Champions League: Stories to look out for in latter stages in Lisbon

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The final three rounds of the Champions League squeezed into two weeks make it arguably the highlight of this season’s football calendar.

As the quarter-finals begin in Lisbon on Wednesday with Atalanta v Paris St-Germain, BBC Sport looks at what you should be keeping an eye on in the latter stages.

This could finally be Lewandowski’s year

It is not often you want to remove yourself from a list containing Brazilian Ronaldo, Romario, Robert Baggio, Gianluigi Buffon, Diego Maradona and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – but Robert Lewandowski will be hoping to do just that.

Like all those legends, Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski has never won the European Cup or Champions League. He lost the 2013 final against Bayern when he was a Borussia Dortmund player.

The 31-year-old is the top scorer in the tournament’s history to have never won it. His double against Chelsea took him on to 66 goals, only behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul (who have won five, four and three Champions Leagues respectively).

The Poland international is also set to be the first person other than Ronaldo or Messi to win the Champions League Golden Boot outright since Kaka in 2007.

Lewandowski has 13 goals in seven Champions League games this term, seven goals clear of anyone left in the competition.

He is only four behind Ronaldo’s record of 17 goals for Real Madrid in 2013-14 – although only has a maximum of three games left because of second legs being removed.

His hopes will be boosted by Bayern’s brilliant form – the German giants go into their quarter-final against Messi’s Barcelona on the back of 18 victories in a row.

The treble chasers have not lost a match in 2020.

Or maybe Man City’s time is here

Pep Guardiola is two wins away from a first Champions League final without Lionel Messi in his team

Manchester City are favourites to win the tournament, both with the bookmakers and by data company Gracenote’s Euro Club Index.

This is perhaps helped by their easier (on paper) quarter-final against Lyon – who finished seventh in Ligue 1 – than Bayern’s Barcelona test.

City’s best Champions League run was reaching the semi-finals in 2016. One of the major reasons behind bringing Pep Guardiola in as manager was to try to help them win the tournament. He is only three games and two weeks away from doing so.

In the previous round, City beat Real Madrid in both legs as they became the first team to eliminate Zinedine Zidane from the Champions League as a manager.

It is nine years since the second of Guardiola’s Champions League successes with Barcelona. He failed to reach the final in his last year with Barca, three seasons with Bayern and three seasons at City (excluding this one).

City are in reasonable form, with 21 wins, three draws and only four defeats in 2020.

Our best chance to see a new winner

Atalanta are the first team to reach the Champions League quarter-finals at the first attempt since Leicester City in 2016-17

Only two of the eight teams left in the tournament – Bayern Munich and Barcelona – have won the Champions League or European Cup before, and they meet in a quarter-final.

Atletico Madrid, who play RB Leipzig, are the only other side to reach the final (losing three times).

One of Atletico, Leipzig, Paris St-Germain or Atalanta will be in the final on 23 August.

Atalanta – who have scored 115 goals this season – are in the Champions League for the first time and qualified for the knockout stages despite losing their first three group games.

Champions League: How PSG opponents Atalanta took Europe by storm

In their way are big-spending PSG – whose team will contain Neymar and, potentially, Kylian Mbappe. They have not got further than this stage since their Qatari takeover in 2011.

Leipzig were only founded 11 years ago and this is their first time in the Champions League knockout stages. They are without all-time top scorer Timo Werner, who joined Chelsea this summer.

The German side play Atletico Madrid, who lost the final in 1974, 2014 and 2016.

The winners of Bayern and Barca will play either Manchester City or Lyon. Both sides have been in one Champions League semi-final before.

New format could see big changes

Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz (pictured) and Estadio Jose Alvalade will host the final three rounds of the Champions League

The Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals being played over one leg – all at neutral venues in Lisbon – could change the dynamic of ties.

In recent years, many first-leg deficits have been dramatically overhauled in a second match a week or two later, several involving Barcelona.

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur both reached the 2018-19 final despite losing their semi-final first legs.

Some 49 of 202 teams (24%) have progressed despite losing a Champions League first leg.

Neutrals will hope the new format does not cause teams to be more cautious.

The Europa League quarter-finals have averaged 3.5 goals a game (seven goals a tie) over the previous four years. This year’s one-legged ties produced 2.5 goals a game – with Shakhtar Donetsk’s 4-1 win over Basel accounting for half of them.

Players getting coronavirus could change things too. Atletico Madrid duo Angel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko are self-isolating and did not travel to Lisbon after testing positive for Covid-19.

Matches must be played if a team have 13 outfield players and a goalkeeper available from their main ‘A list’.

The alternatives are teams being allowed to register another player already at the club, the game being rescheduled (although there are very few alternative dates) or the team having to forfeit the game.

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