It's March, the one-year anniversary of the month when the world came to a standstill. Football, too, came to a standstill. The world's top leagues came to a halt. And there's mostly been a distinct lack of fans at football games since the restart in June. The 2020/21 season has seen Covid-19 disruptions, a cramped schedule, and lack of pre-season hurting the fitness of many. But despite all that, games have gone forward. So, here we are, at the business end of the season.
Let's take a look at how football action is shaping up in Europe and England!
First up, then, Europe's premier club competition. Just eight sides remain in the competition now, and the quarter-final ties are all set. The Round of 16 saw heavyweights such as Barcelona, Juventus and Atletico Madrid depart. Kylian Mbappe blew Barcelona away in the first leg, and all PSG had to do was not implode. Memories of their 6-1 loss must have haunted them to no end, but they got the job done this time around.
Juventus. however, aren't doing so good. In danger of losing out on a league title they have won for 8 consecutive years, Europe continues to be a poisoned chalice. For a second successive year, they were eliminated by unfancied underdogs. Last year, it was Lyon. This time around, it was Porto and Sergio Oliviera. Bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't changed much, and the emotional hire of club legend Andrea Pirlo does not seem to be working out.
Much like Juventus, Chelsea's club legend pick didn't work either. Frank Lampard departed in January, opening the doors to Thomas Tuchel. The former Dortmund and PSG manager has done wonders for their defensive stability, which was on show against La Liga leaders Atletico. The likes of Mason Mount, Olivier Giroud, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech ensured attack wasn't much of a problem either.
Stars of the Round of 16
The French World Cup winner's inclusion is hardly surprising. Mbappe was imperious against Barcelona. At times unplayable.
Granted, Barcelona aren't the side they used to be, but on their day they can decimate any opponents. An increasingly forlorn Lionel Messi did not turn up, but Mbappe certainly did. Compared to the first leg, the second one was a rather sordid affair, a 1-1 draw punctuated by a penalty miss from Messi.
This was a tie dictated by Mbappe, however, and PSG go into the next round with one of the world's best footballers on song.
Is Erling Haaland a machine? Despite his tall frame, the Norwegian striker possesses ample speed and his finishing is deadly. He scored braces in both legs of Dortmund's RO16 ties against Sevilla. His goals dragged a sub-par Dortmund side into the last eight.
Their downslide saw Lucien Favre sacked, but Edin Terzic hasn't overseen too much improvement since taking over. Haaland, however, has been a saving grace. He dragged Dortmund past Sevilla with his goals, as he has done often in the Bundesliga as well. Haaland looks increasingly likely to leave in the summer, with the huge amount of interest that he has generated. Dortmund will hope he can drag them to a Champions League place, however, or they risk losing early a player who has already established himself as one of the world's best.
Ah, Manchester City. Like every season since Guardiola took over the reins at Etihad stadium, Manchester CIty have been anointed as one of the favourites to win the Champions League.
They strolled through the group with six clean sheets, and if their performance against Gladbach was any indication, they have no plans to let up.
For years, David Silva led the charge. But this year, Phil Foden has taken up that responsibility. Foden has played across a variety of positions. He has cut in from wide, attacked through the centre, and he even glided as a false nine from time to time. But wherever he played, he was fantastic.
England's next big hope, Foden has shown his class and has established himself as a vital cog in this Manchester City machine.
Then there's the FA Cup. A fan's perception of the FA Cup depends on whether or not their team is still there in the competiton! Manchester United fans are certainly playing down the importance of the competition after a fine performance from Kelechi Iheanacho and Leicester City knocked hem out from a competition they last won in 2015/16.
For Leicester, it was a fantastic night. Kelechi Iheanacho has mostly flattered to deceive since joining from Manchester City. But his purple patch has perfectly coincided with Jamie Vardy's lean form. A first semi-final since the early 1980s beckons now. With a meek exit from the Europa League, this competition is their only chance at silverware!
Leicester will face Southampton, for whom the occasion is even more momentous. They had the easiest opponents on paper in second tier Bournemouth, and got through that comfortably. Now, they'll prepare for a first semi-final appearance since 2017/18. Before that, their last appearance at this stage was in 2002/03. On that occasion, they lost to Arsenal in the final.
It is the other semi-final however, that might set the pulses racing. It is a game that many would have rather hoped to see as the final. Chelsea and Manchester City will face off against each other hoping to add another FA Cup to their trophy cabinet.
For Manchester City, it's one piece of a potential quadruple. For Chelsea, it might be their only shot at a trophy this season. The last time the two sides faced off, Chelsea were in their slump under Frank Lampard which eventually saw him sacked. Thomas Tuchel has turned Chelsea into a much more efficient team - defensively strong and just enough when attacking. Having shut off Manchester United, Liverpool and Atletico, they'll fancy their chances against City.
City, themselves, have been in sparkling form at both ends, with a loss to Manchester United the only blemish on their record. This is going to be a delectable tie.
It's the first international break of 2021! Particularly, the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers have started for Europe, joining the other continents who had already started last year.
These qualifiers are also a chance for European sides to prepare their combination for the postponed edition of Euro 2020 happening this summer.
France will go in as favourites to win the competition, two years on from world glory. Griezmann, Giroud, Mbappe destroyed opponents in Russia, and no one would bet against an encore in Europe.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva in attack, holders Portugal are no pushovers. The likes of Croatia, Spain and Germany are certainly dark horses for the competition.
As this international break, it's the team combinations that have been better understood!