The UEFA Champions League hasn’t thrown up many surprises this season.
Galatasaray finishing above Juventus in the group stage was certainly the biggest. But that had its own controversy. A postponed match that was played in freezing temperatures saw Galatasaray beat Juventus 1-0. And even then, the Italian side were eliminated into the Europa League where the final is being played in their own stadium.
Olympiacos finished above Benfica. The Portuguese side are looking good in their domestic league and Europa League but they were slow starters and not looking too great to the start the season.
Celtic getting as many as 3 points may have been the next biggest surprise in the group stage.
Then in the round of 16 the majority of the ties were virtually over after the first leg:
Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain
Schalke 04 1-6 Real Madrid
Zenit St Petersburg 2-4 Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich 0-2 Arsenal
Manchester United overcame a 0-2 first leg defeat to Olympiacos which mean that all eight group stage winners made the quarter-finals.
The quarter-final threw up one surprise. Or at least what I claim to be a surprise. La Liga leaders Atlético Madrid eliminated second place Barcelona 2-1 on aggregate to book their place in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in 40 years. That season, Madrid lost the final to Bayern Munich in a replay.
Chelsea sure did leave it late to beat Paris Saint-Germain. But Premier League sides are used to creating late drama so let’s just say that’s what it was. PSG manager Laurent Blanc sure did bottle his gameplan that helped lead to their downfall as they sat further and further back, inviting pressure. This is the 7th time in 11 years that the Premier League side have reached the final four of the competition.
Real Madrid just about hung on to eliminate Borussia Dortmund and reach their fourth consecutive semi-final. Cristiano Ronaldo missed the second leg so still needs one more goal to set a Champions League record for most goals in a single campaign.
Bayern Munich are now three matches away from becoming the first team to successfully defend the Champions League trophy. The last team to successfully defend Europe’s top prize was AC Milan back in 1990 when it was known as the European Cup. This is the 4th time in 5 seasons that the German champions have reached the semi-finals. Last season was the only time during those five years they have lifted the trophy, after losing finals to José Mourinho’s Internazionale and Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea.
So that’s one team making their 7th appearance in 11 seasons, another making four consecutive and another making their fourth in the last five. Barcelona’s elimination ended a six season streak of making it past the quarter-finals. If not for Atlético Madrid then the semi-final line-up would have been even more familiar.
From now on though there’s no predictability. It really is an open contest. Atlético Madrid have taken 4 points from Real Madrid in La Liga this season. Bayern Munich are looking more dominant than last season and any side managed by José Mourinho cannot be written off.
The bookmakers make Bayern Munich the favourites currently with odds of 2.44, followed by Real Madrid at 3.3. Atlético Madrid are 6.0 and Chelsea 7.8.