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Are Real Madrid now favourites for the Champions League?

Barcelona will wholeheartedly disagree. Bayern Munich would. Juventus would as well. Manchester City, perhaps to ...

Are Real Madrid now favourites for the Champions League?

Barcelona will wholeheartedly disagree. Bayern Munich would. Juventus would as well. Manchester City, perhaps to a less extent, given the unchartered waters they still have to navigate.

But following their resounding two-leg win over Paris Saint Germain, Real Madrid would be a lot more confident of salvaging a shipwreck season, that has come after two years of prolific trophy-winning.

A lot of that is owing to the unparalleled goal-scoring numbers that Cristiano Ronaldo continues to post — and against the European elite at the deep end of the most high-profile competition in club football, if not all of football.

Bayern Munich five, Atletico Madrid two, Juventus two, PSG three — these are the numbers of goals the Portuguese has now scored since the quarterfinals of the Champions League last year against the German, Italian and French champions, along with the side that until last week was giving Barcelona a title race in La Liga, and sits seven points above Real in the league table at the start of the weekend.

In many ways, the fact that Real Madrid are out of La Liga contention helps their push for the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane’s side are already out of the Copa Del Rey, so the Champions League remains their only shot at silverware at the tail-end of the season.

But at the same time, the fact that Barcelona are romping home at a canter in the league undoes any advantage Real Madrid might’ve had, for the La Liga leaders would have a similar luxury of focusing their resources on a Champions League assault.

Indeed, the two Spanish giants aren’t the sole contenders, or even distant frontrunners, for the European crown.

Juventus would take a lot of heart from their away win at a rampant Tottenham Hotspurs that had beaten Real Madrid at Wembley earlier in the season.

Similarly, while Manchester City haven’t quite been tested in Europe, and won’t be best pleased with a home loss against FC Basel, even if in almost a dead rubber, Pep Guardiola’s exploits in England prove that they will have a firm say in Europe this season.

Liverpool too on their day have the wherewithal to topple just about anyone in Europe, as they showed in their first leg 5-0 away win at Porto, or indeed by beating Manchester City in the league, which remains City’s only league defeat so far this season.

Bayern Munich haven’t put too many feet wrong in the Champions League either, with their only loss coming away to a PSG side that had its sights on conquering Europe during the group stages. But the ease with which they’ve dispatched Besiktas — a team that convincingly topped the group that featured Porto and Monaco — 5-0 at home shows that the German champions are heading upwards as the business end of the Champions League approaches.

Munich away to Besiktas is one of four second leg games this week, with Manchester United hosting Sevilla at home following a 0-0 stalemate in the first leg, AS Roma looking to overturn a 1-2 loss as they host Shakhtar Donetsk and Barcelona hosting English champions Chelsea, with the tie currently at 1-1.

Barcelona and United should be confident of home wins, while the Roma-Shakhtar tie is on the knife-edge. Munich, of course, have all but sealed their passage into the last eight.

If all top seeds prevail, we could be in for a sumptuous quarterfinals lineup, with each of the four matchups promising to be a belter. Unfortunately, with PSG out, there won’t be representation from the French Ligue 1 — a contest that now self-identifies at par with its traditional European elite counterparts — but we indeed are promised the very best of Spain, England, Italy and Germany, the top four leagues on the continent.

While a detailed preview of the quarters can only be written once the line-up is complete, going back to the original question: would the most decorated club in European football feel as the favourite amongst these other behemoths of the continent?

If Ronaldo continues to depict the form that he has shown in the Champions League, and the team continues to provide him the service that he needs, Real Madrid would be backed to beat any side that they draw in the quarters — including Barcelona.

Madrid made history last year by becoming the first side to defend the European Cup since the advent of Champions League, extending their record title tally to 12. A hat-trick of Champions League wins would not only undo the abysmal domestic failures at home this season, but also merge with all the successes of last two years and extend Madrid’s dominance on the continent.

But, of course, lots of football and mouthwatering Champions League ties to go, before the biggest prize in Europe is awarded.

K Shahid

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