When the Champions League quarter-finals were announced, none were more pleased than Real Madrid, who thought they had been drawn against the weakest team in the draw.
However the German side’s 2-0 victory quickly put that theory to bed and no one was more pleased with the result than Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola.
After years of Clasico battles while in charge of Barcelona, the fluent German-speaker could not hide his delight at a press conference when quizzed on his thoughts regarding the result.
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Txiki Begiristain shifted uneasily in his chair as Manchester City drew Paris Saint-Germain and at Valdebebas, Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane probably enjoyed a high-five at seeing Wolfsburg’s name emerge, but it was a largely underwhelming line-up of ties for the Champions League quarter-finals.
It was a draw befitting of a competition that, Bayern Munich v Juventus aside, is still to deliver any genuine drama justifying its grandiose glamour.
Manchester United being eliminated at the group stage was, at the time, seen as a considerable shock but with hindsight, given just how average Louis van Gaal’s side are, it appears more as a portent of things to come. Admittedly, Gent’s progress ahead of Valencia and Lyon added some colour to the last 16 but the fact they were beaten 4-2 by Wolfsburg – probably the weakest side left in the competition – represents more a relief that they weren’t drawn against one of the competition’s heavyweights.
Because while UEFA can now do little about it, the tournament itself is becoming increasingly predictable with each passing year and the likely conclusion when the four ties have been completed on April 13 is that the semi-final line-up will read: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich plus one of PSG or Man City, with the former trio of clubs having made up the last four in three of the last four editions of the competition. PSG and City representing the fourth option is more than a little concerning given the financial might of those two clubs added to a growing experience in the Champion League.
Depending on draws and if Bayern Munich implode under Carlo Ancelotti (which is highly unlikely), you don’t have to be a clairvoyant to envisage four of those five teams making up next season’s semi-finals as well.
There were scaremongering headlines in the British press earlier this month about American plans for a European Super League, but the truth is one is already forming and it’s not even a broad collection of clubs amounting to anything that can really constitute a ‘league’ of any volume.
It’s difficult to see just how it can be tackled. Michel Platini’s project of Financial Fair Play was supposed to restore a degree of parity but the governing body’s climbdown means summer spending, with a number of managerial changes at the top, plus Euro 2016, means serious money is likely to be spent with the continent’s ruling class likely to continue to stockpile the world’s best talent. The fallen reputation of Platini also means it’s unlikely to return in its past form.
UEFA can’t be too controlling when you consider quotes such as these from Barcelona vice president Susana Monje, who said earlier this week: “We must promote a European league from a position where clubs are in control… that is the clearest of objectives that the club must pursue.”
The more UEFA push to maintain some sense of parity, the further the elite they have helped create move away from centralised control. These next few years could be a defining era in the balance of power in European football.
Clubs know the markets available to them in America, the Middle East and China with the interest the Champions League attracts, however predictable it may seem. And as sad as it to say, but protests of the kind by Borussia Dortmund fans at White Hart Lane on Thursday when some aggressive anti-Super League banners were brandished, are largely fruitless.
We could just allow sports natural order to take over and hope, for example, Real Madrid’s poor governance is punished on the pitch but the reality is money talks, and in the Champions League it’s shouting louder than ever.
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DOUGLAS COSTA (BAYERN MUNICH) – 6.78
Costa achieved 114 touches, 7 shots, 5 chances created, and 9 dribbles and alongside Arturo Vidal, was almost entirely responsible for Bayern’s offensive play.
Douglas Costa's game by numbers vs. Juventus:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 16, 2016
4 chances created
1 handstand pic.twitter.com/vYAJNX0Ppe
JEROEN ZOET (PSV) – 6.64
Given the goalkeeper’s contributions over two legs, the Dutchman did not deserve to finish on the losing side.
Zoet denied Atlético forward Antoine Griezmann on a number of occasions while tippeing a Fernando Torres effort onto the post in extra-time. If it wasn’t for Zoet the game would never have gone as far as penalties.
THIAGO SILVA (PSG) – 6.61
Thiago Silva had a busy night dealing with the irrepressive Diego Costa and made a good job of containing his former international colleague.
Silva did make one slip-up which allowed Costa to score but other than that the PSG skipper’s full-blooded apporach to the match helped snuff out Chelsea attacks on several occasions.
THIAGO MOTTA (PSG) – 6.60
The former Italy international wound back the years to produce a vitage display and was the catalyst for most of PSG’s attacks.
Motta had an important defensive role to play, keeping Cesc Fabregas under wraps, and despite giving away the odd foul proved he was not shy of doing the dirty work.
Thiago Motta has completed more passes (624) in the Champions League this season than any other player. pic.twitter.com/xgDpHuWnu2— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 9, 2016
YEVHEN KHACHERIDI (DYNAMO KIEV) – 6.50
One of the only Dynamo Kiev players to emerge from lifeless draw which saw them knocked out of the Champions League against Manchester City was the hustling defending defender.
Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas were all bundled off the ball or into touch at one point or another by the energetic Khacheridi and there is no doubt that City would have had a few more goals if it were not for his interventions.