Game to watch – Barcelona v Bayern Munich
SPOILER ALERT: Not very much about 2020 has been normal. Even without everything else that has gone on the Champions League quarter-finals are also not normal. Getting shunted into August and cut down to one leg is one thing; a last eight that features only two former winners is quite another. And football being football, those two giants have been paired together in the last eight.
In the first two quarter-finals, Atalanta came agonisingly close to stunning PSG, while RB Leipzig continued their energy-drink-fuelled adventures by knocking out perennial Champions League nearly men Atletico Madrid. And in the bizarroworld we find ourselves in, it’s Barcelona looking to take heart from the exploits of the underdogs. Because they may have the best player in the world, but they don’t have a team to match Bayern’s right now. Barcelona’s La Liga title defence was already on its arse before lockdown came along, while Bayern have concluded their traditional domestic league success while cutting a brutal swathe through the Champions League.
Their own ridiculous form and the one-leg format leaves them pursuing a frankly ludicrous achievement: a flawless Champions League season. They’ve won eight out of eight in the tournament to date, by a combined margin of 31-6. They’ve scored 12 goals in Munich and 10 in London. They will quite rightly be pretty confident of adding plenty more in Lisbon over the coming week.
Team to watch – Manchester City
As the 2018/19 season played out, there was a suggestion that Liverpool and Manchester City would have been quite happy to trade trophies. A 19th league title/first Premier League crown was Liverpool’s burning desire, while conquering Europe was City’s Everest.
Lord knows that 2020 has delivered on little else, but it might do the business here. Liverpool’s title was pretty much in the bag before 2020 even rolled around, and the stars are aligning for City on the European front. Everyone left in the Champions League will inevitably be seeing this as a great opportunity: No Liverpool, no Real Madrid, no Tottenham. The Champions League heavyweights have fallen by the wayside. By the time City take on Lyon, either Barcelona or Bayern Munich will also be safely out of the picture.
This is not in any way City’s only or last chance at taking home the big cup. But it is without doubt their best. There is an awful lot riding on this Lyon game.
Player to watch – Anthony Martial
It all seems to have fallen in to place for Martial recently. The talent has always been there, but much of his Manchester United career has been frustratingly unfulfilled. It’s not all been his fault by any means – he’s not the first nor the last to find himself in Jose Mourinho’s cross-hairs when a scapegoat is required – but it’s all in the past now. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has rebuilt Martial in his own image. “We know he can do worldies but I like him scoring the simple goals, when he is in between the posts. He’s done that a few times,” said Solskjaer, who had challenged Martial in pre-season to prove himself worthy of the No. 9 shirt he had reclaimed as a result of Romelu Lukaku’s departure.
Twenty-three goals later, Martial has proved himself definitively worthy. He was the difference-maker on a difficult night against Copenhagen in the last eight; now he will again be the focus as United look to take care of Europa League specialists Sevilla in the last four.
Manager to watch – Julen Lopetegui
Sevilla have won five UEFA Cup/Europa League titles, two under Juande Ramos and three under Unai Emery. If Lopetegui can follow victory over Wolves with another against Manchester United, then we’ll be just one game away from idly wondering in which half of north London he’s inevitably going to spend a deeply unsatisfactory 12-month managerial tenure.
Scottish game to watch – Livingston v Rangers
The new Scottish season is just about clinging on, and a combination of their own form and Celtic’s enforced hiatus means Rangers can go eight points clear of their old rivals this weekend. Early days and covid caveats abound, but it would still be an eye-catching start to the season. A proper title fight in Scotland would be a tremendous thing.