A somewhat lopsided Champions League draw given it essentially separated the four best sides from the four weaker sides, but the real imbalance is towards one massive tie. It is a quarter-final that, at the very least, promises the vibrancy and energy of the competition continues – as well as a lot more beyond.
The sameness of recent years has gone with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, replaced by a lot of new storylines.
One stands out above all given it has more history than any other, and that is the meeting of Manchester United and Barcelona. We’ll naturally get a lot of nostalgia for the conveniently timed 20th anniversary of everything that happened in 1998/99 but, as regards what is to happen in 2018/19, it does feel Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side got by far the roughest draw of the English sides.
There, after all, lies Lionel Messi.
The draw did throw up an all-English tie as expected, but it at least involves Tottenham Hotspur, given that any other pairing would have been so emotionally overwhelming for those involved. Spurs might disagree with that given their own poor recent record against Manchester City, but it’s not like they’ve been relentlessly bad against them. Mauricio Pochettino did still inflict Pep Guardiola’s first defeat as City manager, and will doubtless play on that as a historic opportunity for Spurs.
On the other side, though, it’s an unwanted tough tie in what is an historic opportunity for a quadruple for City.
Liverpool got the most forgiving draw in a side they beat 5-0 away last season in Porto but it would be dangerous to dismiss a doughty side that have improved since then. That’s especially the case given when it comes in the Anfield side’s title race.
There’s then one tie for European purists since it restages the finals of 1973 and 1996 in Ajax vs Juventus, if on different terms – and very different teams. For all this might superficially seem an entire predictable progression for Juventus, though, just look at what happened to Real Madrid. And, even allowing for Cristiano Ronaldo’s show of power against Atletico Madrid, that Italian defence has been nowhere near as concrete as any point in the last half decade. An exciting Ajax should sense more opportunity.
There is also, of course, the opportunity for the semi-finals.
It sets that up very nicely. There is the potential for the long-awaited Liverpool-United showdown in this competition, Guardiola against Juventus, and maybe even a final that pits Ronaldo and Messi against each other.
There is, in short, so much to look forward to. Even if the view is a little obscured on one side.