While English football continues with some collective navel-gazing and asks itself why, for the second time in three years, there are no teams from “the world’s greatest football league” in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, Italy is hoping that its clubs are making the first tentative steps towards regaining some credibility on the international stage.
Last season, there was only one Italian club across the last eights of both the Champions League and Europa League. This year there are three, and while in 2013-14 Juventus were in the Europa, they are now in the premier competition. That says more about the resurgent status of Juve than it does about Italy, but Fiorentina and Napoli are still in the Europa and will face Dynamo Kiev and Wolfsburg respectively. A year ago, Italian football was drowned out by the sound of alarm bells, this year, it is England’s turn.
The Champions League quarter-finals are all mouth watering ties, but in Turin, they will be thinking they landed the best possible draw in Monaco. Rather like Arsenal did in the round of 16. This time, though, Juventus may be right. They are walking away with Serie A now and it may be that the current Juve team may start to get lured away in the summer – certainly, football’s monied classes are already roaming the capital of the alps to look at Paul Pogba.
There’s a good reason why success for Juventus would be welcomed. It’s 30 years since Heysel, a tragedy that’s often overlooked by people in the UK. For Juve, it’s as important as Hillsborough is for Liverpool. May 29, 1985 was the day, overshadowing Juventus’ first European Cup triumph. Juventus fans made up most of the 39 people that died that evening.
But it’s good to see La Vecchia Signora rubbing shoulders with Europe’s best once more, although if they reach the semi-final, they would be tested by a Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
Holders Real Madrid and their city neighbours Atletico will meet again in a replay of the 2014 final. Diego Simeone’s side will not regain the La Liga title they won so impressively last year, but they will be fired-up to gain some revenge on Real for that stunning defeat in the final. This season, Atletico have shown they are no longer overawed by the Galacticos of the Bernabeu, beating them twice in the La Liga (2-1 away and 4-0 at home) and also knocking them out of the Copa del Rey. It should be a monumental tie.
Bayern Munich and Porto is another rematch of a past final. It was in Vienna’s Prater (now Ernst Happel) Stadium that Bayern were surprisingly beaten 2-1 by the Portuguese side. They’ve met a couple of times since, and Bayern have always had the upper hand and you have to fancy that will be the case again.
Paris St.German against Barcelona will be another excellent contest, but they know each other well as they were in the same group. PSG won 3-2 in Paris but lost 3-1 in the Nou Camp. If anyone believes that PSG are ready to move amongst the most privileged of European clubs, then this game will be the benchmark. PSG deservedly beat Chelsea and you could argue they are now already among the “bulge bracket”, but they haven’t quite arrived. Unlike Barcelona, of course, who have come into form at the right time. Like Juventus, they are not “likely winners” of the Champions League, but if they can dispose of Barca, it is not inconceivable that they can go all the way. They will be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the first leg, as they were for much of the second game with Chelsea.
Game of the People predicts:
Juventus to be too strong for Monaco; Bayern to win comfortably against Porto; Atletico to beat Real Madrid; and PSG to pull off a shock against Barcelona. A last four of: Juventus, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Paris St. Germain!