The Champions League draw for the final stages of this season's competition has been set, and is has lumped three of the four favourites on the same side of the draw.
With the semi-final draw made at the same as the quarter-final draw, teams know who they could meet if they progress to the last four, and one side of the draw has thrown up some mouthwatering clashes.
Real Madrid face Chelsea in a repeat of last year's quarter-final tie, while Manchester City and Bayern Munich's matchup is one many were predicting to be the final of this year's competition.
With Benfica joining the three Italian sides on the other side of the draw, it opens up an unexpected path to Champions League glory for some of the less-fancied teams in this year's competition.
Champions League draw
One side of the Champions League draw has thrown up a sensational pair of match-ups, with the last two Champions League winners meeting in Real Madrid v Chelsea. The two sides also met in last year's quarter-finals, with Real Madrid holding off a Chelsea comeback on their way to their 14th European crown.
The two favourites for this year's competition, Manchester City and Bayern Munich, meet in the other tie, in what is set to be one of the games of the season. The winners of City v Bayern will face either Real Madrid or Chelsea in the semi-final, ensuring that only one of the big names will make it to June's final in Istanbul.
🇪🇸 Real Madrid vs Chelsea 🏴
🇵🇹 Benfica vs Inter 🇮🇹
🏴 Man City vs Bayern 🇩🇪
🇮🇹 Milan vs Napoli 🇮🇹
*FC Internazionale Milano's match has been reversed in accordance with the principles set by the Club Competitions Committee. #UCLdraw pic.twitter.com/m1gMqFs1fV
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 17, 2023
With many of Europe's biggest clubs misfiring this season, and the likes of Liverpool and PSG already knocked out, it feels like a year that an underdog could take the biggest prize - and the quarter-final and semi-final draw has set that up nicely.
It feels wrong to label AC Milan as underdogs, given they are seven-times European champions and current champions of Italy. But it is 16 years since they won the Champions League, and they had been absent from the European Cup for a decade before their return to the top in recent years.
They have now been set up with a mouthwatering all-Italian quarter-final, against the resurgent Napoli. With the Neapolitans on their way to only a third ever Scudetto this year, and cruising to top their group ahead of Liverpool, they stand as one of the outsiders' favourites for this year's competition.
Both sides will certainly be buoyed by their potential semi-final opponents, with the last eight's firm outsiders facing off in Inter v Benfica. The prospect of a Milan derby in the semi-final will no doubt evoke memories of the 2005 tie, which was ultimately abandoned after flares were thrown on the pitch and struck Milan keeper Dida.
On this day in 2005, AC Milan vs. Inter Milan was abandoned due to flares being thrown onto the pitch.
Goalkeeper Dida was struck by one, while Marco Materazzi and Rui Costa stood side by side in what became an iconic football photo 📸 pic.twitter.com/rxnnJUaN6J
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 12, 2020
Regardless of who progresses from the tie between Milan and Napoli, the winner would undoubtedly be the favourite for any semi-final tie. Given that Inter are a prospective opponent, the chances of an Italian finalist are huge, as Serie A continues its resurgence.
It's one of the most open Champions League seasons in recent memory, and the draw only throws the "favourites" tag up for further debate. Each tie comes with an intriguing question mark, with fans no doubt hoping the last eight and beyond will provide more drama than the lacklustre last 16 stage.
The Champions League quarter finals will get underway on the week of April 11/12, with the second legs following a week later.