By 9pm on Tuesday night, the runaway league leaders of the English Premier League knew their fate. Despite their first-half attempts, they had not done enough to translate their domestic dominance onto the European stage.
Manchester City were out of the Champions League.
Just after 9.30pm, the team that leads La Liga by 11 points were coming to terms with their own destiny.
Despite leading 4-1 from the first leg, a rousing comeback from Roma, who qualified for their first semi-final 34 years, ensured Barcelona would fail to reach the semi-finals for the third consecutive campaign.
Despite a stunning comeback of their own, Juventus, who are on course for their seventh consecutive Serie A title, also suffered elimination at the hands of Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s side had already dispensed of Paris Saint-Germain, the dominant force in France.
Despite a hat-trick of league leaders stumbling, Bayern Munich exercised efficiency, if not entirely convincing, in a 2-1 aggregate victory over Sevilla.
Bayern still on course for a treble
Bayern, who have already wrapped up this season’s Bundesliga title, are the only side remaining in Europe’s top five leagues who can land a treble this season.
Lady luck has shone on Jupp Heynckes’s side this season; despite finishing second in their group their progress to the last four has been serene. Their victory over Sevilla followed an 8-1 aggregate defeat of Besiktas.
The Germans will discover their semi-final opponents on Friday but it will either be the team ranked fourth in Spain, fourth in Italy or third in England.
The only side who have a significant league commitment over the final five weeks of the season are Roma, who lead Inter by just one point in the race for qualification for Europe’s premier club competition next season.
This suggests that all sides will have time to prepare tactically, physically and psychologically for their semi-final clashes.
It has rarely been tougher to judge the state of play ahead of the draw as none of the four have enjoyed convincing seasons to date. Indeed, whichever two sides exit the competition in this round could yet classify their seasons as underwhelming.
Only Roma have important league commitments
Roma themselves would have been hoping to mount a title challenge this season with a top-three finish being the minimum expectation.
Whilst their European run has undoubtedly been the best of the Champions League - don’t forget, they topped a group containing Chelsea and Atletico Madrid - a poor semifinal showing and missing out on a top-four spot domestically could significantly sour their season.
Liverpool too would not have expected to progress further than Juve, PSG, Barcelona, and City yet their quarterfinal triumph was undoubtedly the most emphatic.
Their front three can cause havoc for any team yet it is worth bearing in mind that they lie 17 points off the summit in the Premier League and four behind Manchester United.
Their European run has caught the imagination but should they draw Madrid or Bayern, they will be up against a side with significantly more experience and nous at this stage.
Will experience be enough for Bayern and Real?
But will that be enough for Madrid? Zinedine Zidane’s side have endured a traumatic domestic campaign yet are aiming for an unprecedented third successive Champions League trophy and their fourth in five years.
Such has been their dominance, the dramatic nature of their progress past Juventus may act as a much-needed wake-up call for players who may have become complacent with success.
However, it is Bayern who should be viewed as having an edge going into the semi-finals. They are the side with the momentum; they are the side with the most robust defence and equally capable of playing a possession-based match or hitting opponents on the counter-attack.
They have become familiar with heartache in this competition by the odd goal and last year’s controversial exit against Madrid will have hurt, but under Heynckes, and deflated expectations, they have thrived and hold the slight edge.
Much will depend on Friday morning’s draw alongside potential injuries and suspension but the margins are fine at this stage and the outcome is as unpredictable as ever.
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