One can only speculate how Liverpool will fare in the Champions League knockout rounds but while this useless task grows more relevant each passing week, the quarter finals revealed that Liverpool will not be entering a competition where there is any need to feel inadequate or unworthy. Brendan Rodgers' side defines attacking effervescence. In fact, the Premier League's current top goalscorers do not look like poor cousins looking from the outside in but aristocratic peers who came a little late to the party and will have to settle for the next round of jovial japes.
The wait for Manchester City's arrival goes on but what would a matchup against each of the Champions League quarter finalists look like? It has been written that this year's line-up may just be one of the strongest ever and for the first time in Champions League history, all eight group winners made the quarter finals. Indeed, this wasn't a stage for cannon fodder or plucky underdogs even if Manchester United, like most clubs, could fill no other role against the machine from München. This Liverpool side would not cower in submission to any side in the last eight and would provide stern opposition. Imagine the goals scored and conceded over both legs!
It will be interesting to find out which of the quarter finalists members of the community think Liverpool would defeat over two legs. Atlético Madrid versus Liverpool would be a two-legged game many neutrals would love to see. The narrative would be of the two clubs rising once again to heights that were long forgotten domestically to do battle on the grandest of European stages. Liverpool would be underdogs against Bayern and Real Madrid while a high octane game would lie in wait against Borussia Dortmund. Chelsea and Manchester United would offer intriguing domestic opposition in tense games where local bragging rights would be on offer...tantalisingly so. A night in Barcelona would befit a side of Liverpool's reputation in Europe but Brendan Rodgers' charges would probably not be bookmakers' favourites in that tie also.
Still, it is fun to debate and calculate what Liverpool might accomplish against such sides and no matter what happens in the title race, Champions League football is what we can all look forward to next season.
One has to wonder about sides such as Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City in the Champions League. PSG have fared better as exiting to Barcelona and Chelsea in successive quarter finals isn't something worthy of a public inquiry but PSG should have done better at Stamford Bridge. In 2013, PSG exited on away goals with a 3-3 aggregate and it was the same in this season. Demba Ba's late goal was decisive. Victory was bestowed on the team that struck last and in truth, Chelsea deserved to go through. Moruinho's record in the Champions League is a grand one and his quarter final record remains unblemished.
PSG lacked what Wenger would call "charisma" and were disappointing in both legs. Chelsea may have profited from "uncultured" goals but one could perceive a coherent and clever tactical approach from Mourinho. No doubt, there will be a plan for Liverpool later this month and Brendan Rodgers will need to be at his tactical best. Laurent Blanc and his players will need to examine whether there is the necessary team spirit to prosper in a competition that demands not only quality but organisation, togetherness, and a little bit of well-timed fortune. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's absence may have affected the side but Chelsea had their own notable absences too in Ramires' suspension and Hazard's early withdrawal due to a calf injury.
André Schürrle was full of enterprise after replacing Chelsea's Belgian wizard and duly opened the scoring. Next season, Chelsea's new main man up front can count on excellent support from Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Schürrle, and Salah. Chelsea's squad is shaping up nicely for Mourinho who will also have the precocious duo of Marco van Ginkel and Zouma as midfield and defensive options respectively. Nemanja Matić would have provided excellent balance in midfield in Champions League knockout ties but David Luiz appears to have central midfield on proverbial "lockdown" these days. Luiz's variety in distribution, bravery in possession, energy, composure, and sheer enthusiasm for the task was evident.
Blanc's analysis after the game showed the disappointment of going out after a solid first-leg lead. Cavani missed opportunities and a lack of confidence perhaps? PSG could have constructed attacks a little better in the final twenty minutes and Cavani could have been more composed. Chelsea didn't display the verve in defiance that Dortmund did but it was a praiseworthy performance. Mourinho's assertion that the defensive side didn't deserve to go through was a little hypocritical as he has protected a lead even more extremely as manager of Inter Milan when he held a 3-1 advantage from the first leg against that semi final against Barcelona in 2010. PSG sat deep at times but they were not as negative as Inter were. Congratulations to Chelsea because overturning a two goal deficit is not easy.
PSG will rue an opportunity to make the semifinals but deserved nothing from the showing in the second leg. Chelsea were not the underdog as this was a clash of two sides that have spent enormous sums it is just that Chelsea have more experience and probably, a little more heart to go with the cliché. Mourinho really dislikes risk doesn't he? Even when making a comeback, it is not a matter of throwing caution to the nearest bin but a controlled and studied method of finding a way back into the tie.
Over in Germany, another key man was missing. Cristiano Ronaldo had already matched Lionel Messi's record of 14 Champions League goals in one campaign. However, the Real Madrid man's injury meant that Real Madrid needed to go through in order for the record to be broken. Robert Lewandowski missed the first leg and Dortmund suffered in his absence along with other notable absentees including Marcel Schmelzer, Jakub Błaszczykowski, Sven Bender, Neven Subotic, and Ilkay Gündogan. Most of those players have missed significant portions of the season and only Lewandowski returned.
Borussia Dortmund showed so much spirit to nearly overturn a three-goal deficit and the side hailing from North Rhine-Westphalia. Jürgen Klopp was correct in his post-match musings that Dortmund should have scored more goals in an atmosphere he described as "extraordinary" to all who would listen. Carlo Ancelotti's declared it was "a night of suffering" and it was fair of the experienced Italian to assert that the early missed penalty was key to the flow of the game. Marco Reus' two goals were nearly enough to take Dortmund through to at least extra time but a profligate Henrikh Mkhitaryan did not help matters. Perhaps the incoming Adrian Ramos from Hertha Berlin will spearhead a Champions League challenge next season but it is hoped that Lewandowski will be the only player Watzke and Klopp will lose this summer.
Bayern Munich recently lost their unbeaten record in the Bundesliga but had a chance to continue to match last season's achievements by progressing against Manchester United. The English club's players rightly paid a visit to the 1958 Munich air disaster memorial site before the game and there seemed to be a focus about Moyes' men in recent weeks. The first leg ended in a surprising draw at Old Trafford and a number of key names were missing for both clubs in the decisive leg. Could the unthinkable happen on a Wednesday evening at the Allianz Arena?
It looked for a minute or so that a shock could happen when Patrice Evra's stunning long range strike continued to rise as it went in off the underside of the bar. Manuel Neuer had no chance but Bayern hit back immediately through Mario Mandžukić's header and then Arjen Robbern did his thing. A low centre to assist Thomas Müller for a goal that Michael Carrick described as the decisive, "killer" goal. David Moyes thought that conceding an equaliser so early was "criminal" so no fun and games after that. Arjen Robben's third goal was a typical Arjen Robben goal in that it was predictable but unstoppable.
Man United were not disgraced and a 4-2 aggregate defeat wasn't as emphatic as many thought it would be before the first leg kicked off. The UK Guardian's Michael Cox thought Pep Guardiola's tic tacs were clever, David Moyes believes that Man United will be back in the Champions League soon, and Pep proclaimed that his players have got "a lot of heart" even if he cut an exasperated figure on the touchline at times. At least we'll be seeing Bayern next season.
In Spain, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona continue this season's close rivalry. Both sides have drawn four times to date in the 2013-2014 season and the first leg was a close affair. Could this be the dramatic extra time game that the Football Gods demand from a Champions League quarter final? Not quite but justice was done as the Spanish capital side progressed to the semi finals for the first time in 40 years. Diego Simeone's side should not be underestimated. Like Liverpool, Atlético top their domestic league for a reason and it is no fluke. When will they run out of stream? The squad is relatively small and they progressed to the semi finals of the Copa del Rey, top La Liga, and now the last four of the Champions League.
Simeone is possibly football's most wanted and while we crow over what Rodgers has done, the Argentinian is doing some serious work in Spain. A Europa League title, a UEFA Super Cup, and a Copa del Rey all serve as evidence of a very talented manager whose work ethic and desire reflects in his team. Will a La Liga title and Champions League triumph follow? It is not inconceivable and a certain AC Milan player looks awfully foolish to write off such a team. They fight, they play, they defend, they attack, they control space effectively, they work together, they look out for each other, and they operate in the spirit of their manager.
For Barcelona, there will be some necessary self-examination at the end of the season. This defeat was just as emphatic in its nature as last year's exit to Bayern Munich even if a 2-1 aggregate defeat doesn't quite compare with 7-0. However, Barcelona were overwhelmed and had no answer to a side that was missing its goalscoring totem in Diego Costa. David Villa and Adrián López Álvarez terrorised what Barcelona pretended to be a defence but there are problems in Catalan country, serious problems. Will Tata Martino be given another season? What is clear is that Barcelona need centre backs, a couple of goalkeeepers, and shouldn't be dropping either Pedro or Alexis in games such as this.
Diego Simeone saluted his loyal fans in the stadium for what was an unforgettable night for all who witnessed a triumphant Atlético in the Vicente Calderón. Neutrals must hope that Simeone remains at the club, investment continues, and the world witnesses a third Spanish side who can provide variety in the latter stages of major club competitions. Who knows? Perhaps it will be Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers making similar strides in the Champions League next season.