Over the past months in this pandemic-stricken world, virtually all aspects of our lives have been affected in some shape or form. Sports, specifically football, is no different. By the beginning of April, all the biggest leagues around the world have been canceled or postponed. If not for the pandemic, this past Saturday would have been the 2020 Champions League Final held in Istanbul, and all the headlines across the world for the past few days would have been talking about the newest champion of Europe. So far, the only major league to resume play has been the Bundesliga, but many others have set a date, or at least begun planning to restart. Some, unfortunately, have canceled their leagues for good. With that being said, it looks like the Champions League will return in late July at the earliest, with a mid-August start date seeming most plausible as of now. But, in a hypothetical alternative universe where the pandemic never occurred, let’s look back and reflect on how this recent Champions League season could have ended.
Route to the Final
As of right now, all the teams in the Round of 16 played at least their first legs, and some even were able to play their second legs with PSG, Atalanta, RB Leipzig and Atletico Madrid all qualifying for the next round. That all stays the same, but in our hypothetical alternative universe, the second set of the Round of 16 matches are played and the season progresses as it would normally.
Round of 16
First off, Bayern Munich travels to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea with a commanding 3-0 aggregate score in hand. As both teams have already accepted their fate in the competition, they play largely bench players and youngsters. Bayern Munich comes out 3-1 winners.
Next, Lyon travels to Turin where they try to defend their surprise 1-0 victory over Juventus in the first leg. Just like last year, Cristiano Ronaldo shows up when his team needs him and scores a hat trick. Unfortunately for Ronaldo, his teammates aren’t up to speed and Juventus concedes twice, winning the match 3-2. In the next major shock of this UCL season, Juventus are eliminated on away goals.
The following day, Manchester City welcomes Real Madrid to the Eithad where Los Blancos look to reverse a 2-1 loss at home. Facing new motivation after Man City found themselves facing an upcoming two-year ban from the Champions League, Pep and his men pull off a masterclass performance and finish off Real Madrid 2-0.
In the last match of this round, Napoli arrives in Barcelona after drawing 1-1 in Italy. In a very cagey affair, Barcelona sneaks a close 1-0 win after a stereotypical Tiki-Taka goal finished by Arthur Melo.
The next month, all the qualified teams are drawn against each other, creating some tantalizing matchups. First up, Bayern Munich is drawn against Lyon. While Lyon was able to catch Juventus sleeping last round, Bayern Munich doesn’t make same mistake, taking it up a notch and hammering Lyon without mercy in both legs. In the end, Bayern Munich progress after an 8-1 aggregate score.
The same day, PSG line up against RB Leipzig. Leipzig puts up a good fight at home, but eventually, the attacking power of PSG’s offense wins. However, in the second leg in Paris, a world-class performance by Timo Werner coupled with a typical Champions League defensive capitulation from the PSG sees the Parisians bottle it yet again and Leipzig go through on away goals after a 5-5 aggregate.
In the next match of the quarterfinals, Barcelona faces tournament darlings, Atalanta. As both teams possess great attacking players but are also known to concede quite a few goals, Barcelona ends up winning after a high-scoring goal-fest. Relying heavily on Lionel Messi, Barcelona survive a quick scare and progress with a 6-4 aggregate score.
In the final match of the quarterfinals, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid get ready to face Manchester City and Pep Guardiola in a battle of the minds. Both styles clash and cancel each other out, with Man City’s electric attack shut down by Atleti’s impervious defense. But at the same time, Man City’s immense pressure restricts any Atletico counterattack from breaking out. After a pair of 1-0 wins for both clubs, the tie goes to extra time and penalties. While Atletico were able to topple the giants of Liverpool last round, Man City is simply a step too far and Manchester’s blue side is victorious on penalties after a 1-1 aggregate score.
In the first semifinal, RB Leipzig faces familiar foes, Bayern Munich, in an all-German affair. Both come to the table experiencing great seasons after Bayern wrapped up the Bundesliga, their eighth consecutive title, with Leipzig coming in an ever-so-close second place. Both teams are highly motivated and resolute in defense; each leg eventually ends in a pair of hard-fought 1-1 draws, sending the tie to extra time and penalties. After a series of heroics from Manuel Neuer, Bayern edge Leipzig in penalties after a 2-2 aggregate scoreline, qualifying Bayern Munich for their first Champions League Final since their famous treble in 2013.
The next semifinal features a glorious return of the beloved Pep Guardiola to the Camp Nou. At this point of the season, Man City have all but put their eggs in the Champions League basket after conceding the Premier League title to Liverpool. Barcelona, on the other hand, are caught in the middle of a bloody dogfight at the top of the La Liga table with Real Madrid. All this while trying to stay afloat in what is really a transitional year, after boss, Quique Setien’s appointment in the middle of the season. The gap between the two teams really shows, but another gargantuan performance from Lionel Messi saves Barcelona’s blushes at home in the Camp Nou. In Manchester though, a cohesive and classy team effort from Man City puts Barcelona to the sword, leaving the Blaugrana fans wishing Pep was still at the helm. Messi did all he could, but in the end, Manchester City progress 5-3 on aggregate, granting them their first-ever Champions League Final appearance, against the awaiting Bayern Munich.
In the bookies, both teams are believed to have a reasonable shot at winning the “Ol’ Big Ears,” but due to their league form, and history in this competition, the boys from Bavaria are seen as slight favorites. Heading into this match, Bayern look to add a sixth Champions League crown to their impressive trophy cabinet, tying Liverpool for third-most of all time Meanwhile, Man City look to win their first-ever Champions League title and finally fulfill the goal after their big-money takeover in 2008. If they don’t win, Bayern would fail to complete a second historic treble after winning the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal this year, whereas if Man City loses they would risk going trophyless this season after Liverpool won the Premier League and Leicester City won the FA Cup. On their way to the final, Bayern professionally yet ruthlessly eliminated three potential dark horse teams in Chelsea, Lyon and RB Leipzig. Man City, on the other hand, took down all three of the Spanish giants, and familiar foes for Pep, in Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.
After a particularly colorful prematch performance from J Balvin and Anitta, both teams come out of the tunnel and stand at attention before the iconic Champions League Anthem. With a shrill blow of the referee’s whistle, the 2020 Champions League Final in Istanbul is underway. Man City come out of the gate with an extra spring in their boots, and within the first few minutes, Raheem Sterling cuts inside from the wing and slices Bayern’s defense in half with an enticing through-ball. Sergio Aguero latches on to the pass and slams home a shot at the near post, guiding Man City to a 1-0 lead. Bayern are visibly shaken and City dominate possession for the next few minutes. However, Bayern eventually gains a foothold in the match and begin to cut their own share of ball possession. Right at the stroke of halftime, a cross from Thomas Muller is deflected outwards. This sets up Joshua Kimmich to unleash an absolute missile of a volley, flying right past Ederson, leaving him no chance.
With the scores at 1-1, the second half becomes a cagey affair. Under the summer heat of Turkey, tempers start to flare. After a late challenge from Fernandinho on Lucas Hernandez, a fight develops on the pitch, seeing them both sent off. Due to the harsh nature of the half, neither team is able to play their expansive football and the score stays equal, resulting in extra-time. Throughout the next two additional halves, both sides start to buckle under pressure, with Gabriel Jesus having a shot cannon off the crossbar and Serge Gnabry missing a close-range tap-in.
However, deep into extra-time, Kevin De Bruyne stands in front of the ball for a freekick, once the ref blows his whistle, De Bruyne whips in a lightning bolt of a cross. Due to Bayern’s zonal marking, Nicolas Otamendi is able to shift into a free-space then out-leap both Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng before nodding the ball past the outstretched fingers of Manuel Neuer into the far corner of the net. With that goal, Man City gain an irresistible 2-1 lead over Bayern. Seeing that there are only a few minutes remaining, the Germans throw everything they have at Man City, but luckily for Pep and the City-faithful, they prove strong enough to withstand the strain until the referee blows the whistle for the final timeand brings the match to a close. With this 2-1 victory in the final, Manchester City becomes the 2020 Champions League winner in our hypothetical alternative universe.
After the match, Man City become UCL champions for the first time in their history, winning Pep his first Champions League trophy since his triumph with Barcelona in 2011. While they will be barred from participating in the next two Champions League seasons due to breaching FFP restrictions, City fans and players will find contentment in the fact that no one will technically be able to topple their crown.
As for Bayern, even though they lost the final, this season will go down as a success since they fired their manager early in the season and hired Hansi Flick, who in turn steered a team playing relatively subpar to a team that was inches away from winning a treble.
As for individual awards, Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich finishes as Top Scorer and Best Forward; Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City wins Best Midfielder; Benjamin Pavard, also of Bayern Munich, wins Best Defender; and Marc-Andre ter Stegen of Barcelona wins Best Goalkeeper.