The one criticism made of the Champions League this decade has been that it is always goes to the richest, biggest team in the end. The last four finals have been won by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, each time the winner over-powering a hard-working, well-organised but slightly poorer rival late on.
This is modern football, and it is no surprise that the super-clubs carve up the Champions League between them. But this year’s quarter-final draw does give a faint hope that this year’s semi-finals and final might be different.
No-one is expecting Leicester City to lift the famous trophy in Cardiff on 3 June but there might be a different set of semi-finalists before then. Because the big three, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, are under threat like never before. The fact that Real have drawn Bayern of course means that only one of those two can qualify, and Barcelona are at risk of going out to Juventus.
If that happens then the final four line-up will have a very different tinge. There have been seven sets of semi-finalists this decade. Real Madrid and Bayern have been there six times each, Barcelona a paltry five. Three times, 2015, 2013 and 2012, all three of the trio have been there. That explains, better than anything else, why there is a slight public disaffection with the tournament now.
But this year will be different. There will be no big-three lock on the semis for the simple fact that Bayern host Real Madrid on 12 April and return to the Santiago Bernabeu the following Tuesday. It will be a fantastic tie, between two teams packed with talent. Bayern have the more experienced manager in Carlo Ancelotti but plenty underestimated Zinedine Zidane and he ended up lifting the trophy in Milan.
Barcelona’s tie with Juventus could be even more intriguing. They are only here having produced the greatest comeback in European Cup history to beat Paris Saint Germain in the last-16. That could inspire them to play fearlessly from now on, believing that their name is on the cup. Or the emotional exhaustion of it could drain them for the rest of the season. Their first league game after that 6-1 win, they lost 2-1 at Deportivo la Coruna.
But just as important is the fact that Barcelona lost that first leg 4-0 at the Parc des Princes, to a PSG side who are at severe risk of not winning Ligue 1. Barcelona have great players and can play very well, but they are not the driven machine they were under Pep Guardiola.
Put them up against a wily Juventus side and they could be turned over. Especially with Juve so desperate for revenge after losing the 2015 final to them in Berlin. Since then the Juventus players have been on a mission to win the European Cup, and they could spring a surprise against a Barcelona side lacking direction.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid should be able to beat Leicester City in the battle of the unlikely, scrappy underdogs, both of the clubs having showed that you do not need to mimic expansive possession football in order to beat it.
The tournament could be left, then, with an unlikely set of semi-finalists, and certainly no obvious winner. Money usually asserts itself in the end, but there could be a few more surprises before then.