ON PAPER, the final four of the UEFA Champions League will be: PSG, Barca, Bayern and Real. But will it? There’s a good chance it will be a predictable semi-final line-up, given recent UCL history, but don’t you just want to see a surprise result or two?
For the good of the game and for the credibility of the Champions League, we should hope for something a bit different. This has been the season of the underdog in England. Leicester City are poised to be the most unlikely of modern-day league champions and Tottenham and West Ham have helped make the Premier the most interesting ever. In the FA Cup, we have a last four that you would not have predicted: Watford, Crystal Palace, Everton and West Ham or Manchester United. After years of business as usual, we have something to talk about in English football other than Mourinho, Wenger and Ferguson (and his replacements).
We need something similar to happen in European football’s premier club competition.
Current league performance (as at March 20, most recent game in bold)
|P||W||D||L||F||A||Pts||Posn||Last 6 results|
|Bayern Munich||27||22||3||2||65||13||69||1st||W, W, L, D,W,W|
|Manchester City||30||15||6||9||52||32||51||4th||L, L, L, W, D, L|
|Paris St Germain||31||24||5||2||77||17||77||1st||D, W, L, D, W, L|
|Real Madrid||30||20||6||4||87||28||66||3rd||D, L, W,W,W,W|
|Wolfsburg||27||10||8||9||39||34||38||8th||D, L, W, W, L, D|
The current last eight in the previous five years
Paris St Germain v Manchester City
PSG could be on the brink of a history-making season – Ligue 1 champions already and semi-finalists in the Coupe de France (April 19 v Lorient) and finalist in the Couple de la Ligue (April 23 v Lille). And then there’s this tasty morsal of a tie with Manchester City. PSG showed in the last round against Chelsea that they have moved into the genuine contender category, but City have never been so far in the Champions League. Their league form has been dreadful of late, with four defeats in the last six, absolutely wrecking any chance of the Premier title. City’s dip in form coincided with the announcement of the departure of Manuel Pellegrini. They’re making it easy for Pep Guardiola to come in and look like the great transformer. They are unlikely to get past PSG, who could yet become the first French club to win the competition.
GOTP prediction: PSG and Zlatan to go through. Shock? City could overcome their bad patch – they have the players.
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
This all-Spanish affair could be very interesting. Atletico’s strong defence against the all-star attack of Barca. Atletico were the last side to knock Barca out of the competition, in 2013-14. The two sides met in January and despite Koke giving Diego Simeone’s side an early lead, Barca came back to win 2-1 in the Nou Camp. That was the second time Barca had beaten Atletico 2-1 in La Liga this season. The margin has been narrow, and Atletico have hung onto Barca’s tails when many have written them off. If there’s going to be a shock in the last eight, it could come in this pairing. But Atletico will have to be at their very best.
GOTP prediction: Barca to edge it. Shock? Nobody knows Barca better than Simeone.
Bayern Munich v Benfica
It’s good to see Benfica back in the latter stages of the competition, but difficult to see them overcome Bayern. Benfica had an indifferent start to 2015-16 but they have lost just once in 19 league games. They beat Zenit twice in the last 16 tie after coming second to Atletico Madrid in the group stage. Bayern, however, are in rampant form once more. Comfortable group winners, they overcome last season’s finalists Juventus in the previous round. They are in the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal (Werder Bremen April 19) and the Bundesliga is only a matter of weeks away from being confirmed for the fourth consecutive season. Furthermore, this season is going to be Pep Guardiola’s last chance of winning the competition with Bayern – what better motivation?
GOTP prediction: In the absence of a Eusebio in a Benfica shirt, Bayern. Shock? Unlikely
Wolfsburg v Real Madrid
This should be Real with some to spare, as Wolfsburg are not the team they were. You could argue that neither are Real, but they do have Ronaldo and Co., so you cannot really see any other result than a win for Zizou’s men. Wolfsburg did come through a tricky group with PSV, CSKA and Man.United, so they have credibility. Real are as goal hungry as ever – Ronaldo has 41 to his name – and let’s not forget they had PSG in their group and won four of six points, so there’s enough in this team to go all the way.
GOTP prediction: Real, comfortably. Shock? Not much chance.