The Champions League final will be held in Lisbon for the second time in six years later this month, but the circumstances couldn’t be any more different.
The 2014 showpiece saw hordes of Atletico and Real Madrid fans flock to what is typically a vibrant and welcoming city ahead of their pulsating all-Spain clash.
But this year, there will an eerie silence that greets the arrival of the final eight teams during the strangest festival of football in history.
Players, all donned in masks and latex gloves, will traipse through airports in their groups to jet out to the capital of Portugal. They will remain as a tightly-knit unit, shut off from the outside world until the historic competition has its winner.
The remaining ties, across the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final, will be played as single legs across two different stadiums in the coastal city. The Estadio da Luz and the Estadio Jose Alvalade will play host to each fixture, and the grounds will sadly be silent aside from the bellowing of players and coaching staff.
It will be a spectacle which has rapidly become the new norm. The coronavirus pandemic brought with it a three-month hiatus across the wider football world, and leagues were forced to restart behind closed doors.
This tournament, steeped in history and wonderfully endearing to supporters of any club, will unfortunately be no different. Lisbon was struck hard by the health crisis and is still recovering from its effects today, although Portugal as a whole dealt admirably in tackling coronavirus.
But the UEFA Executive Committee approved the sensational mini tournament to take place there instead of Istanbul, to avoid teams having to fly across the continent during this period of uncertainty.
All the drama and tension that mounted during the off-season will culminate with the final on August 23. But until then, teams will be kept inside their own bio-secure bubbles in a similar fashion to how domestic leagues around Europe were able to reach a conclusion.
Each club have been set aside their own hotel, which are all within 30 miles of the city centre, and they have also been given training facilities.
The line up for the one city shootout was complete after wins for both Barcelona and Bayern Munich on Saturday, helping them to become part of the elite group still standing ahead of the latter stages.
Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the remaining eight team’s chances prior to the eagerly-anticipated quarter-finals getting underway…
Manchester City have never won the Champions League in their history, but they will be bullish about their chances of finally lifting the prestigious trophy this time around.
Pep Guardiola’s men are in superb form, despite missing out on retaining their league title and suffering disappointment in the FA Cup, and demonstrated their newfound maturity on the European stage by easing beyond Real Madrid.
City fully deserved to progress at the expense of the 13-time winners, and should even have scored more goals across both legs of their last-16 tie.
After their 2-1 win at the Etihad ensured their flight to Lisbon, Guardiola admitted that evening proved to be a major step towards his goal of experiencing European glory once again.
Their first opponents after touching down will be Ligue 1 outfit Lyon. The French club have proven themselves no pushovers across the tournament, and even knocked out Juventus on away goals despite their narrow defeat in Turin.
But the only remaining Premier League team should have no real cause for concern. City have netted at least twice in 14 of their last 17 matches in Europe, with Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling both boasting a tally of six.
Quite simply, City have to be considered among the favourites.
Bayern Munich were able to seal their spot in the quarter-finals after battering Chelsea on Saturday. The Bundesliga champions didn’t appear fazed by the six-month pause between each leg, and went about their business in ruthless fashion.
Their attention had likely already shifted to their upcoming showdown with Barcelona on Friday after they eased two goals ahead in Bavaria. And they will rightly be confident about their chances.
The juggernaut, helmed by Hansi Flick, shows no signs of faltering after the comprehensive thumping. Bayern handed Chelsea their worst-ever aggregate defeat in a European tie, and often didn’t appear to have broken a sweat.
Bayern have also shattered countless records during their run to Lisbon. They became the second-ever team to have won every single Champions League game so far this season. They have also scored the most goals in this season’s tournament, with 31 in total. That tally is sensationally 11 higher than the next closest team, Paris Saint-Germain.
Flick became only the third coach in history to guide his side to a win in his first five Champions League matches. His achievements have been rendered even more impressive considering the mess he had inherited from predecessor Niko Kovac in November.
Of course, it always helps that serial scorer Robert Lewandowski has netted the most goals in the competition with 13. Bayern are the favourites in many peoples’ eyes, and understandably so.
Barcelona were also forced to wait a painfully long time to ensure they too would be heading to Portugal. Their players may have believed they would be spending time on the beaches of the country on holiday instead, due to the turmoil that has gripped them in recent months, but they eased to a job well done.
The tie with Napoli was effectively ended at half-time in the second leg at the Nou Camp. And once again, Barcelona had the magical Lionel Messi to thank for that. The diminutive superstar managed to curl home a superb effort even while on the turf, another wonder goal to add to his enviable collection.
The dethroned LaLiga giants sealed a 4-2 aggregate win over the Italians and will meet Bayern Munich in a mouthwatering showdown later this week.
The battle between the two European giants has often seen Barcelona progress, but this year the tables have well and truly turned. Bayern will be favourites, and Barcelona must strangely adopt and adapt to their underdogs tag.
It was Messi again who proved the difference when both these clubs clashed in the same competition in 2015. Jerome Boateng was memorably left stranded and flailing on the ground after Messi’s quick jink inside, and it is this kind of magic that Barcelona may be forced to count on again.
‘It’s going to be very difficult,’ Quique Setien has admitted. ‘They finished off their tie with seven goals. They are a fantastic team and we will see a great game.’
The under-fire tactician has been unable to reverse the club’s ailing fortunes, and his time is certain to run out should Bayern’s rampant forces get the better of his team.
Paris Saint-Germain will hope to put to bed this month the curse that has dogged French clubs in European competitions. Only once has an outfit from that nation won either of the top two continental trophies, with the single success coming from Marseille all the way back in 1993.
This time, no country has more clubs than France in the Champions League quarter-finals – and, of course, it is PSG who are under the most pressure to finally triumph in the most bizarre conditions.
The club, bankrolled by their Qatari owners, have been mercilessly mocked for their inability to reach the final four of the showpiece. It has been well reported that the heavy investment pumped into the club was done so in the hope of lifting the biggest trophy of them all.
But under an assortment of managers and players, PSG have continued to fall woefully short. Now, however, they face a club in Atalanta who are competing in the competition for the first time in their history.
The pain and embarrassment from previous shocking knockouts, particularly Barcelona’s unthinkable and jaw-dropping aggregate comeback in 2017, will surely inspire them to a spot in the final four.
Kylian Mbappe is likely a doubt for the clash after Thomas Tuchel admitted it would ‘take a miracle’ for the mercurial forward to shake off his serious ankle injury. Marco Verratti is also a doubt.
Atletico Madrid’s Champions League preparations were thrown into chaos. The LaLiga giants faced a nervous wait to discover which players can fly to Lisbon due to a coronavirus scare.
It was eventually revealed on Monday that Angel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were the two players who had tested positive for Covid-19, and both will now be forced to miss the quarter-final tie this Thursday due to UEFA’s strict protocols.
Atletico had feared that other players may have been infected, which would have also ruled them out of travelling to Portugal, but no other individual tested returned a positive result in the latest round before their flight out.
The shock news was a dampener for the club, who had knocked out holders Liverpool in dramatic fashion to reach this stage. Marcos Llorente and Alvaro Morata’s last-gasp heroics stunned Anfield and resulted in Diego Simeone’s now-infamous charge down the touchline.
And the man at the helm has been keen for his team to shake off any belief they are among the favourites to win the whole tournament ahead of their meeting with RB Leipzig.
Atletico’s dressing room have thrived off their underdog title and will be keen for this to continue, with the club’s greatest moments on the European stage often arriving due to their sheer willpower to cause an upset.
Despite reaching the final twice in recent memory, Atletico have never won the Champions League. They came agonisingly close in the 2013-14 campaign, but fell short against bitter rivals Real Madrid. It was their cross-city neighbours who also lifted the trophy at Atletico’s expensive in 2015-16.
Atalanta have been the surprise package of this year’s Champions League and have enthralled neutrals during their passage to the quarter-finals. The Italian side scrapped to this stage after blitzing past Valencia, and now face a testing showdown against Paris Saint-Germain to prolong their fairytale story even further.
Their team have thrived off the free-flowing and fluid style of play that has allowed them to net countless goals this season. They will surely head into the tie full of vigour and ambition, and are more than capable of pulling off yet another shock.
Gian Piero Gasperini’s favoured 3-4-3 system has performed miracles. Atalanta have often been seen hurtling towards their opponents through hordes of devilish attacks and scoring seemingly at will.
They are the most prolific team in Italy, having bagged 96 goals already. A significant amount of those came in the several games in which Atalanta had netted over six.
PSG will likely fear the fact that the Serie A outfit have nothing to lose. Atalanta’s maiden season sitting at the top table has been wonderfully defined by their bullish attitude and thrilling never-say-die nature.
This year’s single-leg format may even hand them further hope. Provided they can remain steadfast in defence and flood forward in the same vein which has seen them bag almost a century of goals, Atalanta will prove a stern challenge.
This season marks RB Leipzig’s second ever appearance in the Champions League. Their spot in the previous round also made history, as that was the first time the Bundesliga club had reached the knockout stages.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side won just three of their group stages fixtures but edged through with 11 points to set up a meeting with previous runners-up Tottenham.
With their high intensity pressing and cutting edge in dangerous positions, Leipzig blew their opponents away 4-0 on aggregate.
The team are versatile and can be fielded in a variety of systems. It is this unpredictably, and the solid backbone that underlines it all, that has seen them secure their showdown in Lisbon with Atletico Madrid this week.
Their opponents will rightly be fearing a knockout, especially in light of the coronavirus disruption to their travelling roster. Only Bayern Munich conceded fewer league goals this season, with Leipzig shipping just 37.
They also netted the third-highest amount of goals in the top flight, demonstrating their ability at both ends of the field.
But this will be a stern test in maturity for Nagelsmann’s men. Atletico boast a watertight backline, having shipped just seven times in their eight Champions League games. Leipzig will also be without leading ace Timo Werner, who completed his move to Chelsea earlier this month.
There were fears that the two Ligue 1 clubs remaining in the Champions League after Ligue 1 was called to an early finish would have suffered from a lack of preparation. But Lyon have blown that preconception well and truly out of the water.
They overcame Juventus and sealed a quarter-final spot in what was only their second competitive game in five months. Lyon appeared in top physical condition, despite their defeat in Turin, and deserved their eventual triumph on away goals.
Memphis Depay had bullishly predicted that Lyon were fearless and capable of springing an upset, and he was proved right.
The Dutchman also highlighted the newly-introduced single-leg format and now believes that ‘anyone can be favourites’.
However, that may not be the case for Rudi Garcia’s troops for their next clash. They face Manchester City, one of the favourites to win the competition for the first time in their history.
Lyon will need to replicate the defiance which saw them narrowly lose out to Paris Saint-Germain in the French League Cup final last month in order to pose any real threat of reaching the final four.