The 2020-21 UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Draw has brought us the following dark horse and favorite matchups: Borussia Monchengladbach v Manchester City, Lazio v Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig v Liverpool, Barcelona v Paris St-Germain, Porto v Juventus, Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid v Chelsea, and Atalanta v Real Madrid. On paper, and at the oddsmakers, only the Barca-PSG match-up seems competitive. And, yes, it is way too early to make predictions, but let’s try anyway.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have now placed Manchester City atop the favorites to win it all list, above Bayern Munich, which itself is followed by Liverpool, PSG, and Real Madrid as the top five contenders. Papa would disagree. First, Bayern is still the team to beat. But second, some interesting potential contenders (favorites and dark horses) and spoilers should also be looked at less the landscape be drastically changed before the quarterfinals begin.
ESPN has Man City, Bayern, Atletico, Liverpool, Juventus, PSG, Sevilla, and Real Madrid as the teams to progress to the quarterfinals. The problem is that dark horses RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund, and Borussia Monchengladbach have been punching above their weight all tournament long and nothing seems to indicate a drastic change. Yes, they have not been consistent, but in a two-game tie, anything can happen. So, with the exception of an unforeseen circumstance, or a return to a lesser form by the dark horses, Liverpool, Sevilla, or Man City might be in for a surprise.
Though the perennial Spanish trio and the trio of British teams this year are all formidable, and Bayern is certainly capable of lifting the cup at the end, it is the potential of the teams on the outside looking in, the dark horses, the ones with scores to settle or nothing to lose who seem just as likely this year to break through and either upset their betters or progress to what for them would be uncharted heights. What with the unpredictability of this year’s injuries galore, Covid-19 illnesses, and potential game suspensions and reschedules, this seems the year for all types of potential upsets. This could be the year PSG avenges their collapse against Barca when Ney was at the Catalan club. This could be the year Atalanta, Lazio, and Porto dumbfound everyone. Something about this pandemic year seems to presage unexpected change.
Let’s play devil’s advocate
Imagine if the eight left standing were Monchengladbach, Bayern, Leipzig, PSG, Juventus, Dortmund, Atletico, and Real Madrid. Now we are left with the odds that Juve, PSG, Real, and Bayern will move on if they do not get drawn to play at the quarterfinals stage. But one giant’s pairing will occur, it always does. So now you have two-to-three favorites and a dark horse, or two and two, into the semifinals. Now the odds are even higher for the favorites as they would be pitted against much lesser competitors—only those lesser teams made it through and will only have done so if they, most likely, are currently playing at a very high level. But what if those two remaining favorites are drawn to meet at the semifinals. Then you have a “second-level team” playing a first-level one in the final. Now what?
What’s one potential scenario
Papa believes one potential scenario would be that PSG and Juventus meet in the final, assuming Neymar recovers in time and Ronaldo is not injured. Then, it could be Ronnie pulling it out in 2021, and maybe joining Ney at PSG the following year, to win it all again with Mbappe, just ahead of their national teams’ reunions in Qatar for the November-December 2022 World Cup.