The spotlight falls squarely on Neymar when the world’s most coveted club competition, the Uefa Champions League, resumes Tuesday across Europe. When Paris Saint Germain’s attacking midfield maestro left Barcelona in a money spinning move, it was felt he moved to escape the shadow of Lionel Messi. Local media in his football mad country Brazil hailed the transfer as giving Selecao’s skipper the perfect platform to challenge Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the unofficial title of world’s best footballer. Three years on, Neymar has instead seen the aforesaid superstars continue to dominate the game’s top individual prize, the Ballon D’Or.
Both Messi and Ronaldo won’t be in action in this week’s quarter finals as their respective clubs, Barcelona and Juventus, were knocked out in the round of sixteen by PSG and Porto. Reigning Ballon D’Or winner Robert Lewandowski’s absence through injury has left the focus on Neymar, team mate Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund goal machine Erling Braut Haaland. The Brazilian was inconsolable when PSG fell 0-1 to Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich in last season’s final, so he will view his enforced absence as a good omen in his quest to end the French champions’ tournament duck.
In the race for this year’s Ballon D’Or, there is added pressure on Neymar to lift ‘Big Ears’ as he will just be a curious spectator at next June’s delayed Euro 2020 finals as Mbappe and Haaland make a case for the accolade and unofficial title of heir apparent to Messi and Ronaldo. The Brazilian’s poor record with injuries and indiscipline was laid bare on Saturday when he was sent off as Paris Saint Germain lost 0-1 to French Ligue One title rivals Lille. Any such petulance is certain to be punished by reigning champions Bayern Munich who cemented their position atop the Bundesliga by dismissing second placed RB Leipzig 1-0.
Champions League action gets underway on Tuesday with record 13-time winners Real Madrid hosting Liverpool at the Edtadio Alfredo di Stefano in a repeat of the 2018 final. Spanish commentators are aghast that Los Blancos captain Sergio Ramos is missing the game through injury because without Ramos Real have won only three out of their last ten tournament encounters. Liverpool warmed up for this European epic by disposing of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal 3-0 with minimum fuss. Kop manager Jurgen Klopp was able to call upon a full compliment of attacking players as Diogo Jota, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Bobby Firmino were all involved.
At the Etihad Stadium, focus will be on Haaland, who has been a subject of intense speculation all week following visits to Madrid and Barcelona along with his father Alfie and agent. Though City coach Pep Guardiola has publicly stated that his side won’t be in the market for a replacement for the soon departing Sergio Aguero, Haaland can force him to change his mind if he improves on his mesmeric record of 20 Champions League goals in only 14 outings. Borussia Dortmund start the matchup as overwhelming underdogs against a City outfit that has won 27 out of its last 28 competitive fixtures.
Real Madrid v Liverpool,
Manchester City v Dortmund,
FC Porto v Chelsea,
Bayern Munich v Paris Saint Germain