The UEFA Champions League, if you are aware of it you already have the theme song stuck in your head right now; if not here’s the gist: every year the best football teams in Europe are selected to compete in a 32 team tournament with the champion getting bragging rights for a year as, basically, the best team in the world (yes, I am aware that there is a FIFA Club World Cup but that’s a whole can of worms I’m not gonna go into). Depending on how “strong” a league is they get more or less spots, it also depends on how well their representatives have done in previous tournaments. For example, the English Premier League or Spain’s La Liga each get 4 teams, while lets say Croatia gets one. A breakdown can be seen here.
This year, the competing teams were as follow:
After some hiccups, the usual suspects advanced to the Round of 16 were things started getting weird. As writing about each match would take ages, I’ll just talk about certain teams that either collapsed or surprised everyone
Real Madrid: I believe Real have been cursed since the whole Lopetegui debacle, which culminated in a shameful 5-1 loss to arch-rivals Barcelona. Solari then took the reigns of the team and barely willed them out of the group stage after losing twice to freaking CSKA Moscow. But hey, this is Real Madrid and they’re going for La Cuarta and are facing a plucky but extremely young and inexperienced Ajax team in the R16. They have this, even if Mr Champions Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer with them. Given what section they are at you can figure what happened. Ajax won 5-3 in aggregate, with a 4-1 bashing at the Santiago Bernabeu. The loss was so meaningful that it willed Zidane to take the reigns again.
Paris Saint-Germain: this is a team that is built for Champions League as winning the Ligue 1 is a given every year. No other French team is even close and how could they if PSG spends absurd amounts of money each year in search of UCL glory. They keep getting stuck in the R16, but this can’t happen again, right? With the additions of WC sensation Mbappé and living GK legend Gianluigi Buffon, things are looking up. Hell, they even got lucky on the draw getting Manchester United as rivals. A team in major disarray, barely holding up as the 6th best team in the EPL and being led by folk legend but unproven coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær they seem like the perfect first step for a deep tournament run. Things even started great with PSG winning 2-0 in Manchester, alas disaster struck on the second leg at Paris. First at the second minute, Lukaku takes advantage of an obscene defensive error, then at the 30th Buffon whiffs a difficult but manageable shot that Lukaku converts and the final dagger is at the 94th with a penalty kick. PSG is knocked out and the rumor mill has Mbappé and possibly Neymar leaving
Juventus: the strongest Serie A representative wanted to make a splash specially after securing the aforementioned Mr Champions Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, he’s an arrogant primadonna but he gets results, chief! And results he got, after a 2-0 loss in the first leg of the R16 against Atlético, Cristiano got a hat-trick to single-handedly carry the team to the quarterfinals. And hey, they got lucky, they got that inexperienced Ajax team, sure they defeated Real Madrid but Real are a mess and that was probably a fluke anyway… it was not a fluke. Ajax defeated Juventus and Ronaldo went home.
Every Bundesliga team: for the first time in like 12 years, no German team advanced to the quarterfinals. Bayern tried a bit but got overclassed by Liverpool, American wunderteen’s Dortmund could not score once against Spurs and Schalke, oh boy, Schalke got pantsed in front of everyone with a 10-2 aggregate loss that included a 7-0 against Manchester City. Better luck next year, Germany.
The Cinderella Story
Ajax: as most Dutch teams, Ajax is built for local league success and as a starting point for promising young talent that will be sold as soon as they start getting good. Ok, older fans are probably side-eyeing me right now, yes Ajax has been historically good at the UCL, but this isn’t 1995. This is not the Kluivert/Davids/Overmars/Rijkaard/Seedorf team (holy shit, that team was stacked). This is a team with 6 of their starting 11 that are 22 years or younger. If they got out of their group, that would be a good run, they could hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner. However, the good thing about having a bunch of young kids is that they don’t give a shit about what is expected and when they believe, they believe. And why wouldn’t they? They knocked out Real Madrid and Juventus, they got to the semi-final against Tottenham, and then they were literally seconds away from the final until reality (and freaking Lucas Moura of all people) finally pulled them down. The carriage turned into a pumpkin, but Cinderella had a ball.
Liverpool: here we go again, second chance in a row for Klopp to make history. Without butcher Sergio Ramos in the opposing team and hopefully a less concussed goalkeeper, things look promising. Their road was fairly easy in the first two rounds, not facing strong opposition from a disappointing Bayern and then facing a rather weak Porto. Luck seemed to have ran out on the semifinal though, when they faced the fearsome Barcelona, who wanted revenge from a historic collapse against Roma last year when they gave away a 4-1 lead. First leg ended 3-0 in Barcelona’s favor, with Messi scoring twice. Liverpool now needed at least 3 and not conceding once, not only that but they lost their best forwards (Firmino and Salah) to injury. This was basically a movie setup, but UCL is usually cruel and these things don’t happen, and it certainly wouldn’t happen twice in a row to Barcelona. Things started promising for The Reds, with sub Origi scoring at the 7th minute, but things cooled down and the fist half ended 1-0. Second half everything changed, the other sub Wijnaldum scored twice in a 3 minute span and now everyone believed. The match was chaos, the world was chaos, nothing made sense and to cap that this happened:
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been incredible for Liverpool
▪️ Only 20 years old
▪️ Nominated for 2018 Golden Boy
▪️ 15 assists this season as a defender
▪️ Assisted Liverpool's winning goal vs. Barcelona on this quick corner pic.twitter.com/1CQ4oFiDRT
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 8, 2019
Movies are real and they’re funny
Tottenham: the Spurs are historic underachievers, hell there’s even a “holiday” that commemorates this. But things have been different in recent years. Whether it’s because of Kane, Son or Pochettino, the Spurs have started to believe and have, the cruelest of all emotions, hope. And while Liverpool had an historic comeback that has them in the highest of emotional highs, Spurs can basically say the same. Tottenham ran over Dormund with a 4-0 aggregate which won them the right to face Man City. Another team made for the UCL, City led by Guardiola are up to the task and they’re hungry for European glory. The first leg goes well for Spurs who win with a rather mundane 1-0, the second leg, in Manchester will be a different story. I hope y’all didn’t go for a beer and missed the first minutes as by the 11th minute we are already 2-2! Hell, by the 20th the citizens are up 3-2. Agüero makes it 4-2 at the 59th and we seem to be witnessing another Spursing, then Llorente makes it 4-3 and puts them through. Next they faced the Cinderella, and managed to lose 1-0 at home, not only that but in the second leg they are losing 2-0 by the first half. To make matters worse, Kane is injured and Son is suspended, they’ll need to rely in something called Lucas Moura? Ok, ok, I’m underselling Lucas for drama, yes he’s a Brazilian national squad member, but he was also benchwarming in PSG last year. He was an unlikely hero. Besides, the Hollywoodesque underdog is Ajax. Well, there can only be one Hollywood ending, Lucas scored a hat-trick, not only that but the third goal was in the last possible second. With the whole stadium begging the ref to end the match, Moura ripped the youngsters heart and kept Spurs’ hope alive.
So here’s where we are at. With two EPL teams that have starred in two of the best comebacks in UCL history. Will the final be as exciting? Who knows, all we can do is hope it will