• September 28, 2020 11:20 pm

Reporting From Delhi

Europe’s best make a comeback

ByShaunak Ghosh

Aug 2, 2020

With the Champions League and Europa League set to resume post lifting of Covid lockdowns, here’s a look at how things might stand in Europe’s top competitions

The Champions League will take centrestage throughout August with Europe’s elite set to face off in an exciting mini-tournament.

Four months after the competition was put on hold, the remaining round of 16 ties will finally get sorted next week.

The eight teams who make the quarter-finals will then all head to Portugal for a quick-fire fortnight of action before the final on 23 August in Lisbon.

The Covid-19 lockdown stopped Europe’s elite competition in mid-March with the round of 16 ties halfway through completion.

As such, the quarter-final and semi-final draws were put on hold and then finally completed on 10 July.

Now the tournament is ready to restart next month with a ‘World Cup’ style fortnight planned to get it done and dusted.

This season’s quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will all be played as a straight knockout tournament.

The ties will be single-leg fixtures and held at either Benfica’s Estadio da Luz or Sporting Lisbon’s Estadio Jose Alvalade.

The remaining round of 16 matches will be held as normal in the first week of August before the remaining team jet off to Portugal a week later.

Manchester City will be looking for their maiden UCL title Photo: Getty

 Manchester City vs. Real Madrid

Man City holds a 2-1 advantage from their first-leg win at the Santiago Bernabeu. Pep Guardiola will hope for his team to progress through to the Champions League quarter-finals against the recently-crowned La Liga champions. The game will take place at the Etihad Stadium as Man City look to mount a challenge for the club’s first Champions League title. Man City remains one of the firm favourites to win the title, given that they have lost the Premier League by a huge margin to Liverpool, and will be going out all guns blazing for the coveted prize this time around.

Madrid, on the  other hand, have already secured their fate as Champions of  La Liga beating Barcelona. Given the team’s form and Zinedine Zidane’s track record, the Champions League, Los Blancos, will be a hard nut to crack for Pep Guardiola.

Manchester United are the favourites to win the Europa League Photo: Getty

Juventus vs. Lyon

Lyon will head to the Allianz Stadium with a crucial 1-0 lead. Lucas Tousart scored the only goal of the game when the Italian giants visited the Groupama Stadium back in February.

However, the recently crowned Serie A champions are tipped as favourites to overturn the deficit and progress through to the next round. With Dybala in scintillating form and the presence of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo it will be difficult to topple Juventus

Barcelona vs. Napoli

Barcelona scored a precious away goal at Naples back in February after Dries Mertens had put Napoli in front. With the scores locked at 1-1, Barcelona and Lionel Messi will be hoping to complete the job at the Camp Nou. WithThis UCL remains Barcelona’s only hope for major silverware this season.

With the departure of Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli have been struggling at Serie A even finishing outside the top four. With Messi and Co. coming in with all their might to win the Champions League they will find it difficult

Messi will be looking to steer Barcelona to their only silverware of the season Photo: Getty

Bayern Munich vs Chelsea

The Bundesliga champions are favourites to go through to the quarter-finals. The first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge ended 3-0 with a brace from Serge Gnabry and a late goal from Robert Lewandowski. Apart from Manchester City, Bayern Munich with their strong squad, is expected to be a major contender for the Champions League trophy.

Frank Lampard’s Chelsea confirmed their Champions League qualification for next season with a win over Wolves on the final day of the season but will have a mountain to climb in Munich in the second leg.

For the teams, the matches that have been lined up already are PSG vs Atlanta and Athletico Madrid vs RB Leipzig. PSG have the easier opponent and given the talent at their disposal they should be able to beat Atlanta. However, PSG will be without their star man Mbappe but it should not be a problem for them.

Atletico Madrid are the stronger of the two sides, but with players like Timo Werner Leipzig are one of the stronger sides of Bundesliga. With the tie set to be a one-off anyone could pull off a victory on the day.

Not just the Champions League but also the Europa League is making its return post the Covid lockdown of football. Here’s a look at all the teams by their fixtures.

Sevilla vs Roma

Julen Lopetegui praised his players who “came back in really good shape and were ready to compete”. They are 11 games unbeaten since the restart, conceding just five goals, though a series of draws dented hopes of a first top-three finish since 2008/09. Los Palanganas finished level with Atlético on 70 points, but were pipped to third place on goal difference.

With two Serie A games remaining, La Lupa are clinging onto fifth, fending off AC Milan and Napoli. Paulo Fonseca says his “team is doing well and is full of confidence”, and they are certainly in strong goalscoring form; Jordan Veretout has converted four since lockdown, while Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have three apiece.

UEFA Champions League schedule Photo: Uefa.com

Manchester United vs LASK (first leg: 5-0)

Bruno Fernandes’ creative injection and Paul Pogba’s return sparked United’s nine-game unbeaten league run since its resumption. Spearheaded by Marcus Rashford, United’s front three combined to register 14 goals; young gun Mason Greenwood bagging five and Antony Martial six. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side beat Leicester on the final day to secure third and a Champions League spot. And as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pointed out, they might just be in the competition to “win something for the boys”, and hence expect them to go out all guns blazing, and win the trophy.

Parting ways with Valerien Ismael after six losses in their final ten matches, the Linz outfit have appointed former Austrian women’s national team coach Dominik Thalhammer. LASK “performed incredibly well last year,” he said ahead of his first competitive game in charge against United.

Copenhagen vs Istanbul Basaksehir (first leg: 0-1)

Off to a flying start – unbeaten in four – the 2019 Denmark champions’ form plummeted as they went six matches without a win. However, coach Ståle Solbakken’s “long and difficult season” culminated in back-to-back wins – thanks to Dame N’Doye’s last-gasp strike against Nordsjælland – that sealed the runners-up spot.

Joint top with Trabzonspor at the break, Okan Buruk’s men were crowned Turkish champions for the first time. Ending Galatasaray, Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe’s stronghold, they became only the sixth team to win the Turkish title. Mahmut Tekdemir and Demba Ba proved key for the owls, and Edin Višća impressed with six goals in their final eight games.

Wolves vs Olympiacos (first leg: 1-1)

Suffering just three defeats in their final nine matches, sturdy at the back and with Rui Patrício between the sticks, Nuno Espírito Santo’s charges kept five clean sheets. Striker Raul Jimenez resumed his reliable form at the other end, converting four, to bring his season tally to 17.

League leaders at the break, a play-off round featuring the top six clubs decided the 19/20 season’s outcome. Leaving title chasers PAOK for dust and claiming the trophy by an 18-point margin, Olympiacos won eight of the ten play-off ties (D1 L1). Scheduled for 30 August, AEK Athens await Pedro Martins’ side in the Greek Cup final, Mady Camara’s late semi-final goal in June ensuring their spot.

Leverkusen vs Rangers (first leg: 3-1)

Die Werkself’s season concluded at the mercy of the clinical Bayern in a 4-2 DFB Cup final defeat. Talisman Kai Havertz proved a ray of hope, scoring six league goals, in an otherwise indifferent restart for Peter Bosz’s side (W5 L3 D1).

Finishing 13 points adrift off top-spot rivals Celtic, the Gers will head to Aberdeen in their first competitive match in over four months on 1 August. Despite the new Scottish season getting under way, manager Steven Gerrard spoke of the inevitable “strangeness” ahead of the last 16 second leg.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Wolfsburg (first leg: 2-1)

Shakhtar celebrated their 13th title winning the top tier by a 14-point margin. In a flawless resumption, the Miners earned seven wins and two draws in their nine remaining fixtures, though midfielder Manor Solomon asserted that it was no “walk in the park.”

On the end of a 4-0 Bayern thumping in their final fixture and a mixed bag of results (W4 L4 D1), Die Wolfe clutched the seventh spot. Having had nearly four weeks off, Wolfsburg plan to blow away the cobwebs with a friendly against Leipzig on 30 July.

UEFA Europa League schedule Photo: Uefa.com

Basel vs Eintracht Frankfurt (first leg: 3-0)

A quarter-final cup win against Lausanne kick-started Basel’s campaign, but ten points from the top and with only two games remaining, the RotBlau can only hope to edge past St. Gallen into second. With only three losses in their last 12 matches, and Arthur Cabral (10), Kemal Ademi (5) and Samuele Campo (4) amongst the scorers, it’s well within reach.

Despite opening defeats (3-1 Mönchengladbach, 5-2 Bayern), and shipping a further three goals in the 3-3 draw with Freiburg, Adi Hütter’s side still managed to clamber two places higher up the table. With obvious concerns in defence, Eintracht’s strike force showed up. With just four goals before the break, André Silva increased his tally by eight, and Bas Dost found his form, putting away four in their final five matches.

Inter vs Getafe

Coach Antonio Conte praised his team “doing some very good things” following their 3-0 away success at Genoa, which nudged the Nerazzurri into second. Netting twice, Romelu Lukaku has continued to make his mark on the season, scoring six in Serie A since the break to take his overall tally to 29 in all competitions.

A sole victory in their “terribly stressful” final 11 games – collecting only eight points and scoring six goals – José Bordalas’ floundering side, who were challenging for the top four, slipped down the table. At the season’s conclusion, “now you have to disconnect a few days to get back to work with a clean mind,” said the coach.

(Cover: Bayern are one of the favourites to clinch the title // Photo: Getty)