Liverpool and Ajax have changed the Champions League map - but Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi remain

Miguel Delaney
The Independent

Amid scenes of celebration in Munich, Jurgen Klopp beamed at how Liverpool are “back on the international map as a football club”, but they might have helped force changes on that map too.

The landscape of the Champions League has certainly changed. Thanks to the successes of Liverpool and Ajax, both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are much less prominent, greatly reduced.

And, for the first time since 2008/09, both are completely absent from the quarter-finals. That marks a significant change, maybe the end of an era. Because, since 2010/11, there has only been one season that hasn’t seen both in the semi-finals. That was in 2016/17, when they actually met in the quarters and Madrid knocked Bayern out. Now, an awful lot of Champions League experience has been knocked out with them. The path has been cleared.

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But, really, it has just made way for the previous status quo: the Premier League. It almost fits too neatly. That 2008/09 season also marked the last time that four English clubs made the quarter-finals, which is precisely what has happened now.

The major reason for this should be obvious: money.

Where Bayern, Madrid and Barcelona for a time defined the era of the three super-clubs due to the power of their resources - no one has won it beyond those clubs since 2012 - the Premier League’s repeatedly huge broadcasting deals have gradually had an effect.

It is probably something of a belated effect, given that the English competition did collectively underperform in Europe since 2011 - although mostly for separate individual reasons - but it was always going to tell. That money has allowed them to bring in deep squads of talent and, most importantly, the best managers.

How Madrid have long craved Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, before eventually returning to Zinedine Zidane now in desperation. How Bayern are still ultimately re-adjusting to the departure of Pep Guardiola three years ago.

Such managers have been at the forefront of the raucous attacking football that now defines the competition, and has conditioned a new chaos that has dominated these last-16 stages and the last two seasons.

The Champions League is now so gloriously charged, and so thrilling, only making what is to come more exciting.

Real Madrid's demise has cleared the path for other European contenders (Getty)
Real Madrid's demise has cleared the path for other European contenders (Getty)

As regards to what is to come with Madrid and Bayern, both had already started overhauls so they will of course return to such levels, but it now feels the Premier League is set to stay there for some time.

It also means at least one all-English quarter-final clash is now likely, with that set to only further foster the English feel of this season. A meeting of either two of the Manchester clubs and Liverpool would be particularly parochial in this most cosmopolitan of competitions, and maybe influence the destination of the Premier League title race, too. Just getting past your great rivals would become almost as important as winning the competition as a whole, because of everything involved. A meeting of any of those with Tottenham Hotspur would at least be that bit less emotionally charged, if no less engaging as a football contest.

The path is far from completely clear, of course. Beyond the threat offered by a resilient Porto and exuberant Ajax, there are still the Champions League’s two great modern totems: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

They remain the forces most influencing any game they play in, above anything.

Nabil Fekir was almost in awe talking about Messi and the manner he dictated every aspect of Barcelona’s elimination of Lyon. Then there was what Ronaldo did to Atletico Madrid with Juventus.

It was just a supreme display of power.

Those two stars remain the two to really be avoided in the quarter-finals, even as old rivals don’t remain in the competition. Both are so intensely driven this season, too. Ronaldo to prove the ultimate point by bringing the trophy with him from Madrid to Turin; Messi to rectify that he has not won it as much as he should have in recent years.

The Champions League landscape hasn't changed as much as it seems though (AFP/Getty)
The Champions League landscape hasn't changed as much as it seems though (AFP/Getty)

Part of that, though, is that Barca themselves have had structural flaws. So do Juventus, who don’t look anywhere near as defensively imposing as they used to be.

That, however, is the case with pretty much all the favourites.

Madrid ended up with more than any, but the humiliating elimination that brought is all the more important because they above anything held a psychological hold over a lot of clubs in this competition. That has for this season gone, greatly opening it all up. The map has changed, with old flags back on it.

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