The Champions League rolls back into action this weekend after a five-month hiatus with the remaining round-of-16 matches. But it’s not just the conclusion of this season’s tournament — the quest to crown the European champions for 2020-21 also begins on Saturday.
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All eyes will be on the big boys as Manchester City aim to finish the job against Real Madrid and Juventus try to overturn Lyon‘s aggregate lead in their round-of-16 second legs on Friday night (local time), while on Saturday evening Barcelona continue their tussle with Napoli and Bayern Munich look to see off Chelsea after their big first-leg win.
The prize that awaits the four teams that emerge from those ties is a spot as one of the final eight teams in the competition who will compete in a special mini-tournament, consisting of one-legged quarterfinals and semifinals and the Aug. 23 final in Lisbon.
However, sandwiched in between those fixtures involving the elite clubs as they battle to make it to the Portuguese capital, the hopes and dreams of European football’s minnows will be put through the wringer as the 2020-21 qualifiers begin on Saturday afternoon.
Four teams, the champions of UEFA’s smallest nations, have descended on Nyon, the home of UEFA in Switzerland, for a mini-tournament to earn one solitary place in the first qualifying round.
Tre Fiori of San Marino take on Linfield of Northern Ireland at 3 p.m. CET in the 2020-21 tournament as the road to Istanbul in 10 months’ time gets underway — before we even know who from Barca, Bayern, Chelsea and Napoli will still be on the road to Lisbon this month. Kosovo’s Drita Gjilan then face Inter Club d’Escaldes of Andorra at 6 p.m. CET in the other preliminary round semifinal — with Barca hosting Napoli at 9 p.m. CET in a 2019-20 tie that same day.
Well, it was even crazier in Sweden last weekend, as two seasons of their cup competition took place at the same time. IFK Gothenburg and Malmo were midway through the second half of the 2019-20 Svenska Cupen final when Angelholms FF and Lunds BK kicked off the 2020-21 preliminary round. With the final being won by IFK on penalties, it was half-time in the 2020-21 fixture before the 2019-20 final had finished.
If all of this overlapping and merging of the seasons may be enough to have you losing your grip on the very concept of time itself, then just focus on this: between the Champions League and the Europa League — which has its own mini-tournament in Germany beginning on Monday, Aug. 10 — there is two weeks of almost daily elite-level European competition to get stuck into.
Ronaldo, Dybala unveil Juve’s new ‘night indigo’ away kit
Juventus have released their new away kit for next season and, much like the accompanying home strip, it has been inspired by the world of modern art. The V-neck shirt is a dusky “night indigo” colour accented by silver details, which we’re informed by manufacturers Adidas is a visual metaphor for the unity between art and football.
Cristiano Ronaldo might not buy the highfalutin’ design blurb, but he certainly looks debonair enough while modelling the Old Lady’s latest ensemble.
Judging by the oddly quizzical look on Paulo Dybala‘s face, the Argentine forward isn’t quite as sure about the whole thing.
The new “brush stroke” stripes of Juve’s new 2020-21 home shirt are echoed in the away jersey too, this time appearing as wispy bands on the sleeves.
The jersey is, overall, a slick product, although the cuffs do make it look a little as though every player is wearing two captain’s armbands. It’s perhaps also worth noting that the new club crest has also been very slightly modernised, with the word “Juventus” removed from above the badge to leave just the “J” logo and stars.
Nothing like starting a fresh new era with a fresh new look. — Chris Wright