The draw for the quarter finals and semi-finals leaves the way open for a Barcelona v Real Madrid final for this year’s Champions League. A fair bit to go before that outcome becomes reality. Though Real clearly have an easier route to the final than their rivals. Barring a miracle of extra-territorial proportions, they should get past APOEL from Cyprus with relative ease. In the semi-final they are likely to meet Bayern München, who should beat Benfica in their quarter final match. A Real Madrid v Bayern München semi-final has a nice ring to it and as the final itself is to be in Münich, in Bayern’s home stadium, they will be super motivated to win through to this particular final. They are also a good and physically powerful team who will not be afraid of Real’s physical side. However, I expect that Real will have too much of a goal scoring threat for Bayern to win the tie.
On the other hand Barcelona have a much harder task, beginning with their quarter final match against AC Milan. Another appetizing prospect and a repeat of their encounters in the group stages. Barcelona won that match, drawing at home and winning in Milan. So Barcelona will start as favourites, but Milan are on a bit of a roll, and will be all out for revenge for that group stage defeat. As will Ibrahimovíc, who will be extra motivated to prove all those doubters at the Camp Nou wrong. Recent history is also against Barcelona. Two years ago they faced the other Milan team, Inter, in the semi-final after defeating them in the group stages. On that occasion it was José Mourinho’s Inter who somewhat controversially won the tie and of course went on to beat Bayern München in the final. On balance though, Barcelona should get through, though it will be very tough.
If they do succeed in getting past Milan, Chelsea will probably await them in the semi-final, as I am pretty sure they will get past Benfica in their quarter final tie. A Barcelona v Chelsea semi-final would be yet another appetizing match and a repeat of the semi-final from 2009, a tie that Barcelona were a little lucky to win. An injury time goal by Iniesta getting them through on the away goal rule. This time around Chelsea will be looking for revenge and the chance of another tilt at the title. Though Chelsea are a bit of an ageing team, they do seem to have found a new wind under temporary coach, Di Matteo. This will be a very hard and uncompromising tie. A Chelsea v Milan tie would be just as hard and uncompromising. Again, Barcelona are likely to start as favourites. With so many wonderfully gifted players in their team, not to mention a certain Lionel Messi, it is hardly surprising. So the most likely outcome is a Barcelona v Real Madrid final, but there will be very little in it and the other likely outcomes, including a Bayern München v Milan or Chelsea final are only slightly less likely. Some good and enthralling ties ahead.
As regards the overall picture, there is little difference this year from previous years. The Big Five countries in UEFA – Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France – continue to dominate at this stage of the competition. This year six of the eight teams come from the Big Five. This is very slightly down on the previous four years, when seven of the quarter finalists came from the Big Five. In part this was due to an unusual draw in the previous round, where Arsenal were drawn against AC Milan. The biggest surprise this year is the decline in English representation. Chelsea are the only English club to make it through this year. Not long ago all four English clubs reached this stage. Will this prove to be the beginning of the end of English numerical dominance of the latter stages of the Champions League? Probably yes in the sense that it is unlikely that all four English clubs will regularly reach the quarter finals, but no in that I expect some English clubs to always reach this stage and often beyond. Just not all four. The other point to note is the confirmation that Real Madrid has re-established its status as one of the continent’s top clubs. With the resources at their disposal they are likely to remain there. This means that along with Barcelona, there is likely to be at least two Spanish teams in the quarter finals for many years to come. As for the rest, too early to tell whether Italian club football has really recovered or whether Bayern München can overcome the likes of Real Madrid on a regular basis.