With this season’s UEFA Champions League coming in to its final stages, a picture is beginning to emerge of who might take home this season’s title. Already three of Europe’s bigger teams have been knocked out, including reigning champions Real Madrid, as well as Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. This season is also set to feature four English teams in the Quarter Finals — the first time this has happened since 2009 — meaning that the chances of the trophy heading to Britain is higher than ever.
Ahead of this week’s Quarter Finals draw, we’ve rounded up five of the key takeaways from the last round of fixtures.
Is this Manchester City’s year?
For all the money spent by Manchester City, there is one competition that still eludes the club. Similarly, it is now eight years and two clubs since Pep Guardiola last lifted the trophy. This year is beginning to look more and more like it could be City’s year. After coming through a first leg against German club Schalke with a slender 3-2 win, City turned on the heat at home. By the end of the game, they had won 7-0 and sent out a statement to any of the other clubs. With Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG already out, this could finally be the year.
The resurgence of Ajax
There aren’t many teams that are loved by football romantics as much as Amsterdam-based Ajax. Recent years, however, haven’t been great for the Dutch club. By going to the Bernabeu and beating Real Madrid 4-1, Ajax showed that they can still perform when it matters. The result — inspired by Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong — ended Real Madrid’s chances of winning a fifth Champions League trophy in six years and saw Zinedine Zidane make a surprise return to the club in an attempt to salvage it from crisis.
Cristiano Ronaldo has still got it
Following his move from Real Madrid to Juventus last summer, it was easy to picture Cristiano Ronaldo as slowly easing himself away from the limelight. His performance in the Round of 16 second leg proved this wasn’t the case. With Juventus 2-0 down to Atletico Madrid from the first leg, it seemed like the Italian club were on the way out of the competition. Ronaldo’s hat trick tore up the script, with his goals giving Juventus a 3-0 lead and dragging them through to the quarter finals. He might have just turned 34, but Cristiano Ronaldo is still very much one of the world’s best.
Virgil Van Dijk could be the best in the world
With Liverpool’s title challenge beginning to stumble since the start of 2019, the Round of 16 victory over Bayern Munich was a statement of intent. Arguably the most impressive thing about the performance was Liverpool’s measured approach, a stark contrast to the way the team played in its run to the final last season. Virgil Van Dijk, playing his first full season for the club, has been one of the key drivers in the newfound defensive responsibility seen throughout the team. Often appearing like a grown up playing with children, Van Dijk’s reassuring performances in the middle of the Liverpool defence have made him a prime candidate for the best defender in the world.
How far can Manchester United go?
Manchester United’s honeymoon under Ole Gunnar Solskjær seemed to be over with the 2-0 home loss to Paris Saint-Germain last month. Back in Paris, though, United scored early, before leaving it late to win 3-1 and progress on away goals. Considering the impact that Solskjær has had since he was drafted in as an emergency replacement for Jose Mourinho, maybe it’s time to start seeing the English club as an outside bet for the whole tournament.