The crunch second leg of any big European tie is the match all broadcasters want. Two giants of the game, perfectly poised from the first encounter, coming together again – it guarantees drama and massive viewing figures. In fact, second leg numbers are usually around 20% higher than the first, and that is even taking into account dead rubbers.
Before last night, ITV must have be quietly chuckling to themselves – showing the first leg of the theoretically weaker half of the draw meant that they got to screen a potentially classic Bayern-Barca match, and the showdown between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. After all, history suggested that the two English sides would cancel each other out in a cagey first match, leaving everything open.
Right? Wrong. Now, their poor presenters are forced to inject some life into two ties that are, essentially, already over. It is a good thing they have a short build-up programme – Sky, with their two hour pre-show, would really struggle to cope.
Liverpool travel to Chelsea needing to score at least three to have even a sniff of a chance, so I’d give it two minutes into the programme before the pundits, clutching at straws, mention their Istanbul comeback for the millionth time, trying desperately to suggest that history might repeat itself. Or raise hope from their win at Stamford Bridge early in the season, a notion that is plainly ridiculous given that Liverpool scored just once that day, a lucky deflected goal at that. It isn’t likely to strike fear into Chelsea hearts.
Over on ITV4, a channel so familiar to us Arsenal fans who expect to see a match between us and Barca there because United’s big game against PAOK Salonika is so much more critical to terrestrial viewers, Bayern have an even bigger challenge – four goals to take the tie to extra time, and all the while knowing that the Barcelona attack that destroyed them last night need only score once to require the Germans to hit six. Not likely, really, and even their chairman admits the tie is over. But don’t expect that to stop ITV mentioning the twelve goals Bayern put past Sporting in the previous round, as if Barcelona are somehow likely to roll over as poorly as the Portuguese did.
Quietly, however, ITV must be fuming, in the knowledge that the anticipated drama of next week is now going to be exclusively on Sky. Will ITV even put ‘in the case of extra time, programmes may run late‘ into their planners?
Sky, meanwhile, have two ties that have their favourites, but could swing in an instant. We may be in the driving seat right now, but if Villareal hit us with an early away goal, the tide turns completely – we would be in the same situation that Liverpool were against us last season when Diaby scored early, knowing they had to chase the game while being aware that a second away goal could kill the tie.
In the other match up, Porto are in a great position, but United are perfectly capable of going out there and winning, and the requirement to attack sets the game up beautifully.
Sky, not for the first time, must be laughing their heads off. ITV, though, are seeing their football season go from bad to worse.