Reacting to a draw is difficult when there are so many variables and hypotheticals. Cristiano Ronaldo may or may not be faced with a reunion with Real Madrid. Bayern Munich may or may not have to face 2015 winners Barcelona. For that matter Frank Lampard’s rejuvenated Chelsea may or may not produce a historic comeback (they almost certainly won’t).
- Champions League draw: Man City to face Lyon or Juventus if they beat Real Madrid
- Europa League draw: Man United set for İstanbul Başakşehir or FC Copenhagen test
- Champions League and Europa League draws as they happened
What we do know is that French champions PSG, who haven’t played since March, are up against Atalanta whilst Atletico Madrid, who are unbeaten since the restart, are going to face RB Leipzig, who will be without their best player Timo Werner, who has agreed to join Chelsea.
Let’s start with those confirmed ties, and in particular Atalanta v PSG. Scroll Twitter and news sites (hardly the most reliable source of a public mood) and the feeling is clearly that PSG have got a steal of a draw.
Are we so sure that is the case?
This is an Atalanta side who have blitzed 2020 so far. They have lost just twice this year (back-to-back defeats in January against Fiorentina in the cup and SPAL in the league) and have a 100% record since returning from the Covid-19 suspension.
Their six matches since returning have seen them score 15 goals and concede just five. Those wins have included beating Napoli as well as title-contenders Lazio.
Image credit: Getty Images
By contrast PSG have been away from the pitch for four months. They have a month between now and the mini-tournament in Lisbon to get ready for a one-off match that will, as it does every year, shape their season. They have three friendlies scheduled, against Le Havre, Waasland-Beveren and Celtic before two domestic cup finals, against Saint-Etienne in the Coupe de France and Lyon in the Coupe de Ligue. Atalanta still have seven league matches to fine tune ahead of the 'final eight' tournament. Plus PSG have lost two of their most influential players; Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani. Hardly akin to losing Neymar or Kylian Mbappe but big blows nevertheless.
Yes, Atlanta started this season slowly, and it looked initially as if they wouldn’t even make it into the Europa League. But they’ve rallied and they’re more or less locked into the top four in Italy and if they beat Juventus on Saturday. then they become the Turin side’s most dangerous title threat (even if Juve remain odds-on to defend their crown). Yes, they’re not a historical power-house but this is exactly what happened when Porto won the Champions League in 2004 and even when Monaco reached the final four in 2017; a well-coached team with few recognised stars surprising the complacent giants. In a one-off knockout format? Atalanta are a force to be reckoned with, don’t bet against PSG being caught cold.
Looking at the other confirmed tie however, it’s difficult to argue against the tide. Without Werner it’s hard to see how Leipzig are going to be able to stop Atletico. Diego Simeone’s side are another who are perfectly built for single matches, they can sit deep and frustrate their opponents before catching them on the counter. They’re not the defensive juggernaut they once were but they’re more than a match for this Leipzig team. After that? Who knows. After all they have unfinished business in Lisbon and they were the team who knocked out the holders. Win three games to become champions of Europe? It's crying out for Simeone isn't it?
Image credit: Getty Images
On the opposite side of the draw the UEFA conspiracy theorists are probably a bit quieter now given you have Real Madrid, Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Manchester City all together alongside Lyon and Napoli. You’d expect Bayern, who were imperious when the Bundesliga returned, to go through but the other ties are trickier to call. Juventus will have the same advantage over Lyon that Atalanta will have over PSG but there are holes in Maurizio Sarri’s team. The only reason there isn’t a Serie A title race is because of the way Lazio and Inter Milan have fallen away.
The other two ties are finely balanced. Barcelona have been abject by and large and are a club very much in crisis. They have a multitude of problems and Coppa Italia winners Napoli, who have won four of five in the league so far, will be no pushovers. By contrast Real have been good since the restart and now are favourites to win La Liga. Man City have had a couple of massive wins but that shock 1-0 reverse at Southampton shows that they can be beaten too. If they fail to get past a rejuvenated Real that will mean the so-called greatest league in the world will have zero representatives in the final eight…
One thing we’re still waiting on from UEFA is a big question. There is a good chance that the transfer window across Europe will open at the end of July or the start of August. That might mean that clubs have new players when the Champions League comes around, possibly players from teams competing such as Werner. We still don’t have confirmation but we probably need clarification soon…
Credit to UEFA though the format is a solid enough idea, assuming all safety protocols are followed. You’re going to bring eight teams together for the chance to win the Champions League in the space of just under two weeks. The one worry is whether the one-match system sees teams adopt an Atletico-esque approach and sit deep to avoid getting beaten rather than going for the win. That would be counter-intuitive to a lot of the remaining managers’ philosophies, so hopefully that is not the case. It’s a new phenomenon but don’t count on it being the new normal, think of it more as a precursor to when there is a summer club tournament thanks to Gianni Infantino. Given the situation though, it’s not bad at all.