Given the quartet of Champions League semi-finalists, there was never any doubt that the draw would create two mouth-watering ties.
Rarely, if ever in the Champions League era, has the last four been made up of such giants of European football, all of whom could achieve a domestic championship and European cup double – with three of the sides also in contention for a treble.
Juventus may be the underdogs, having reached this stage of the competition for the first time since 2003, when they went on to finish competition runners-up to Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan. But Real Madrid know only too well of how anything can happen at this stage, and three successive semi-final losses prior to last season’s dramatic triumph may lead to a tense two legs.
The other semi final pits together two of the teams that at the start of the season I felt were under more pressure than most to perform well in this year’s Champions League: Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Since winning a fourth title in 2011, Barcelona suffered extremely disappointing eliminations from the competition in the subsequent two seasons: failing to turn a dominant second-leg performance into an aggregate victory against Chelsea in the 2012 semi final, and then losing 7-0 on aggregate to Bayern Munich twelve months later.
Last year’s defeat to Atletico Madrid was almost a confirmation that the team were no longer the same threat to the very best, and I feared that another season without posing a serious challenge for the trophy would be the final nail in marking the end of the club’s recent era of European dominance.
Had Bayern Munich achieved the full potential of their own team meanwhile, the past few years may already have been marked in Champions League history as an era belonging solely to the team from Bavaria.
A 2010 appearance in the final was seen as a surprise to many, but their march to the 2012 final, hosted in their home stadium, seemed certain to have only one outcome.
Despite a 100% home record in Europe, and having taken a 1-0 lead with only five minutes of a completely one-sided final against Chelsea remaining, the opportunity to win a fifth European Cup somehow slipped away from Bayern as they lost out on penalties.
A win against Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2013 was some consolation, but despite looking good for a chance to become the first back-to-back Champions League winners, Bayern were humiliated by Real Madrid at last season’s semi final stage.
Harsh it might be, but Bayern’s sole trophy win during a period of three or four years as arguably the continent’s best club won’t lead them to be remembered amongst the all time great teams.
With the added ingredient of Bayern Munich being managed by the man who led Barcelona to two Champions League titles in the space of three years, it might have been fitting for the two sides to have met in the final rather than a round earlier.
But with historic rivalries between all of the potential match-ups in the final, there’s to be no tame finale to the Champions League, and every one of the five remaining games has the potential to be a classic.