The 2020-2021 UEFA Champions League (UCL) Group Stage began with a rampant Bayern Munich getting 16 of a possible 18 points in Group A including a 4-0 demolition of second-place finishers Atletico Madrid. In Group B, Real Madrid managed two losses while leading the group with 10 points. Manchester City, in one of the easier pairings, Group C, had five wins and a draw to lead its group.
Liverpool and Atalanta, at 13 and 11 points respectively, easily moved on from Group D, while Chelsea and Sevilla, at 14 and 13 points respectively, moved past their minor competitors in Group E. Borussia Dortmund and Lazio managed 13 and 10 points respectively and outclassed their competitors in Group F, while Juventus and Barcelona ended with 15 points apiece progressing without trouble. Finally, PSG and RB Leipzig advanced with 12 points each.
In the Round of Sixteen, Bayern defeated Lazio handily, PSG did the same to Barca which must have warmed Pochettino’s heart as he was always in contention for every Spanish club wanting a new coach. Man City blanked Borussia Monchengladbach, Dortmund edged Sevilla by a goal, Real Madrid demolished Atalanta, Liverpool blanked Leipzig, Porto defeated Juventus in extra time, and Chelsea blanked Atletico Madrid.
In the Quarterfinals, PSG won over Bayern Munich on the away goals rule, Man City beat Dortmund 2-1 in both matches, real Madrid disposed of Liverpool with ease, and Chelsea squeaked by Porto. In the Semifinals, PSG imploded gifting two away goals and then disappearing altogether when Kilyan Mbappe had to sit on the bench for the return match at City. Pochettino doubtless knew two things, his team could have won the tie with a healthy Mbappe and next year will be another chance. Chelsea, playing the best football of their season drew Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and defeated them 2-0 at home to meet their Premiership rivals in the final.
The final was as entertaining a match as could be expected between the remaining teams and Chelsea won out 1-0 to become champions. Yes, the big teams did seem to progress handily, as they always do, but some were left in the dust, as is also the case. Until a better format is found and agreed upon the idea that we can have four different teams from three different leagues (Chelsea, Munich, Liverpool, Madrid), as the winners of the past five tourneys, keeps the competition interesting while allowing the smaller teams a chance to play spoilers and knock out their betters now and again.
Aside from the favorable comparison to the alternative Super League, the UCL offered some top-notch drama when the likes of Mbappe and Neymar defeated Munich and Barca back to back or when Chelsea turned their season around with a top-four finish in the Premiership, and an improbable defeat of Real Madrid and Man City in back to back assignations. Similarly, the top coaches on the planet got to vie against one another on two-game bursts. Certainly, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel, and Mauricio Pochettino relished their opportunities to go head-to-head against one another and will be looking forward to next year.
Next year, most of the usual suspects will be back competing but it may well be that a number of those teams will be sporting much-changed rosters to go along with the many managerial changes in European club football. Add the potential showcase Euro, to be played this summer, and the transfer market might be one of the most compelling in recent memory.
The storylines to follow are Mbappe’s decision to stay at or leave PSG and Pochettino’s influence on the decision, Lionel Messi’s similar decision on Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo’s at Juve, Gareth Bale’s at Hotspurs, and Erling Haaland’s at Dortmund. What with several up-and-coming stars looking to raise their profiles in Copa America, the Gold Cup, and the Euro, this summer may well showcase some of the planet’s best players attempting to affect their global pecking order ahead of a potentially lucrative transfer. Similarly, given who can afford what, it may well be that we see everyone staying put, or some strange, counterintuitive pairings, or some unexpectedly spectacular moves.