A few weeks ago, after the first fixtures of the Champions League Round of 16 had been completed, Football Espana asked which LaLiga team you thought would go furthest in the competition: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid or Sevilla.
By that stage we knew Barca, after their astonishing comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid, dispatchers of Napoli in an altogether more serene double-header, were definitely through. Atletico and Sevilla, both victorious in their first legs, against Bayer Levekusen and Leicester City respectively, were expected to join them.
As it was, only Atleti made it through. Sevilla fell victim to the Foxes’ post-Ranieri revival, and dreams of emulating the past three years’ Europa League success will have to wait.
So with Barca drawn against Serie A champions and runaway leaders Juventus, Madrid paired with heavyweights Bayern Munich – led by ex-Blancos Coach Carlo Ancelotti – and Atleti pitted against Leicester, already conquerors of one Spanish side, Football Espana wanted to know if your thoughts on which team would go furthest had changed.
— footballespana (@footballespana_) March 17, 2017
After more than 1,300 votes, it’s Atletico who are backed to go the distance, having been matched with demonstrably the weakest team left in the draw. Whereas Juventus and Bayern are sitting comfortably at the top of their tables, Leicester haven’t yet completely banished the spectre of Premier League relegation.
Indeed, Leicester find themselves only six points clear of England’s bottom three, with 10 games left to play. They do have a game in hand on Hull City, who occupy the final place in the drop zone, but have taxing European fixtures to contend with as well.
More than half of voters feel Atletico will outlast Barca and Madrid in the Champions League, despite Diego Simeone’s side never having won the competition and coming up short against their city rivals in the past few years. They did, however, eliminate Barca from last year’s competition, so their pedigree is strong.
The lack of faith in Barca and Madrid is probably best explained by the difficulty of the draw. Juventus are eight points clear in Italy, Bayern 13 clear in Germany, and either one of them would have been a reasonable pick to win the whole thing before this season’s Champions League got underway.
But Barca and Madrid represent tough draws for the Old Lady and Die Bayern as well. One of them will be top of LaLiga by the time the Quarter-Finals take place and they have between them won the last three editions of the competition. And both showed in the Round of 16 that they are forces to be reckoned with, Barca in their stirring comeback against PSG and Madrid in the comfortable way they saw off Napoli, one of Serie A’s strongest.
And they still have Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, not to mention the myriad other attacking talents Luis Enrique and Zinedine Zidane can call on. Diego Simeone has Antoine Griezmann as well, and if anyone can stop the Leicester revival, it’s the France international.
Atletico might be favoured to go furthest, but don’t be surprised if three of the last four teams in the tournament – and maybe even the final two – are from LaLiga.