Three wins in eight days and Manchester City are the champions of Europe. This is their chance to stick the ultimate two fingers up to UEFA — the organisation that tried and failed to kick them out of this competition’s future campaigns.
If City supporters were able to attend games, we know what they’d be singing. That ‘f*** UEFA’ chant would be ringing in our ears. They’d particularly enjoy clinching the Champions League because of their history with European football’s governing body.
Pep Guardiola would, too. He maintained all along that their ban would be overturned, and we all know this is the competition he was brought to City to win. Guardiola has been iconic in the Premier League and plenty will argue he lifted the English game up a level.
But this is the trophy he and the executives who hired him in 2016 want the most. The last time Guardiola won the Champions League was with a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona side in 2011.
If he is to do that again, he first needs to navigate a way beyond a Lyon side who are looking to throw a spanner in the works.
City fans will have been Googling the Ligue 1 table and seen how Lyon finished seventh.
This should be easy, right? Not exactly. That doesn’t tell the entire story of this team. Maxence Caqueret is 20 years old and one of their own. He impressed me in their midfield against Juventus on Friday night.
Memphis Depay had a stinker at Manchester United, where he was deemed too big for his boots and didn’t back it up on the pitch.
But he’s taken on responsibility at Lyon and shown great leadership qualities. Juventus, despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s two goals, couldn’t get the better of Lyon and this won’t be a stroll for City, either.
In the last couple of seasons, they have exited at the quarter-final stage to teams we didn’t expect them to lose against — Liverpool in 2017-18, then Tottenham in 2018-19. Lyon represent another banana skin for Guardiola.
City seem to think UEFA treated them differently to other clubs because of the way they’ve tried to disrupt Europe’s elite order.
‘This seems to be less about justice and more about politics,’ said Ferran Soriano, City’s chief executive. Well, they’ve just knocked out the 13-time winners Real Madrid in some style. But the way to rub their victory at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in UEFA’s face would be to win the entire competition.
Atletico have always progressed against German opposition in the Champions League knockout stage — twice against Bayer Leverkusen and once against Bayern Munich. That’s never a bad record to have. But Diego Simeone’s side do not appear to be as strong as in previous seasons.
I’m backing Leipzig to win, even if they are without Chelsea-bound Timo Werner. They dismantled Tottenham in the round of 16 and have one of the game’s great young managers in Julian Nagelsmann.
Simeone’s Atletico can be organised in their 4-4-2 formation and have big-name players, but Leipzig should have too much for them.
: 2-1 to Leipzig
Did you see Lionel Messi’s goal on Saturday? If not, go and find it online. By my count, he did five Napoli men to score.
This is a must-watch blockbuster quarter-final. There are question marks over Barcelona. Are they what they once were? No, they’re not. But they do still have Messi. Even if the Argentine is frustrated, as reports suggest, he can win a match on his own.
Yet Bayern have to be favourites to win this. Chelsea have been one of the top Premier League outfits under Frank Lampard, but they were demolished in two games by the Germans.
: 3-2 to Bayern
Atalanta are to 2019-20 what Ajax were to 2018-19 — the outsiders who are garnering great admiration for the way they have taken on this competition.
Clearly, PSG are favourites, but the nature of these one-off ties makes it far more pressurised. You’d expect the strongest squad to emerge victorious over two legs, but anything can happen in a single showdown.
Every year, plenty of people tip PSG to win the Champions League. Is this their year? They have the players who could take them all the way in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
3-1 to PSG