LISBON: With just two former winners left in the competition, no Cristiano Ronaldo and no fans, the Champions League moves to Lisbon this week for the start of the “Final Eight” with the intriguing prospect that a new format could lead to a new name on the trophy.
However, the shadow of the coronavirus looms large after it was announced on Sunday two individuals from Atletico Madrid, one of the teams involved in Portugal, have tested positive.
"On Saturday, all members of the first team and the club's party to Lisbon underwent tests as required by UEFA protocols," said a club statement.
"Among the results known today, two positives have appeared and they are self-isolating in their respective homes."
It was not revealed whether the two positive cases involved players or backroom staff.
Barcelona and Bayern Munich, with five European Cups each, are in contention for the title but only one will reach the semifinals — they meet each other in the quarterfinals at the Estadio da Luz on Friday.
With Barca desperate for more European success before Lionel Messi, who turned 33 in June, moves on, and Bayern looking a fearsome proposition led by Robert Lewandowski, that promises to be a thrilling tie despite the lack of supporters.
But maybe this time the glory will go to someone new altogether, with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain both having reason to believe this will be the year they are rewarded for a decade of decadence fueled by the immense wealth of their owners in the Gulf.
"The big clubs lift the titles," was how City boss Pep Guardiola put it after his team knocked out Real Madrid on Friday.
Perhaps Atletico, back where they lost the 2014 final to Real, will at last go the extra step under Diego Simeone, or perhaps there will be a shock winner in RB Leipzig, Atalanta or even Lyon.
At this level, Atalanta are the minnows and it would be a remarkable story if they won the trophy in their first appearance in the Champions League after the terrible suffering of their hometown Bergamo during the coronavirus pandemic.
It is as a direct result of COVID-19 that UEFA have taken the Champions League to the Portuguese capital for the latter stages.
The competition restarted on Friday after five months in hibernation because of the pandemic. The final was initially due to be played in Istanbul in late May before being postponed.
The final will be played at Benfica's Estadio da Luz on August 23. The “Final Eight” will start at the same ground on Wednesday when Atalanta face PSG.
Whoever wins that will meet Leipzig or Atletico for a place in the final, while City or Lyon will meet Bayern or Barcelona in the other semifinal.
The most unusual Champions League has already seen Real — winners of four of the last six editions — go out in the last 16 along with holders Liverpool and Juventus, who were eliminated by Lyon on Friday despite the best efforts of Ronaldo.