Probably the most unconventional format of the UEFA Champions League in its recent history. This season's UCL is unlike others, and for good reasons. The coronavirus pandemic shut the competition down in the middle of the Last 16 Round, with four teams already advancing to the quarterfinals, whereas the other four ties are still to be decided.
The draw involved a reformatting of the remainder of the UCL knockout stage in order to crown a winner. Instead of a normal procession to the final, everything has changed. The quarterfinals and semi-finals are no longer two-legged, home, and away affairs. All the teams will fly to Lisbon, Portugal, for a knockout sprint to the final between Aug 12 and 23.
Friday's draw set the path for the remaining 12 teams, with all the four teams that have advanced to the quarterfinals so far winding up on one side of the bracket, while the remaining eight still remain in contention for the other.
In pic: here's how the recent most UCL draw looks like!
Atletico Madrid will face RB Leipzig while PSG will play Atlanta in the last eight, that much we know. The rest is yet to be determined. The winner of Bayern Munich-Chelsea (agg. 3-0) clash will face the winner of a Barcelona-Napoli (agg. 1-1) in the quarterfinals. While the winner of Manchester City-Real Madrid (agg. 2-1) will face the winner of Juventus-Lyon (agg. 0-1).
Here are five key takeaways from the UEFA Champions League draw held on Friday:
A golden chance for PSG:
Paris Saint-Germain has a golden chance this time around. After seven years of anguish in the Champions League which saw them taking short in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals time and again, the draw is everything that could have hoped for. Atlanta is probably the best story of European football this season. But with experienced stakeholders like Neymar, Mbappe, Icardi, and di Maria in their ranks; this might just be the year where they would at least reach the semi-finals.
But it would not be easy that way for them as Ligue 1 stands canceled for the season in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have a mountain to climb, as all the other clubs have been playing competitive football from at least June, PSG will merely have three friendly matches against Le Havre, Shamrock Rovers, and Celtic before domestic cup Games against Saint-Etienne and Lyon. PSG must catch-up -- and fast. Although match fitness will remain to be a cause of concern for the French side, their dominance over Dortmund in the RO16 tie would be enough for PSG to be, on paper, deemed as the favorite to progress from that bracket.
A lopsided bracket:
On one side, there are five clubs who have won the Champions league earlier, with a combined total of 29 European crowns and 45 final appearances (and none of them includes Manchester City). On the other, two clubs who have never made it to the knockout stage in their history (RB Leipzig and Atlanta), one club that has woefully underperformed domestically this season (Atletico Madrid), and one club that has consistently underperformed at this stage and hasn't played since March (PSG).
Depending on who prevails from the remaining Round of 16 which, most importantly, could have played at their respective stadiums instead of moving to Portugal. There could be a real imbalance once the teams head to Portugal.
A potential Messi vs Ronaldo clash?
There is a possibility of a Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo clash in the semi-final stage as the two sides are on the same side of the bracket. Many things will need to fall into place in the upcoming weeks. And if the clash finally happens, either of them will make a strong case as the best player in the world.
As noted above, both Juventus and Barcelona have some work to do in order to qualify for the last eight. And considering how they have fared recently, there is no guarantee that they will make it. Napoli has been a resurgent side, edging Juventus and Inter to win the Coppa Italia, and with its only loss coming to Atlanta since the restart. Barcelona have been a shadow of themselves since the restart and have lost points in the league at regular intervals. Although, Barcelona's away goal looms large after a 1-1 draw in March. And even if they manage to get past the RO16 stage, Bayern Munich will certainly be waiting for them in their own quest of a memorable treble.
Juventus's position is a lot more grave. They will have to overcome a 0-1 deficit against Lyon and that too without an away goal advantage to their name. Although Lyon, like PSG, will barely have any match experience before the tie. After that is a showdown clash against one of the two clubs who are on an incredible run domestically, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
Messi and Ronaldo last met in the Champions League in 2011, when Messi-led Barcelona ousted Ronaldo's Real Madrid in the semi-final.
A relatively easy route for Athletico Madrid?
Will this be the year when Atletico Madrid finally end their agonising wait for Champions League glory? Diego Simeone's side have a strong case to make it at least to the final, having been paired with RB Leipzig in the quarters before a clash with Atlanta or PSG in the semis.
Having eliminated holders Liverpool in March, they are the favourites to qualify for the final. And their form is also in tune with their intentions in Europe. They went on an eight-game unbeaten streak in La Liga since the restart last month. Atletico possesses the right blend of experience and quality to make it past Leipzig and whomever they face in the semis. But having an array of heavyweight names in the other half of the draw, they could be facing another heartbreak in the final, six years after losing to Real Madrid in Lisbon in 2014 final.
A transfer cacophony:
It's a shame that RB Leipzig won't have Timo Werner available for their historic occasion. Julian Nagelsmann's side was inconsistent since the restart, but, for a while, before the pandemic, it had the look of a club that was capable of ending Bayern's dominance in Germany. Their record goalscorer, Werner, is off to Chelsea and his move will come prior to the quarterfinals. There is no way Leipzig won't miss his goal-scoring prowess.
Werner isn't the only significant player changing clubs. Lucas Tousart, who scored Lyon's goal in the first leg against Juventus, is back to parent club Hertha Berlin. Right-back Thomas Meunier has left PSG for Dortmund, though his new club has left the door open for him to continue playing for his former one in the UCL this year. Whether he does remains to be seen.