At a time when the established powerhouses of the continent are apparently keen to change the format of the Champions League, there is just a possibility that the semi-final order will be greatly shaken up this season.
The quarter-final, second legs today and tomorrow see Real Madrid up against it and both holders Barcelona and Bayern Munich defending narrow leads while one of Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain will break into the last four.
There is a growing feeling that the Champions League format has gone stale and needs a rejig, with the group stage and last-16 offering few surprises and the line-up in the latter stages changing little in recent years.
Bayern and Barcelona have each reached the semi-finals at least in five of the last six seasons, while Real Madrid are targeting a sixth consecutive appearance in the last four.
Established order in peril in Champions League
However, Zinedine Zidane’s side must overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit when they entertain German side Wolfsburg, who are halfway to a shock victory in their first ever quarter-final at this level.
Madrid fans and the media in the Spanish capital are clinging to the myth of the ‘remontada’ — the comeback — that is part of the club’s history.
There have been some famous Madrid wins in Europe after defeats in the first leg, but none in recent times, and Zidane knows the size of task facing his side.
Zidane emerges from Cruyff-tinged Clasico the winner
“We know we are going to have an exciting game, a great game to play, but we also know the difficulty in overcoming a two-goal deficit,” said the Frenchman. “We are capable of anything, we have been capable of doing this less well this season, but we are also capable of doing great things.”
Meanwhile, Wolfsburg coach Dieter Hecking fired a warning shot to his players, saying: “If it was the case that Real had underestimated us in the first leg, they definitely won’t do that again.”
Di Maria out to banish Manchester ghosts
Angel di Maria will attempt to exorcise some personal ghosts when he returns to Manchester for Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League quarter-final second leg at Manchester City.
The 28-year-old Argentina international endured a miserable time in the city with Manchester United last season, with a traumatic burglary expediting his departure at the end of the campaign.
But whereas his position was constantly chopped and changed by United manager Louis van Gaal, he has benefited from being consistently selected on the wing at PSG, which has yielded a stirring return to form.
“It’s not nice to say certain things, but it’s more that they didn’t let me settle properly than I couldn’t settle,” said Di Maria of his experience at United. “I started a game in one position, then the next game in another. I scored goals playing in one position, then suddenly the next game I was picked to play in a different position.”
Hailing PSG head coach Laurent Blanc, Di Maria added: “From the beginning he was clear where he wanted to play me and has never changed his mind.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2016.
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