The much-awaited UEFA Champions League will kick off today after the competition was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic five months ago.
The last time a ball was kicked in the Uefa Champions League was when Atletico Madrid knocked defending champions Liverpool out of the competition in the round of 16 back in March.
The format of the final stages of the competition has been amended with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final all set to be a winner-takes-all situation, as opposed to the traditional two-legged, home and away fixtures. Sunday 23 August has been penciled in as the date for the final.
All fixtures from the quarter-finals onwards will be played in Lisbon, Portugal. They will be spread between two venues in the Portuguese capital – Benfica’s Estadio da Luz and Sporting Lisbon’s Estádio José Alvalade.
Unplayed round of 16 second-leg fixtures will be held at the clubs’ home ground: Juventus vs Lyon, and Manchester City vs Real Madrid on 7 August (today); Barcelona vs Napoli, and Bayern Munich vs Chelsea on Saturday 8 August.
Undoubtedly, the marquee fixture from those remaining in the round of 16 is the clash between City and Real. On paper, the two sides appear to be evenly matched and both possess firepower that should result in a humdinger of a game.
The aggregate score is 2-1 in favour of Pep Guardiola’s men. On the other hand, Real finished the domestic season in splendid form as they won La Liga. They posted 10 consecutive wins as they raced to the title ahead of Barcelona. Zinedine Zidane’s team will be hoping to carry that momentum into the clash at the Etihad.
Real’s arch-nemesis on the domestic scene, Barcelona, will tackle Napoli at Nou Camp. And considering the indifferent form that the Catalans have displayed since the official restart of football in Europe, the Italian side might fancy their chances with scores currently level at 1-1.
One of Barca’s biggest critics this season has been their captain, Lionel Messi. Speaking after a shock loss to Osasuna in La Liga, the Argentine lashed out at how below-par the team has been this season, by their standards at least.
Another team that has had a topsy-turvy season is Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. Their chances of adding a second Champions League trophy are all but dead in the water as they face a 3-0 deficit after defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the first leg at Stamford Bridge back in February.
To add to that, the Bavarians are riding a massive wave after securing their eighth Bundesliga title on the trot, while the Blues were recently beaten 2-1 by London rivals Arsenal in the FA Cup final to deny Lampard his first piece of silverware since taking over as manager.
Whoever progresses from the tie between Chelsea and Bayern will take on either Napoli or Barcelona in the quarter-finals. Confirmed fixtures for the quarters include RB Leipzig vs Atletico, as well as Atalanta vs Paris Saint-Germain.
The Cristiano Ronaldo-led Juventus will be looking to overturn a 1-0 aggregate score over French side Lyon. Victory for either of the pair will book them a date with City or Real in the last eight.