Champions League Draw — Old World Versus the New
It’s Madrid and Paris, and the collision of two worlds, that all eyes will be on. Real, after a decade in Barcelona’s shadow, have won the trophy thrice in four seasons, but haven’t really been on the ball this term. Against Neymar and company, who don’t have to worry about a stressful league campaign, anything less than their best won’t be enough.
Champions League draw. (Getty Images)
When Paris Saint-Germain Football Club (PSG) was formed in August 1970, Real Madrid were coming off what was, by their standards, a horror season. Six times champions of Europe by then, the 14-time La Liga winners finished fifth, well off the pace set by their city rivals, Atlético. Belgium’s Standard Liege beat them in both legs in the European Cup’s round of 16, and a Copa del Rey success was all the players had to show for their toil. Given how they had dominated football in the Di Stefano-Puskas years, it simply wasn’t good enough.
When FC Barcelona, Real’s great rivals and the other half of El Clásico, finally laid their hands on European football’s greatest prize, at Wembley in May 1992, Chelsea Football Club had just limped to a 14th-place finish in the old Division One. Their goal difference was -10. They had one league title to their name, though fans who would remember that far back (1954-55) were few and far between.
Fast forward a quarter century, and both PSG and Chelsea are part of European football’s elite. In many quarters, Chelsea are seen as the pioneers of buying success, though Roman Abramovich and the club’s fans can rightly point to Bernard Tapie and his controversial years in Marseille in the early 1990s. Even before that, it was Silvio Berlusconi’s largesse that bankrolled the great Milan teams coached by Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.
And it wasn’t as though Real’s run of success in the early years of the competition came courtesy an austerity budget. No, much of the sneering at Chelsea and the triumphs they enjoyed in the noughties had to do with established clubs being unable to stomach the idea of interlopers at the top table.
But the money that Abramovich spent now seems like small change compared to Project PSG. Their humiliation in the Champions League’s round of 16 last season – not too many clubs lose a tie after winning the first leg 4-0, even against Barcelona – now looks more and more like a Rubicon moment. It was Neymar rather than Lionel Messi that was the most influential player in Barca’s 6-1 second-leg romp, and it was Neymar that PSG signed for an astronomical fee earlier this summer.
The fact that they also managed to get hold of Kylian Mbappe, despite interest from Real, told you everything you needed to know about the game’s new financial heavy hitters. And the draw for the knockout rounds of this season’s competition couldn’t have been more dramatic, pitting the arrivistes against the most famous club in the world.
For Unai Emery, despite the likelihood of regaining the French title from AS Monaco, this is the last chance to save his job. The Qataris haven’t pumped in the GDP of a small nation to win a league that few follow. What they’re after is continental glory, and the logical culmination of the project. Abramovich got there in 2012, after years of falling short, and the PSG management are in an even greater hurry to transform the game’s landscape.
Barcelona’s tie with Chelsea could also be painted in old-world-versus-new colours, except for the fact that Chelsea have been regulars at the business end of the competition for over a decade now. Barcelona are still unbeaten in La Liga, without ever having looked really intimidating, while Chelsea’s title defence is already almost over. But with Eden Hazard, a rumoured summer target for Real, and Alvaro Morata, Real old boy, in their ranks, an upset is very much possible.
The other recipients of Middle Eastern munificence, Manchester City, have been given the kindest draw of all, against Basel. Bayern Munich, champions in 2013, should also go through against Besiktas, who have never translated success in Turkey to notable achievements on the bigger stage.
Manchester United should prevail against Sevilla, who are great going forward but leaky as a colander at the back, and Liverpool will be happy they drew Porto and not one of the bigger boys. Spurs against Juventus has the potential to be the tie of the round, while Shakhtar and AS Roma face off in another tie that pits the newly rich against the old world.
But it’s Madrid and Paris, and the collision of two worlds, that all eyes will be on. Real, after a decade in Barcelona’s shadow, have won the trophy thrice in four seasons, but haven’t really been on the ball this term. Against Neymar and company, who don’t have to worry about a stressful league campaign, anything less than their best won’t be enough.
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