As soccer returned across Europe during the months of May and June, there remained a question about how the UEFA Champions League, the top European competition, would return to action. Like the rest of the leagues across Europe, a return-to-play format was eventually agreed upon, and naturally, it comes with some modifications. Before we get into those, let’s look back on how the competition resumed this past weekend.
The round of 16 ended on Friday August 7th and Saturday August 8th. Bayern Munich and Manchester City advanced over Chelsea and Real Madrid, as expected, having a large advantage in the aggregate goal differential from the first legs. In a shocking upset, Lyon, despite losing 2-1 to Juventus, advanced via aggregate goal differential. Barcelona defeated Napoli 3-1 to advance. They looked motivated after their star Leo Messi’s comments that followed Real Madrid’s win of La Liga a few weeks ago.
The quarterfinals are now set with the following matchups:
Atalanta vs Paris SG – August 12th
Atletico Madrid vs Red Bulls Leipzig – August 13th
Bayern Munich vs Barcelona – August 14th
Manchester City vs. Lyon – August 15th
To keep consistency across that round of competition, UEFA honored the 2-legged system through the end of the round of 16. However, from the quarterfinals and onward, the two-legged home and away aggregate system will be scrapped. From here on out, the eight remaining teams will play in a single elimination knockout format. That is a massive change which makes every match essentially like a final. Previously, a lot of strategy went in to how teams played home games in contrast to away games. Throw all that out the window. It’s win or go home. That, coupled with the fact that the entire tournament will be played in Lisbon, Portugal, means there will be no “home teams.”
The quarter finals will take place this week August 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th. The semi finals will be on August 18th and 19th. The winners from Atalanta vs PSG and Atletico Madrid vs RB Leipzig will play in the August 18th semi-final. The winners from the other two matches will play in the August 19th semi-final. The finals will be played that Sunday, August 23rd.
Quarter Final Preview And Predictions
Atalanta vs Paris SG
When this match-up was first unveiled, everyone was drooling over the prospect of two of Europe’s most dangerous attacking teams getting after it for 90+ minutes. Unfortunately, neither team will be at full strength for the match.
For PSG, star forward Kylian Mbappe is likely to miss the match due to an ankle problem, as will midfield engine, Marco Veratti. Angel Di Maria is suspended. For Atalanta, Josip Ilici and Jose Luis Palomino are questionable and, if they play, they’ll be less than 100 percent. Their goalkeeper, Pierluigi Gollini is officially out with an injury.
Injuries and suspensions aside, both teams likely won’t change what they do. Both teams love to go forward, both teams love to run in transition, and neither will be shy about playing their game. PSG has an in-form Neymar and Icardi, but must fight the demons that haunted their past in the Champions League. Having the likes of Atalanta and either Atletico or Leipzig in the way of a UCL Finals berth is perhaps the easiest road they’ve ever had. Can they capitalize despite missing Mbappe or will the Cinderella story of Atalanta have another chapter here in 2020? We love the underdog.
Prediction: Atlanta 3 – Paris SG 2
Atletico Madrid vs RB Leipzig
Yawn. If there is any game on the schedule that doesn’t excite, it’s this one. Atletico is notorious for parking the bus in this competition and playing for a counter attack, a mistake or extra time. Leipzig was one of the most entertaining pre-COVID-19 teams in Europe. However, their form in the Bundesliga was poor after the restart, and their ace forward Timo Werner, is now with Chelsea. Atletico has two key players who tested positive for COVID-19, Angel Correa and Sime Vrsalijko.
Leipzig has not had a competitive match in over a month while Atletico has had two weeks off since La Liga concluded. Even with a couple missing players, we give Atletico the clear edge. They were in good form during the entire La Liga restart and don’t have the competitive rust to shake off that Leipzig does. Leipzig likes to press, but a month off will make this tough to do for 90 minutes. They are also missing their best player. Don’t be shocked if this game is decided in extra time.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1 – Leipzig 0
Barcelona vs Bayern Munich
This is a dream match-up, but a shame it takes place in the quarterfinals.
Bayern has been machine-like in 2020. They went through the entire Bundesliga restart without losing a game. Then after a month off, they ran over Chelsea last weekend in a game they didn’t even need to win to advance. The Bundesliga champions look to be an unstoppable force. They’re balanced with youth and veteran talent along with a level of cohesiveness few teams have among those remaining in this competition.
Meanwhile, Barca is incredibly weak on defense. Outside of Leo Messi, no one else on the team is a difference-maker. Younger players like Fati and Puig have provided a spark, but how well can those guys fair against Bayern, which is just as good offensively as they are defensively? Barcelona would normally be the favorites in this match-up, but it’s hard to picture them beating Bayern unless Messi completely takes over the game.
Either way, it will be fun to see these two styles clash and to see the star talent from both teams take center stage with everything on the line.
Prediction: Bayern 3 – Barcelona 1
Manchester City vs Lyon
If anyone was happy with Juventus going out of the UCL against Lyon, it was Manchester City. They draw by far the weakest remaining opponent. Under Pep Guardiola, City strangely has had their fair share of struggles against French teams in the Champions League. Still, City has been all-in on this Champions League ever since Liverpool opened up a huge gap in the Premier League Table. It is the only major trophy Pep Guardiola has failed to win as City boss.
Even though their star forward Sergio Aguero will likely not be fit for the match, their roster is just simply too much for Lyon. If the warm-up tie against Real Madrid was any sign of what’s ahead for Man City, Lyon may be in for a long night in Lisbon.
Prediction: Manchester City 4 – Lyon 0
Looking ahead, and assuming these match-ups go as predicted, we should have a Bayern Munich vs Manchester City semi-final. That is the game of the entire tournament with so many story lines. Most notably, Pep Guardiola vs his old club. Two of the best overall teams in the world facing off in a win or go home battle for a UCL final berth, sign us up please! The winner of this game likely goes on to win the whole tournament, as the level of the teams on the other side of the bracket isn’t close to these European giants.
It is really hard to predict a City vs Bayern match-up. Pep is due for a UCL trophy with City, but at the same time, Bayern literally looks unstoppable. Injuries or suspensions could be a factor in that inevitable match-up, so we’ll see where both teams stand after the quarterfinal round. For now, we give the slight edge to Bayern. For us, they are the favorites to win the competition, despite the betting odds suggesting it is City.
Ultimately, with all the COVID-19 related changes UEFA made to this year’s competition, it is a shame they didn’t reseed the teams after the round of 16. They elected to continue with a random draw, which left one side of the bracket incredibly stacked, where the other side is quite weak. The competition will lose big names earlier than needed. Bayern and City should have been on opposite sides of the bracket.
Betting Odds To Win Champions League (via DraftKings)
Manchester City +220
Bayern Munich +325
Paris SG +475
Atletico Madrid +800
RB Leipzig +1700