The quarter-finals of this season's Champions League have come and gone with barely a flicker of recognition on the Euroballs interest-o-meter. Is this a one-off or something more serious?
There's no doubt that the modern structure of Europe's premier cup competition lends itself to this, set up as it seems to be in order to ensure the passage of the same few big clubs. The revenues clubs generate from participation also helps ensure that the same clubs are more likely to be back time after time. Michel Platini's tinkering with the qualifying rounds has helped us see more national champions in the group stages and that's been slightly more refreshing - APOEL's progress has been this season's highlight - but once we get to the knockout rounds, the gulf between the have-a-bits and the have-bloody-loads is horribly exposed.
But for that sense of familiarity with the regular appearances of a small number of clubs in the last eight, this year has felt even duller. While we cheered APOEL through their last-16 tie against Lyon, Real Madrid were always going to be a step too far and the other ties lacked any sense of jeopardy. Milan playing for a 0-0 at home was never a good idea with the return at the Nou Camp and Barcelona duly got the expected result. FC Bayern eased Marseille aside home and away without either side looking particularly bothered and Chelsea did likewise against Benfica. Broadcasters here in the UK tried their best to engage viewers in Chelsea's games, but we were still too busy wishing it was Napoli and lamenting their inability to finish the job at Stamford Bridge after giving them a touch at the San Paolo. We tried watching, but as soon as Chelsea scored in Lisbon, the game was pretty much up. In the return, an early penalty all but sealed the deal and we flicked over to re-runs of Man vs Food on Dave*.
There is intrigue left. The British press are trying to whip up something about a Chelsea/Barcelona rivalry after a semi-final between the two a few years ago that featured a poor refereeing performance. We're not buying it and presume that Barcelona couldn't really give a flying one. Moreover, if form in the quarter-finals suggests anything, it's that the Catalans will be in the final in Munich after a comfortable victory. That would mean that they either face their old rivals or Bayern get to play a final on their own ground.
The Bavarians have made much of the fact that they're hosting the final and why not? They have it all to do to beat Real Madrid to get there, but let's hope they do and save us from two weeks of the usual bollocks that accompanies el clasico that, frankly, is getting tiresome coming as it does just half a dozen times a year. The Mourinho 'mind games', the hunt for new Lionel Messi-related superlatives, the endless wittering oh merciful god make it stop. So at least we will have a new thing to experience during the semi-finals: rooting for FC Hollywood to rescue the Champions League. Urgh.
* - Note for overseas readers. Yes, there is a TV channel in the UK called Dave. No, us neither.