After almost five months away, the Champions League will finally return to our television screens on August 7 as Europe’s elite battle it out for the biggest prize in club football.
Four last-16 ties still need to be played out to conclusion following the Champions League’s suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic, and there are some thrilling contests in store.
Manchester City and Real Madrid will battle it out for a place in the quarter-finals, while the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich still have plenty to play for to join Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Co for the feast of football in Lisbon.
Here, Sportsmail has taken a look at what each team has been up to over the last few weeks and how they will prepare going forward ahead of the Champions League’s resumption…
Estadio da Luz will host the eagerly-anticipated Champions League final on August 23
PREMIER LEAGUE TEAMS
City hold a 2-1 advantage over Real Madrid heading into the second-leg of their last-16 tie at the Etihad, but an enthralling contest awaits us in Manchester on Friday, August 7.
Madrid head into the match in fine form after wrapping up the Spanish league title in style but for City, not everything has been rosy. Pep Guardiola’s side have played 11 times in just over a month following wall-to-wall action in the Premier League.
They were just dealt a huge setback in their quest for silverware after being knocked out by Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals and that defeat has now added even more pressure on City to finish what has been a tough season on a high with European glory.
And Guardiola has since admitted that his side will prepare for their clash with Madrid – which the Spaniard has described as a ‘final’ – by taking part in a training boot camp.
He said: ‘We will have two days after Watford, but after that we’ll make two weeks worth of training sessions. We are going to have a specific way to play against Real Madrid. We are going to try to maintain our rhythm because we have to remember who Madrid are.
‘We’ll see the games they’ve played since lockdown. They’ll have no Sergio Ramos (suspended), so we’ll see the games without him. We are going to see the way they play and prepare for the game. A little bit more time gives an advantage.
‘It’s a final and we have to prepare properly. We are going to train the specific way to play one game, sometimes you have global concepts, but now we have to be more specific. We’ll be specific against Madrid.’
Manchester City stars will undergo a training camp ahead of the Champions League returning
Chelsea’s European dreams are all-but over after going down 3-0 to Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge in the first-leg of their last-16 clash.
But the Blues certainly won’t be short of match fitness following the hectic domestic schedule in England – with the club eyeing a top-four finish in the Premier League and FA Cup glory.
Chelsea, just like City, have been hard at work in their quest to finish the season strongly and while defeat is almost inevitable in Munich, their recent action will stand them in good stead for when the Champions League does resume.
Before the August 8 fixture in Germany, Frank Lampard’s side would have played 12 times overall since football restarted in England.
And what better way to prepare them than an FA Cup final at Wembley against Arsenal just a week before facing Bundesliga giants Bayern.
Chelsea will play in the FA Cup final just seven days before they take on Bayern Munich
The Spanish giants have been in emphatic form since LaLiga restarted in June, winning 10 out of their 11 matches as they wrapped up the top-flight title in style ahead of arch-rivals Barcelona.
Despite their deficit against City, Zinedine Zidane will be quietly confident his side can turn it around and book their place in the quarter-finals in Lisbon. After the La Liga campaign finished over the weekend, Madrid’s attentions will now turn fully to the Champions League.
But speaking after the league season ended, Zidane admitted that his players will be allowed some time to relax before their assault on the Champions League… but insisted the next few weeks certainly won’t be a holiday.
‘It is not a holiday that we have now,’ he said. ‘Now, I don’t think about City. We want to disconnect a bit, then we will have all the time to think. We will have 10-15 days to think. We will disconnect.
Karim Benzema and Co have been in emphatic form, wrapping up the La Liga title in style
‘Until the last second we are going to fight to go to that final, but now you don’t have to think about the Champions League. It is time to rest and think about gathering strength. The final stretch has been a tremendous effort. Now we all need some relaxation. This is what we are going to do.
‘After these four or five days off, we go back and think about the Champions League. No stress or worries.’
Despite Zidane wanting his players in tip-top shape, Madrid’s plans were thrown into chaos after it was announced on Tuesday that striker Mariano Diaz tested positive for coronavirus.
Mariano will now have to undertake a two-week quarantine period, ruling him out of the game against City. The positive test is now likely to bring the game into question, particularly if more Madrid players test positive in their next round of testing.
There are troubled times at the Nou Camp currently with Quique Setien’s position under intense scrutiny following a disastrous end to the season.
Barcelona let their lead slip at the top of La Liga as Madrid snatched the title away from them, and Setien’s position at the helm appears in tatters.
While Barcelona will be match sharp, their confidence and form has taken a big hit after winning just seven of their last 11 matches as they failed to find their consistency during the La Liga run-in.
But Barcelona – whose players have been given a very short break off to spend time with their loved ones – will be desperate to end the season with Champions League glory, with their last triumph in Europe coming back in 2015.
And ahead of their second-leg last-16 tie at home to Napoli on August 8, Messi has called for improvement – suggesting there will be no let up for the Barcelona squad.
Messi said: ‘We need to change a lot, otherwise we will also lose against Napoli.
‘I already said before that playing like this we won’t be able to fight for the Champions League and you see, we could not even fight for the league. We need to be self-critical.
‘We are all aware that there are many things to improve, we must be more consistent and more reliable.’
Lionel Messi has demanded a massive improvement if Barcelona want to progress in Europe
Atletico have already booked their place in the quarter-finals of the competition after beating last season’s winners Liverpool 4-2 on aggregate during the last-16 stage.
And just like their Spanish counterparts, Diego Simeone’s side had been busy concentrating on La Liga since the season restarted.
Atletico played 11 times in just over a month in the top-flight as they finished third behind Madrid and Barcelona.
But now they will go all out for Champions League glory and will have a week extra to prepare over Barcelona and Madrid after already sealing their quarter-final spot.
They take on RB Leipzig on August 13 and after a short break to recover from their La Liga assertions, Simeone’s side will be straight back down to business in their pursuit of European glory.
Atletico Madrid have a short break off before returning to training ahead of facing RB Leipzig
The German top-flight was the earliest league to finish out of the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, and that has allowed the players to enjoy the sun and recuperate for longer.
After sealing the domestic double with German Cup glory on July 4 against Bayer Leverkusen, Hansi Flick gave his Bayern stars – arguably the favourites for the Champions League – some much-needed time off to refresh their minds.
Robert Lewandowski and Co have jetted off to soak up the sun, with the Polish striker one of many to let their social media following know what they have been up to during their break.
But after a deserved 13 days off, Bayern began their preparations for the Champions League with online training sessions starting on July 21.
After two days of cyber training, they will make the transition to small-group sessions on July 23-25 before ramping it up with full team training from July 26 onwards.
Bayern appear prepared for what’s in store, and with a 3-0 advantage over Chelsea, they will be extremely confident of progressing to the knockout tournament in Lisbon.
Robert Lewandowski and his Bayern Munich team-mates have been soaking up the sun
Julian Nagelsmann’s side etched their name into the club’s history books by reaching the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time ever after beating Tottenham convincingly in the last-16 stage.
Just like Bayern, they will have plenty of time to prepare for the return of the Champions League – where they will resume their campaign against Atletico on August 13.
Since the Bundesliga restarted in May, Leipzig played nine times in the league – winning just four times as they slowly walked to a third-place finish.
Their end to the season wasn’t what Nagelsmann would have hoped for but finishing the campaign on June 27 has given Leipzig plenty of time to recuperate ahead of the business end of the Champions League.
The likes of Dayot Upamecano – who jetted off to Cannes for a summer break – were given the green light to go on their travels before resuming their European campaign, so Nagelsmann will be hoping his side have now recharged their batteries.
One massive blow to Leipzig’s European hopes is that they will be without star man Timo Werner for the knockout tournament in Lisbon, opting to join up with his new Chelsea team-mates after completing a £53million move.
Dayot Upamecano and RB Leipzig have also been taking it easy since Bundesliga finished
SERIE A TEAMS
Juventus still have two matches to play in Serie A before they can turn their minds fully towards the Champions League.
The Italian giants sealed their ninth consecutive Serie A title on Sunday after beating Sampdoria 2-0 thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi.
Maurizio Sarri’s side finish their Serie A campaign on August 2 at home to Roma but after wrapping up the league title early, Sarri may look to rest Ronaldo, Dybala and Co to ensure his key men are ready to go for the restart of the Champions League.
Just five days after the Serie A season finishes, Juventus take on Lyon in Turin – desperate to overturn a 1-0 deficit against the Ligue 1 outfit as they look to book their place in the last-eight of the competition.
Juventus will have played a massive 14 times since the season restarted, whereas Lyon haven’t played competitively since the beginning of March after French campaign was curtailed early amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Maurizio Sarri may look to rest his key players after Juventus wrapped up the Serie A title
Perhaps the underdogs for this season’s Champions League. Atalanta have once again been in fine form and will look to go under the radar when the competition restarts next month.
Atalanta don’t finish their domestic campaign until August 2, just like Juventus, but fortunately for them, they have already booked their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
This has allowed them a few extra days to prepare for Champions League, as they take on Paris Saint-Germain on August 12 – giving them 10 days before they begin their European assault.
Atalanta, who have been in action every few days, will have played 13 times in under two months before they take on PSG, who like Lyon – have lacked competitive action in recent times.
But despite Serie A football still to play, Atalanta’s manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, has admitted that the Champions League is firmly on his side’s mind.
‘It’s true, our thoughts are on PSG. A lot,’ Gasperini said. ‘We have set ourselves targets in the league, such as records and second place. But we are living these games to prepare the players, to improve their skills and reactions to the level we will find in the Champions League, and that’s how we are now looking at these matches.’
Despite still having Serie A matches to play, Atalanta already have one eye on Europe
Napoli take on Barcelona at the Nou Camp on August 8, with the tie finely poised following a 1-1 draw at the Stadio San Paolo on March 8.
Napoli also end their league campaign on August 2, giving them just six days to prepare for Barcelona – who as mentioned above have already finished LaLiga.
Napoli, who still have plenty to play for themselves in Serie A with two matches remaining as they eye a Europa League spot following a tough campaign, will have little time to recover.
And speaking ahead of their match in Barcelona, manager Gennaro Gattuso has admitted his side will need to be mentally sharp during what has been a draining period of football for his side.
Gattuso recently said: ‘After COVID we are playing another sport. Playing every three days without our fans with no time to prepare matches it is hard. I must say that the team is doing well.’
‘We hope to get there, on August 8 very fit against Barcelona,’ he continued. ‘It will be very important the way you get there. If you have the right mentality and I think that in the last couple of months we did well.’
Napoli and the other Serie A sides don’t have much time to prepare for the Champions League
LIGUE 1 TEAMS
Out of the remaining teams in the Champions League, it is the French clubs who have been hit hardest – lacking that competitive sharpness after their season was curtailed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Since beating Borussia Dortmund on March 11, when they won 2-0 to seal their progression to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite competition, they have only played competitively once – overcoming Saint-Etienne to lift the French Cup title last weekend.
Ligue 1 was ended abruptly in April amid the pandemic, meaning Neymar and Co may lack that cutting edge in the Champions League – potentially giving Atalanta the advantage when the two teams meet on August 12.
PSG stars have been hitting the beach for quite some time but the French giants have slowly been getting back into the swing of things with a series of friendlies, against Celtic and Le Havre prior to featuring in the French Cup final.
But Thomas Tuchel’s side were dealt a massive blow after Kylian Mbappe sustained a horror ankle injury in the cup final victory – which will see him miss the return of European competition.
Furthermore, the lack of competitive football will be a huge alarm to everyone associated with PSG, and Atalanta will look to capitalise on that.
Neymar celebrates following PSG’s French Cup final victory over Saint-Etienne last weekend
Kylian Mbappe will miss the return of the Champions League through ankle injury
Lyon, just like PSG, will be lacking real match sharpness before their crunch second-leg against Juventus in the last-16 stage.
The Ligue 1 side hold a slender 1-0 advantage over Cristiano Ronaldo and Co heading into the August 7 clash in Turin.
But their preparations have been far from ideal and instead of gearing up for the clash, Memphis Depay and Co have had their flip-flops on for a while now.
Since losing to Lille on March 8 in Ligue 1, Lyon players have taken the opportunity to travel abroad – with Depay visiting Dubai for the warm-weather during the unprecedented time off.
But Lyon are back at it and have been building up their fitness levels again with a host of friendlies too, playing against the likes of Nice, Rangers, Celtic and Gent.
One more game against PSG in the French League Cup final this Friday, then its time to face Juventus – with Lyon hoping that their time off will have reinvigorated them.
Lyon’s Memphis Depay and Co have been soaking up the sun during their long break off
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta vs PSG (Estadio do Sport)
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig vs Atletico Madrid (Estadio Jose Alvalade)
Friday, August 14: Barcelona/Napoli vs Bayern Munich/Chelsea (Estadio do Sport)
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City/Real Madrid vs Juventus/Lyon (Estadio Jose Alvalade)
Tuesday, August 18: Winner of Quarter-Final 2 vs Winner of Quarter-Final 1 (Estadio do Sport)
Wednesday, August 19: Winner of Quarter-Final 4 vs Winner of Quarter-Final 3 (Estadio Jose Alvalade)
Sunday, August 23: FINAL
Source: Read Full Article