Barcelona can't assume the road is open after the Champions League quarter-final
Background photo: Tsutomu Takasu, CC BY 2.0
It's a well-known fact that the Champions League represents the pinnacle of European club football and it offers no surprise to see giant clubs going head-to-head in their bids to claim the continental crown every season.
As usual, the tournament kicked-off in a scintillating manner this term. The group stage produced plenty of surprises and memorable clashes that kept spectators glued to their TV screens. However, bigger moments awaited up front, with intensity and defiance skyrocketing in the knockout phase.
To start with, Manchester United earned their share of the plaudits after they overcame Paris Saint-Germain unexpectedly to progress into the quarter-finals on away goals. Ajax's 5-3 victory against Real Madrid over two legs was also enough to stop Los Blancos from defending the trophy for a third consecutive year and opened up spaces for more upsets.
As the tournament progressed, more teams fell off the pace. Currently, there are four clubs left in the competition. Barcelona and Liverpool join Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur to round up the list.
Among all the teams mentioned above, Barcelona carries the biggest pressure heading into the semi-finals as they aim to secure the trophy once again after a couple of years.
Barca last won the Champions League in 2015. Despite having a decent chance to win it again last year, a humiliating 3-0 defeat at the hands of Roma ensured that their quarter-final hoodoo stretched a year further. Ultimately, that failure underrated the domestic success Ernesto Valverde enjoyed in his debut campaign.
From desire to obsession, Los Blaugrana's quest to return to the summit of European football has become obvious. The club invested heavily last summer, signing the likes of Clement Lenglet, Arthur Melo, Arturo Vidal and Malcolm to boost their chances.
So strong is this obsession that even the quiet Lionel Messi confessed at the beginning of the term that the Champions League is a priority for the club this season; while he also promised to do everything he could to return the trophy to the Nou Camp.
Following Messi's comments, Barca entered into the Champions League with an electrifying drive. Battling the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven in the Group B, Ernesto Valverde's men impressed and became the first side to qualify for the knockout phase.
They continued their push with a resounding 5-1 aggregate victory against Olympique Lyon in the Round of 16, which secured their passage into the quarter-finals where they were drawn against Manchester United.
The final eight represented a huge challenge, after all, Barca failed to progress from that stage between 2016 and 2018. While a narrow 1-0 victory at Old Trafford - courtesy of an own goal from Luke Shaw - gave the Blaugrana a slight advantage in the first leg. It failed to clear the air as doubts remained over their chances of overcoming their quarter-final curse.
However, a magical performance from Lionel Messi at Camp Nou helped to put all doubts to bed, with Leo's brace and a Philippe Coutinho curler granting Barca a convincing 3-0 victory at home and eventually securing their passage into the last four for the first time in four years.
Having overcome their quarter-final hoodoo, Barcelona now has a great chance to make history in the Champions League once again. Unlike in recent years, the Blaugrana have their squad looking fresh and inspired at the business end of the campaign.
Messi is in the form of his life right now. He has been an unstoppable force in front of goal since the beginning of the tournament, with 10 goals to his name in 8 appearances. Barca need to take full advantage of this.
Almost all the teams that were considered favourites to win the Champions League this season are no more in the competition. The likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Atletico, Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain have all bowed out.
Therefore, the upcoming semi-final encounter with Liverpool probably represents Barcelona's biggest test. Surely, the clash against The Reds will be no walk-over. Jurgen Klopp's men are firing on all cylinders right now. After submitting Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 and following it up with a dominant 5-1 aggregate victory against Porto, The Merseysiders will be ready for this encounter.
Moreover, Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur are proving to be giant slayers this season. The earlier eliminated Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to the semis while the latter subdued Manchester City in the quarter-finals. Hence, Barca cannot afford to let up now.
Yes, the Blaugrana are the favourites but there will no room for complacency. Therefore, they need to remain compact and keep producing their best. If they manage to get past Jurgen Klopp's men and maintain the same focus in the final, nothing would stop them from claiming their sixth European crown this season.