Paris, France (AFP) – After an enforced hiatus of almost five months, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week in order to clear up the last remaining business in a troubled season.
Both competitions were frozen in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the continent, and while European football’s governing body acted swiftly to move Euro 2020 back a year, for a long time it was unclear how it would manage to complete its two landmark club competitions.
In the end the solution was to set up two mini tournaments bringing all teams together in one place from the quarter-finals onwards, with all ties being decided in one-off matches behind closed doors.
And so the Champions League will move to Lisbon for the ‘Final Eight’ starting on August 12 and ending with the final at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on August 23.
The Europa League, meanwhile, will be played to a conclusion at a series of venues in western Germany, with the last eight beginning on August 10 and the final in Cologne on August 21.
“I believed it from the first moment,” said the UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin recently when asked if he ever doubted it would be possible to play the tournaments to a conclusion.
“You should always be optimistic, and if something like this crisis happens, you must have a plan ready.
“At the present time, we will be playing matches without spectators until further notice. We will not take any risks.”
There is, though, no question of further changes being made to the formats despite concerns about an increase in Covid-19 cases in and around Lisbon, and more recent worries in Germany about a rise in cases there.
UEFA also recently insisted it was “confident” there would be no more delays despite cases of coronavirus emerging among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla.
It is, in any case, now or never.
Indeed, the preliminary round of next season’s Champions League begins next Saturday, the same day Bayern Munich entertain Chelsea and Napoli visit Barcelona in their outstanding last 16 second legs.
Before that, Manchester City defend a 2-1 first-leg lead at home against Real on Friday as Pep Guardiola’s side target Champions League glory on the back of the club’s success at getting a two-year ban from the competition overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The winner of that tie will face Juventus or Lyon in the quarter-finals in Lisbon.