Daniel Horner | Content Writer
European football’s biggest club competition returns this Friday, albeit with a different format. Usually at this time of the year we would be watching the qualifying rounds, yet the 2019/20 edition will be concluded in Lisbon, all within the space of three weeks. It seems like an eternity has passed since Atletico Madrid dramatically knocked out holders Liverpool 4-2 on aggregate in the Round of 16 on March 11th.
So, what has changed now the Champions League has finally returned? Well, the four remaining Round of 16 second leg ties will be completed at the venues of the home teams. For Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich this is a welcome relief, as they can retain some sort of ‘homefield advantage’ behind closed doors. The remaining quarter-finals, semi-finals and final itself will all be single-leg knockout games at neutral venues. The ties in Lisbon will be split between Benfica’s Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica and Sporting CP’s Estádio José Alvalade, with the former hosting the final, just as it did back in 2014. Finally, as we have seen across domestic competitions, five substitutions will be permitted per game.
It all kicks off again on Friday night, with Manchester City hosting Real Madrid (Agg 2-1) and Juventus welcoming Lyon (Agg 0-1). Pep Guardiola’s side will hope to redeem themselves after their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal and secure a second trophy of a long season. Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid have been in excellent form however, overtaking Barcelona to secure the La Liga title and winning ten successive games in the process, only drawing once in their final league fixture after the title was secured.
Despite their inconsistent form, Serie A winners Juventus managed to win their ninth successive league title. Lyon hold a slender advantage, but team weariness could be a factor in a possible loss for the French side. Ligue 1 ended earlier than Italy’s Serie A, so the only competitive fixture for Les Gones was the Coupe de la Ligue final defeat to Paris Saint-Germain on penalties on July 31st.
On Saturday, La Liga runners-up Barcelona welcome Coppa Italia winners Napoli to Camp Nou, finely balanced at 1-1. Barcelona’s poor form since football returned cost them in their pursuit of the La Liga title: another year of failure in the Champions League would result in a season without silverware of any kind; a disastrous prospect for the club. Napoli will certainly fancy themselves as outsiders with little pressure on them, so an upset could be on the cards.
Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich already have one foot in the quarter-finals. Visitors Chelsea will have to overcome a 3-0 home leg deficit, depleted with injuries to key players and only a week since their FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal. Champions League top scorer Robert Lewandowksi will fancy adding to his tally of eleven goals this season, while winger Serge Gnabry will also be looking to continue his run of scoring against London clubs in Europe, after bagging two in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and four away to Tottenham Hotspur in October
The two confirmed quarter finals are this year’s surprise package Atalanta against treble winners PSG as well as the Bundesliga’s RB Leipzig versus Atletico Madrid. Free-scoring Atalanta face a PSG side without Kylian Mbappé who is out with an ankle injury. Leipzig will also have one notable face missing, as pacy hitman Timo Werner joined Chelsea in a £48 million transfer deal prior to their game against Atletico, meaning he is unavailable for selection. The winners of these fixtures will meet in the semi-finals.