But this year, I feel it is that bit more intriguing as it does not appear a foregone conclusion. This year has proved that simply anything can happen.
Who will win it? It does depend on the draw. My initial ten pound bet on Bayern Munich at the start of the knockout stage looks good just now but I don’t think it will come in. Roma would be the incredible story should they succeed but I think this is one step too far for the Giallorosso. If Liverpool were to win I would not be responsible for my actions, but I can’t see any one getting past the package of Ronaldo and Real. They are certainly beatable over two legs, but if they reach the final I would bet my house on them winning.
Either way, let’s hope the final rounds have been just as good as the rest of the competition. If so, we are in for an absolute treat.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Or alternatively send us a tweet @AllOutFootball_ or @haydenbarry1997.