The Champions League is back and it’s back with its best part, the Knockout Stages. A safe place where teams fight till the death over two legs and then move on with complete disregard for their opponent. It’s bloodthirsty and pits the best of the best against each other in glorious fashion.
When it comes to February, nobody really cares about Valentine's day and such especially when football’s greatest competition, now marred with controversy, returns for another smackdown. It’s the best bit of the Champions League and before we reach that wonderful final in May. But before that the world has to go through the heart-wrenching, tear-jerker that is the knockout stages. First up to the stage is the round of 16 and this season’s might just be the best ever.
Obviously, for marketing purposes, we say that every single season without fail by someone or the other but this season, again marketing, it might actually be the first time they tell the truth. Why? Because it has not one, not two, not three or even four but eight perfect match-ups. It’s also been split into two weeks and we’re into week 2.
It hands us, Chelsea battling out Bayern Munich and it’s Frank Lampard vs Hansi Flick, the battle that dreams are made of. It’s re-match of the 2012 and 2013 European finals, the battle between the has-beens and the young’uns, it’s Manuel Neuer vs Willy Cabellero, it’s Tammy Abraham vs Roberto Lewandowski, and the list goes on and on and on. It’s the perfect start and it kicks-off alongside the Diego Maradona derby. That’s right, Sevilla vs Napoli battle each other with Barcelona watching and wondering why they never got the best of the man.
(Unfortunately, that's a bad attempt at a joke with it actually being Barcelona and Napoli.)
To add to the drama, Lionel Messi has something to prove, Gennaro Gattuso has something to prove and Quique Setien has something to prove in his first-ever Champions League game. But that’s before Olympique Lyon face Juventus in what is the most exciting tie of the week. No Memphis Depay, Houssem Aouar linked to Juventus, Cristiano Ronaldo in sparkling form, Aaron Ramsey doing Aaron Ramsey things and Lyon finally playing good football.
Nobody wanted this tie and yet it’s the tie of the week. Either way, it’s going to be the greatest game of the round of 16 and we’ve gone deep into the schedule. That plays simultaneously as Real Madrid’s Galactico’s battle heavy spenders and UEFA banned Manchester City. And the drama is more than anything Jose Mourinho will ever create. It pits two great former players turned managers against each other. Serial winners, trophy hoggers at clubs that have found themselves back in the limelight and are no longer burdened by a superstar.
It’s City’s only chance in a looooong time to win the Champions League and Real Madrid’s chance to prove, they’re still big dogs.
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