The domination of Barcelona and Real Madrid. A cursory look at the last 16 will show other potential winners of the competition, on paper at least. Arsenal and Chelsea have both come close in recent years and will hope to go one better this time. Inter Milan were winners in 2010 though they are now struggling under Claudio Ranieri. And AC Milan are surely a force under Masimilliano Allegri. Bayern Munich too, are another serious contender to lift the prize in their own backyard in May.
But it is difficult to imagine any of these teams beating Barcelona or Real Madrid. Indeed it was pretty hard to see Manchester United, the shock absentee, doing so either. The Spanish giants are quite simply getting better and better, whilst the rest of Europe’s top teams shuffle around in behind them.
Few can match their strength in depth and quality. For Barcelona, a production line that produced Xavi and Andres Iniesta now has Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara ready to take over their mantle. Sergio Busquets is in the same age bracket as those two and they have a buy back clause for Chelsea’s promising midfielder Oriel Romeu, who came through at La Masia.
Real on the other hand, opted to buy most of their talent, but they boast a squad only the Catalans can match. Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria. The list is endless, with Real boasting seemingly a bottomless pit of talent which will only get stronger, one would imagine.
This reinforces the dominance of the two biggest clubs in world football, and it is a trend only likely to continue with the huge revenues both can make, as their television rights deals are so much larger than any of their rivals. Indeed Champions League holders Barcelona make twice as much as last year’s runners up Manchester United from this source.
It means that we are in for predictability for some time yet. A time when it won’t be Real or Barca lifting the European crown seems some way off. It would take a remarkable turn of events for it to happen, and such a sequence would seem to rely on them meeting each other at some stage of the competition to make it easier for the rest of the teams. If one side can beat one of the Spanish giants on one day, then it is almost impossible to imagine them beating both.