Two months and a week, that’s all it’s taken to wait, as the Champions League returns, with the eliminator phase. The time when the competition has a feel of the old European Cup again, and what better way to get that feel than a tie involving two of the richest and most ambitious clubs in the continent.
When Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain trudge down to the pitch this midweek, it’ll be the start of the double-legged affair that’s bound to determine fate of both managers, neither side can stand to be eliminated at this stage, yet one will have to go. PSG are, as expected, utterly dominant on the domestic front, still in both cups, and with an unassailable lead at the top of Ligue 1, but manager Unai Emery will know this is the competition likely to decide his future at the Parc des Princes, especially with last year’s elimination to Barcelona still fresh in the memory.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, have been utterly disappointing on the domestic front, out of Spanish Cup (to Leganes, at that), and out of the title race in Spain, the fact that they’ve performed better in the continent is probably what’s keeping Zinedine Zidane in the Bernabeu hot seat. And they’ll have to do so again, to save their season. Los Blancos have made the semis in each of the last seven campaigns; go home early and Zizou might just be on his way out. Something will have to give.
Elsewhere, Juventus, last season’s finalists, aim to go one better and give Gigi Buffon the parting gift the national side (and Giampiero Ventura) never gave, but they face a tough task in an improving Tottenham side, whose last three games have been against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, none of which ended in defeat. Basel welcome Manchester City to St. Jakob Park more in hope than expectation, while Liverpool’s free flowing attack travel to the Dragao, with Porto waiting.
The road to Kiev begins.
Real Madrid v PSG
Porto v Liverpool
Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma
Juventus v Tottenham