This year's Champions League is headed into its latter stages, with Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid the four sides left of the original 32. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, there is no English representation in the semi-final. The semi-finals will be held in Germany and Spain, with envious glances from London, Manchester and Paris in particular.
Though the lack of English representation is disappointing, it opens up an opportunity for fans of English football to support a foreign club with no feeling of guilt. Previously, many fans felt obliged to support a rival club on the mere pretence that they were English, and not supporting them would be to disrespect English football.
This article will attempt to rank the two German and Spanish clubs from a neutral fan's point of view.
Barcelona are a complete footballing side. They play with a swagger derived from years of domination of European football that has seen them win more trophies than they can count. The Catalan side's Tiki-Taka style of play has been replicated (though not as successfully) by a host of other European sides and has become their trademark and their legacy left to football for years to come.
Leading their charge is the brilliant Lionel Messi, who's mere presence instigated the comeback against PSG that handed them their place in the semi-final.
So why are they ranked last?
For me, they're too good. The result is almost inevitable (especially at the Camp Nou).
AC Milan travelled to the Camp Nou with a 2-0 advantage. No one had ever overturned a 2-0 deficit, yet it was hardly surprising that Barcelona turned the game on it's head and ran out 4-2 winners on aggregate.
Fans would much rather watch a game so delicately poised that betting on it is a terrifying experience. Barcelona, for me at least, wouldn't provide that.
Real Madrid will feature in the semi-final for the third year in succession. Jose Mourinho's bid to win the Champions League with a third club is looking a realistic one; with Madrid having bypassed Manchester United this year already, Los Galacticos will be full of confidence and self-belief.
They play an exciting, direct brand of football, showcasing Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema, among others.
Many will be rooting for the Spanish side, who have for so many years underachieved.
This season, that could be about to change.
They're just great fun to watch—Cristiano Ronaldo, Ozil and Di Maria in particular.
And also, Jose Mourinho's ego is in need of some extra inflation, and a victory in this year's Champions League would certainly provide that.
I was very close to switching Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. They are both very similar in terms of playing style. The wingers—Ronaldo versus Ribery, Robben versus Di Maria. The talented German playmakers—Mesut Ozil versus Toni Kroos. The poachers—Gomez versus Benzema. The holding midfielders—Khedira and Alonso versus Schweinsteiger and Martinez.
But what made me put Bayern over Madrid was last year's final. Bayern fell to defeat in penalties against a Chelsea side that were lucky beyond belief. The heartbreak of losing the final in front of their home crowd was plain to see and horrible to witness. A victory this year would certainly ease that pain.
They're also a great football team, that has only recently really started asserting themselves as a real heavyweight in world football.
But the team every neutral will want to win is Borussia Dortmund.
Football loves an underdog, and Borussia Dortmund, though a clearly talented outfit, are certainly that.
They have a phenomenal fan base, and one can't help but respect the club a little bit more after witnessing the incredible support they receive.
They play football the right way—their star players in Goetze and Reus are home grown, unlike Madrid's and Bayern's in particular.
They, like the other sides, play an exciting brand of football that is a privilege to watch.
So, there we have it. The neutral fans preferred victors. Please ensure to take into account that this is only my opinion. Feel free to comment yours.