With the Champions League entering its quarter-finals and the draw to be conducted on Friday (17 March), the focus will once again be on the potential conquerors of Europe.
And according to former players Tore Andre Flo and Hasan Salihamidzic, both Barcelona and Bayern Munich are the clear front-runners to lift the trophy in May following their explosive showing in the Round of 16. All three former players were in Singapore to attend the International Champions Cup press conference announcement on Thursday.
German champions Bayern Munich overcame Arsenal 10-2 on aggregate, while Barcelona completed the best comeback the Champions League has seen with a 6-1 win in the second leg to overturn a 4-0 deficit.
While there are still the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Juventus and Atletico Madrid left, both Bayern and Barcelona impressed Flo and Salihamidzic the most.
“Obviously Bayern Munich and Barcelona… those two games were two great games,” Flo said.
“The comeback by Barcelona… I’ve never see anything like that. Also, I was very impressed over Bayern Munich’s two games against Arsenal.”
Salihamidzic, a former Bayern player himself, added: “I can say the same. Bayern Munich was great in both games but the comeback of Barcelona was amazing.
“We’ll see what happens now, but our team is in good shape. Anything is possible, anything can happen. But Bayern Munich are my favourites for now.”
However, former Italy and Inter Milan goalkeeper Francesco Toldo picked a different team as the most impressive one instead.
The 45-year-old feels that Leicester City, the only English team left in the competition, stands a chance, even though they are struggling in the domestic league.
“Champions League is a competition that can only be won (by being very detailed), and I’ve been very impressed by Leicester in the Champions league this year,” said Toldo.
He added, however, that his support for the Foxes also stems from his personal relationship with Claudio Ranieri, the manager who guided Leicester to the Premier League title before being removed last month.
Dominance of Europe’s four big leagues
One thing that had the former players in agreement was the fact that the Champions League will only be won with a club from the top four leagues in Europe – England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga.
Out of the eight teams left in the Champions League, only France’s AS Monaco comes from a different league.
Flo pointed out that it is undeniable that “those four leagues are the best four in Europe”, while Toldo added that teams from the four leagues are “the usual suspects when it comes to potential for winning the Champions League”.
However, he added that when it comes to actual playing ability teams from Spain are ahead, while implying that the English teams appear to be successful only because of their marketing ability.
“On the technical level, Real Madrid have done a very good job over the last few years, and it can be said that it’s advantage to Spanish teams,” Toldo said.
“When it comes to the Premier League, I think the marketing aspect has played a major role.”
Salihamidzic also pointed the success of the Premier League’s marketing, which Germany is trying to emulate now.
“We would like to make Bundesliga more global. That is the job that we (Bundesliga clubs) are doing, and we are really proud to have a team like that.”