Real Madrid, Chelsea and City were all part of thwarted breakaway plan as PSG stood by UEFA
By Jonathan Johnson
The UEFA Champions League is back this week with two blockbuster semifinal first leg ties but the long shadow cast by last week’s Super League controversy has given the two matchups entirely different complexions from when the draw was made.
Real Madrid against Chelsea on Tuesday will see two of the 12 breakaway clubs meet in the Spanish capital with Los Blancos’ president Florentino Perez now known to have been one of the project’s ringleaders with Juventus’ Andrea Agnelli.
The Blues were one of six Premier League clubs involved in the Super League venture but also the first club to announce their withdrawal after supporter protests outside Stamford Bridge last week in some of the most memorable scenes from the short-lived farce.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Wednesday meeting with Manchester City is different because the French giants were the only remaining semi-finalist to stay loyal to UEFA alongside beaten Champions League titleholders Bayern Munich as controversial new reforms were unanimously voted through.
While City were busy getting swept away by Perez and Agnelli’s half-baked plans, PSG were pulling together with the likes of Bayern, fellow Bundesliga heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla of La Liga and traditional continental giants AFC Ajax to ensure that European soccer did not fall apart.
That brings these four clubs together in unprecedented circumstances with a lot more on the line than just an eventual place in the final.
Real Madrid vs. Chelsea
Zinedine Zidane’s men have been in action twice since the Super League news broke with a 3-0 win over Cadiz CF and the now customary failure to score against Real Betis at home with a goalless draw over the weekend.
Consequently, Real are second in La Liga and two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid but level on points with Barcelona having played one game more than their bitter rivals in one of Europe’s most intriguing title races.
By the time Los Merengues take the field against Osasuna next weekend, Ronald Koeman’s Barca may well be ahead of them — and Atleti — in the table and that will be a hard situation to turn around with no clashes remaining to overhaul either of their rivals.
With Copa del Rey already gone, the Champions League is perhaps Real’s best chance of success and also the most lucrative if Perez’s comic bleating about his club’s need for the Super League is to be taken even remotely seriously.
Chelsea are no easy draw and Tuchel excels when in the underdog role but the Spaniards are actually at their most convincing when in continental action and the Blues is arguably still a more favorable draw than a PSG or City — potential final opponents.
Karim Benzema continues to be in prolific form across all competitions with 26 goals for Real in La Liga and the Champions League combined while Chelsea are still trying to work out their most potent attack with Olivier Giroud once again dropping out of contention for a role.
However, the 2018 FIFA World Cup winner with France continues to feature in Europe and there is the possibility that Benzema and Giroud’s famous Formula 1-karting spat actually sees the light of day on a soccer pitch this week or next.
PSG vs. City
Mauricio Pochettino’s side are rarely neutral favorites domestically or on the continent these days but the events of last week with the Super League fiasco may well have changed the view of many regarding the remainder of this season’s Champions League edition.
PSG have seen off Barcelona and defending titleholders Bayern to reach this point while City have overcome German Borussia pair Monchengladbach and Dortmund in a more favorable path to this point, as well as securing the League Cup over the weekend against Tottenham Hotspur.
Les Parisiens remain locked in what is arguably the most exciting domestic title race in Europe this season as they fight against Lille OSC and AS Monaco to be crowned kings of Le Championnat and that tense tussle possibly gives PSG a competitive edge on the continental stage that is rarely there.
The French capital outfit are currently second in Ligue 1 and will face surprise package RC Lens between their two clashes with City while Pep Guardiola’s men are reasonably comfortable in the Premier League table despite recent setbacks against Manchester United and Leeds United.
The Citizens’ quadruple hopes were also dashed by former PSG boss Tuchel and his Chelsea side in the FA Cup semifinals while the German tactician can still dream of a Parisien reunion in Europe if his Blues can overcome Real.
PSG-City is also a clash that is not without history as their last meeting back in 2015-16 saw the Premier League outfit win what was then a quarterfinal match between two clubs under Financial Fair Play scrutiny 3-2 on aggregate with Laurent Blanc paying dearly for his second leg tactical meltdown.
The Frenchman left Parc des Princes at the end of that season, bought out for a reported $27 million that illustrates the high stakes nature of this clash between two Gulf state-owned European powerhouses.