Intriguing contests in prospect as Champions League returns

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, August 4, 2020
Adjust font size:
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (left) will lead his team to defend a 2­-1 first-­leg lead against Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid on Friday as the Champions League returns.

After an enforced hiatus of almost five months, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week in order to clear up the last remaining business in a troubled season.

Both competitions were frozen in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the continent, and while European soccer's governing body acted swiftly to move Euro 2020 back a year, for a long time it was unclear how it would manage to complete its two landmark club competitions.

In the end the solution was to set up two mini-tournaments bringing all teams together in one place from the quarterfinals onwards, with all ties being decided in one-off matches behind closed doors.

And so the Champions League will move to Lisbon for the 'Final Eight' starting on Aug 12 and ending with the final at Benfica's Estadio da Luz on Aug 23.

The Europa League will be played to a conclusion at a series of venues in western Germany, with the last eight beginning on Aug 10 and the final in Cologne on Aug 21.

"I believed it from the first moment," said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin recently when asked if he ever doubted it would be possible to play the tournaments to a conclusion.

"You should always be optimistic, and if something like this crisis happens, you must have a plan ready.

"At the present time, we will be playing matches without spectators until further notice. We will not take any risks."

Now or never

There is, though, no question of further changes being made to the formats despite concerns about an increase in COVID-19 cases in and around Lisbon, and more recent worries in Germany about a rise in cases there.

UEFA also recently insisted it was "confident" there would be no more delays despite cases of coronavirus emerging among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla. It is, in any case, now or never.

Indeed, the preliminary qualification round of next season's Champions League begins on Saturday, the same day Bayern Munich entertains Chelsea and Napoli visits Barcelona in their outstanding last-16 second legs.

Before that, Manchester City defends a 2-1 first-leg lead at home against Madrid on Friday as Pep Guardiola's side targets Champions League glory on the back of the club's success at getting a twoyear ban from the competition overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The winner of that tie will face Juventus or Lyon in the quarterfinals in Lisbon.

United trophy chase

It is the Europa League which is first up, though, with the last 16 being completed on Wednesday and Thursday.

Two ties-Inter Milan against Getafe and Sevilla against Roma-will go ahead as one-off games in Germany as the first legs were never played.

Six second legs will also be played with the winners heading to Germany for the last eight.

Among the ties to be completed is Manchester United's against Austrian side LASK, which will be a formality for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team after it won 5-0 in the first leg in March.

United's form since the Premier League resumed in mid-June has been excellent and it has already sealed a place in the 2020-21 Champions League. However, now the Old Trafford side wants to finish the season with a trophy.

"Now our focus is on the Europa League because this is a really good trophy and we want to win," Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes told MUTV.

"I came to Manchester to win trophies. We need to play every game to win. If we go into the Europa League and win every game, we know we'll win the trophy."

United, which lifted the trophy in 2017, could yet find itself facing Premier League rival Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semifinals in Cologne on Aug 16.

Wolves entertain Greek champion Olympiakos on Thursday having drawn 1-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

The Chinese-owned club's European campaign started more than a year ago now, with a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland's Crusaders in the second qualifying round on July 25, 2019.

Extending it by another couple of weeks would do Wolves no harm at all.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from