UCL quarterfinal draw: Europe’s heavyweights await Champions League fate

UEFA Champions League quarterfinal draw sets up heavyweight ties, showcasing European football’s elite clubs in thrilling competition.

Published : Mar 14, 2024 19:52 IST , Paris - 4 MINS READ

The Champions League trophy is pictured before the draw. (Representative Image)
The Champions League trophy is pictured before the draw. (Representative Image) | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The Champions League trophy is pictured before the draw. (Representative Image) | Photo Credit: REUTERS

This Friday’s Champions League quarterfinal draw is set to throw up a series of heavyweight ties after a midweek in which penalty shoot-out drama really brought Europe’s elite club competition to life.

Goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s heroics in Atletico Madrid’s shoot-out win over last season’s runners-up Inter Milan on Wednesday -- after the Spanish club came from behind in their last-16 tie -- followed Arsenal’s triumph on penalties against Porto a day earlier.

Tuesday also saw Barcelona deliver a rousing performance to see off Napoli and make it through to the quarterfinals for the first time since their 8-2 annihilation at the hands of Bayern Munich in 2020 in Lisbon, at the height of the Covid crisis.

With record 14-time champions Real Madrid already having secured its last-eight berth, it means three Spanish clubs will be represented in the draw.

They are joined by two English sides in Arsenal and holders Manchester City, as well as the German duo of Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, and French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

The surprise is that none of Italy’s representatives reached the next stage, a year after Inter pushed City close in the final having eliminated neighbours AC Milan in the last four.

Also read | UCL 2023-24 quarterfinal draw: Date, Time, Teams, Live streaming info, All you need to know

Only three of last season’s quarterfinalists -- City, Real and Bayern -- have made it back to the last eight this time, suggesting there is still a real degree of variety and unpredictability to the competition.

Yet the recent last-16 ties also more than hinted at the ever-growing polarisation at the very top of European football.

FC Copenhagen could never really compete with Pep Guardiola’s City, while getting the better of PSG proved a step too far for Real Sociedad and Bayern ultimately brushed aside Lazio despite losing the first leg away.

Only the mega-rich can now aspire to winning the Champions League, with four of the quarterfinalists posting revenue last season of over 800 million euros ($874m) according to this year’s Deloitte Football Money League.

Going by Deloitte’s ranking, all eight quarterfinalists were in the top 15 clubs in the world last season in terms of income -- Atletico had the lowest at just over 364 million euros.

Diego Simeone’s side were the only team to win against a richer club in the last 16, and even then Inter generated only marginally more money last season.

Can anyone stop Man City?

The current format of the Champions League has been in place for two decades and will be changed for next season, when UEFA will revolutionise its flagship tournament by replacing the group stage with a league phase featuring 36 clubs, up from 32 now.

Clubs will play eight games in the league phase, instead of six in the old group stage, all against different opponents in what is known as the “Swiss system”.

It remains to be seen if that will somehow improve the Champions League, when the major issue appears to be that the number of candidates to win the trophy is getting narrower.

Also read | FAQs: What is the UCL draw format? Can teams from same country play each other?

Competing with City is not just an issue for Copenhagen, but for all clubs.

Having won the trophy for the first time last season, they are into the quarter-finals for the seventh year running.

“It’s quite impressive,” admitted Guardiola last week. “We are well-respected from our opponents. The numbers are there -- our consistency.”

Whether anyone can prevent them retaining the title may in large part come down to the draw, with the path to the final being determined on Friday when the semifinal match-ups will also be decided.

Winners in 2022, Madrid may be the best equipped to beat City among all the sides left in the quarterfinals, but they were blown away by them in last season’s semifinals.

Bayern is into the quarterfinals for the 12th time in 13 years. It may be trailing behind Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, but remains a formidable prospect in Europe.

Three of the remaining contenders have never won the trophy, in Arsenal, Atletico and PSG, the French side reaching the final in 2020, when they lost to Bayern.

They are far from a complete team now, but will be eager to seize their last chance to win the Champions League before Kylian Mbappe departs.

“I am not going to choose one team or give my preferences. What I am sure of though is that nobody will want to play PSG,” said their coach Luis Enrique

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