Football fans have been waiting all summer for a tournament to capture their imagination and, with the Champions League returning on Wednesday night, their wish has been granted.
This summer was supposed to be dominated by the Euros, but the coronavirus pandemic means that will have to wait a year and, instead, Europe’s premier club competition can now take centre stage.
It returns tonight in a new format, with the final eight teams descending on Lisbon for what promises to be a pulsating mini-tournament.
The Champions League always brings drama, but that will be intensified by the fact it is now straight knockout football played over just 11 days.
“It is quite similar to a World Cup,” said Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. “Before it was last-16, quarter-final and semi-final with two games — and now every game is a final.”
The knockout nature of the competition is why Atalanta, who kick off the quarter-finals tonight against Paris Saint-Germain, believe this could be their chance to cause a major upset.
Under Gian Piero Gasperini, they have been one of the most attacking sides in Europe, finishing the Serie A season with 98 goals in 38 matches.
Like Atalanta, PSG are blessed with goalscoring talent and have been buoyed by the news Kylian Mbappe has recovered from an ankle injury to be in a squad also featuring Neymar.
PSG will hope now is the time they can end their quest to win the competition and the odds are we will have a new winner.
The only sides left who have lifted the trophy are Barcelona and Bayern Munich, who meet on Friday.
Barcelona are not the force they were, but in Lionel Messi they have someone who could single-handedly drag them to glory.
As for Bayern, while there will be no Ballon d’Or this year, striker Robert Lewandowski can show over the next 11 days why he is the best player in the world right now.
Standing in the way of the winner of Bayern and Barcelona’s tie should be Manchester City, provided they can navigate their way past Lyon.
City’s owners have set their sights on winning the Champions League since buying the club in 2008 and Guardiola’s side finally look ready to achieve that after beating Real Madrid in the last 16.
They go into this mini-tournament as the favourites, but lurking on the other side of the draw is an Atletico Madrid side no one will want to take on.
If any manager is suited to devising a tactical plan for a one-off game it is Diego Simeone — and the fact he first faces an RB Leipzig side without Timo Werner, after the striker joined Chelsea, will boost his confidence.
Atletico stunned Liverpool in the last 16 and will back themselves to cause more upsets in Lisbon.