After a five-month break, but what feels like eternity for players and fans alike, the Champions League returns this week. The Round of 16 will be wrapped up by the end of the weekend, while the four quarter-final matches commence the following week, taking place over four consecutive days. Ahead of the resumption of Europe’s elite club competition, we look at the major hot topics.
Will City’s redemption prove a lucky omen?
The news that Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were successful in appealing against their two-year ban from European football could prove to a pivotal moment in their current campaign. The Citizens are the joint-favourites with Bayern Munich to lift the trophy, in the odds on the 2020 UEFA Champions League winner – and they currently hold a slender advantage over Real Madrid going in to the second leg of their Round of 16 tie. But City will have to play that match at the Etihad without Sergio Agüero, who suffered a knee injury in June. The last two seasons, they’ve fallen at the quarter-final hurdle, both times to English opposition – but interestingly, in 2015-16, they made the semis, losing to Los Blancos.
Will an underdog prevail?
In recent years, the Champions League has really surprised – we had the dogged determination of Ajax and all-English final last campaign. This season, we have the likes of RB Leipzig and Atalanta already booking their places in the quarter-finals. The German side had a solid season, finishing third in the Bundesliga and previously beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 on aggregate to secure their place in the next round – and face Atlético Madrid. While Atalanta finished third in Serie A for the second year running and after thrashing Valencia in the Round of 16 (8-4 on aggregate), have a tough tie against Paris Saint-Germain. Will either side make it through to the semi-finals?
Can Chelsea do a Liverpool?
Last season, we saw Jürgen Klopp’s side overcome a three-goal deficit against Barcelona to secure their place in the final, winning 4-3 over two legs. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea have it all to do if they wish to progress in the competition. Their Round of 16 first leg finished 3-0 to Bayern Munich, and the Blues have a mountain to climb in Munich. Chelsea’s injury list is continuing to mount up, and they’ll have to quickly forget about the disappointment of defeat in the FA Cup Final if they stand any chance of overthrowing a strong and attacking Bayern.
Will Ronaldo step up when required?
Domestically, Juventus have been unstoppable – they recently secured their ninth successive league title. But in Europe, it’s a different story. They last won the Champions League in 1996 and have since been runners up on four occasions. The last two campaigns have resulted in disappointing exits at the quarter-final stage – but they’ll need to turnaround a 1-0 defeat against Lyon, if they stand any chance of making it that far this time. Cristiano Ronaldo may be the Champions League’s top goalscorer of all time, but he’s scored just twice in seven appearances this season. His league form suggests he’s still got it – but now is the time for him to stand up and help Juve progress to the tournament’s latter stages.