Finally, finally, the Uefa Champions League is back. After a tumultuous wait of 149 days through a pandemic, which made the whole world desperate for an escape, Europe's premier club competition has returned.
And obviously, it returns with a couple of mouthwatering fixtures. One sees 13-times champions Real Madrid try to recover from a 2-1 deficit against unbaptised Manchester City, whereas the other match sees long-time UCL-deprived Juventus try to come back from a 1-0 deficit against Olympique Lyon.
Real on the backfoot, City desperate
Courtesy of a majestic performance from Kevin De Bruyne at the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester City defeated Real Madrid 2-1 at their den. Adding insult to injury, Real saw their skipper Sergio Ramos sent off in the dying minutes and making him unavailable for the second leg.
After winning the league, Zidane's men will be desperate to make a comeback to stay in the race for the biggest title in club football. They will be in a spot of bother as Ramos, who had been key for their league success, will not be there. But still, the inspiration Madrid captain will be with the team at Manchester and will hope to spark spirit into the team.
City, on the other hand, have missed out on both the league and FA Cup, winning only the League Cup. And with Pep Guardiola's contract running out in 2021, this might be the last chance for the Citizens to win the trophy they have been craving for years now. Two away goals are a big advantage but against a team with such a European record like Real, City must be wary of the threat their opponents carry.
Zinedine Zidane has left out Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Mariano Diaz for away tie with Ramos suspended. Eden Hazard has been included in the squad but is a doubt for his recurring ankle injury. With Ramos out, Zidane is likely to field Raphael Varane and Eder Militao as the center-back pairing, with Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy playing as full-backs. Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will form the midfield whereas Karim Benzema will be aided from the wings by Vinicius Jr and Marco Asensio.
Guardiola will not have his premier striker Sergio Aguero at his disposal as the Argentine is still recovering from his knee injury. In that case, Gabriel Jesus, who scored in the return tie, will start alongside Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez in the attack. Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva are likely to make up the midfield whereas Aymeric Laporte and Eric Garcia set to be the center-back pairing.
Pep and Zidane have only met once before and Pep came out victorious. Without Ramos at his disposal, Zidane has a problem. But Real Madrid under him have often birthed miracles and Real fans would hope for the same.
For Pep, on the other hand, it is a do-or-die clash. The Spaniard won his last UCL with Barcelona in 2011 and he desperately wants another. And with the single-leg affair going forward, this might be his best chance with the Citizens.
Juventus behind but still favourites
The Old Ladies are a goal behind against Olympique Lyon but will still take the field on Friday as favourites. The match will be at Turin and with Ligue 1 being cancelled, Lyon have had little to nothing competitive football.
Lyon played the French Cup Final against PSG recently where they held PSG to a stalemate but lost in penalties. A similar result will be good enough for them, but with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain in Juve's ranks, that is highly unlikely.
Juventus won their last of their two UCL titles in 1996 and are desperate for another. And so is Ronaldo. At 35 years, time is running out for the phenomenal Portuguese and if he wants another, he must showcase another of his brilliant UCL displays tonight.
PSG, Atletico Madrid, Atalanta and RB Leipzig have already qualified for the quarter-finals set to be held in Lisbon. Now it's the time to see which other four join them from the round of 16.