Over the last few seasons, the Champions League has been accused of becoming predictable. With pretty much the same teams qualifying every year, the list of realistic winners could be reduced to three or four teams before the competition had even kicked off. UEFA even made some sweeping changes to the qualifying format in 2009/2010 in a bid to broaden access to the competition and loosen the grip that the English, Spanish and Italian teams had established.
The Round of 16 this year, however, showed just why the Champions League is billed as the best club tournament in the world. In a line-up which didn’t include Manchester United for only the third time in seventeen campaigns, the eight two-legged ties featured an extraordinary 56 goals – an average of seven per tie – the first five-goal haul in the competition’s history thanks to Lionel Messi, and the biggest margin of victory ever seen in the knockout stages with Bayern Munich beating Basle 7-0, four of which were scored by Mario Gomez.
If that wasn’t enough, Chelsea produced a famous comeback to overturn a 3-1 deficit and keep their season alive, Marseille scored a last-minute winner at the San Siro, and Apoel Nicosia beat Lyon in a penalty shootout to become the first-ever Cypriot side to advance to the Champions League quarter finals.
From a British perspective, it might not have been a vintage Champions League campaign so far with just a sole representative remaining, but one thing it certainly hasn’t been is predictable.
What’s more, with the draw for the quarter and semi finals keeping Real Madrid apart from both Barcelona and Chelsea, the stage could be set for an El Clasico Champions League final, or Chelsea up against Mourinho’s Madrid.
So, hands up if you think the Champions League is boring?