After a season of goals, shocking wins and inspiring comebacks, the question must be raised: are we witnessing the best Champions League season of all time since the competition switched from the European Cup to its current style in 1992?
The Last 16 of the competition saw attacking football at its finest and displayed everything fans love about the Champions League. The round saw a record 62 goals, including a 10-2 aggregate thumping of Arsenal by Bayern Munich and Monaco’s stunning comeback against Manchester City in a tie that ended 6-5 over the two legs; a scoreline that was matched by Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, following the French champions’ bizarre capitulation in the second leg.
The group stages also brought forward the highest goal-scoring group stage game of all time between Borussia Dortmund and Polish champions Legia Warsaw. The game at Signal Iduna Park ended 8-4. And, in addition to that, Dortmund scored the most goals ever in a single group stage campaign with 21 and Legia Warsaw equalled the record for the most goals conceded with 24. To add to this, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund all qualified from their groups having scored 12 or more goals.
The Champions League is the perfect platform for the world’s best players to show what they’re made of and many of those names have done that this season. Lionel Messi added to his legend earlier in the competition with hat-tricks against Celtic and Manchester City. He holds the record for most Champions League hat-tricks with seven, two clear of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, and is the competition’s outright top scorer with 11, three clear of nearest competitors Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Edinson Cavani has eight, but is not active in the competition).
Amongst more starring roles in the competition, Neymar has strengthened his claim to toppling Ronaldo and Messi as the best player in the world. He played a crucial role in the his side’s incredible comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the Last 16 and will need to put on a similar showing against Juventus in the second leg of the quarter-final. The same can be said about Atlético Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, who has been in inspired form in the knockout rounds, most recently scoring a match-winning penalty against English champions Leicester City.
Thiago Alcântara and Robert Lewandowski have played some magnificent football for Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich as they look for their first Champions League honour since 2013. Thiago’s performances have earned praise, with many touting him to be the best midfielder in the world at the moment and his class was evident in Bayern’s 10-2 thrashing of Arsenal. Things could have been very different for the German giants had Lewandowski been available to them in their quarter-final first-leg defeat to Real Madrid.
Other notable performances this season have come from Borussia Dortmund’s and Monaco’s French youngsters Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé. The two have combined for six goals in 15 appearances combined and they even squared off against each other in the quarter-finals, with the Monaco man bagging a brace in a thrilling 3-2 win for Monaco. Juventus’ Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanić can also be added to this category along with several other superb footballers for their brilliant displays this season.
The stand-out result from this category will surely be Paris Saint-Germain’s failure to overcome Barcelona in the Round-of-16. The French champions had the greatest night in their history with a 4-0 success and met the worst night in their history just a month later at the Nou Camp, losing 6-1. Barcelona failed to learn from their mistakes and probably have a harder task in overturning a 3-0 deficit against Juventus’ defence later this week.
Rostov nearly pulled off a miracle in a group containing Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSV Eindhoven. The tiny Russian side beat Bayern for their only victory in the competition, held PSV home and away and were only a late Griezmann penalty away from getting a result against Atlético.
Monaco and Leicester City added more spark to the competition with their stunning comebacks in the Round-of-16. Jardim’s side entered the second leg with a 5-3 deficit against Manchester City and won 3-1 with goals from Mbappé, Fabinho and Bakayoko cancelling out Leroy Sané’s strike and sending Monaco through on away goals. Leicester overcame a 2-1 deficit from their away tie against Sevilla with captain Wes Morgan and winger Marc Albrighton scoring in each half in the second-leg to send Leicester through to the last eight. Kasper Schmeichel saved a penalty in both games.
North London won’t enjoy this category either. Arsenal were embarrassed in the Last 16 and Mauricio Pochettino’s star-studded Tottenham side suffered Wembley blues as Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen got the better of them in the group stages, sending his side down to the Europa League, where they didn’t fare much better.
The Greatest Ever?
The Champions League never fails to entertain and that statement has been made clear this season. This season’s competition looks well on course to be the greatest ever, and that can only be confirmed once the final whistle blows at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the 3rd of June 2017.