As the group stage draws are made, we look at five teams who are our pick to win the Champions League this season.
1 – Real Madrid
Rafael Benitez has always been a manager who has done well in Europe, whether it was with Valencia, Liverpool FC, or Chelsea FC. We can expect more of the same from the Spaniard as he looks to get his managerial career on track.
Real Madrid have a terrific squad, as always. But, in Benitez, they now have a manager who will keep them fresh for the later stages of the season with his rotation policy. The Spaniard is also a tactical master, outwitting even the likes of Jose Mourinho in his heydays with Liverpool FC.
The combination of the quality at his disposal and his tactical nous, make Real Madrid the team to beat in the Champions League this season.
Verdict: Favorites – The only reason we tip them above arch rivals FC Barcelona is that no one is history has won back-to-back Champions League titles.
2 – FC Barcelona
No one in the history has won back-to-back Champions League titles, as we said. But, no one had won a sextuple before or two trebles of the league, the domestic cup and the European cup in Europe. FC Barcelona did and if anyone can do what Manchester United came close to doing in 2009 when Pep Guardiola’s side thwarted them, it is the FC Barcelona of the MSN. The deadly trio arguably have three of the top 4 attackers in the world (although James and Bale might want to change that this season).
Who is going to stop them, really? Especially when they combine the attacking talent at their disposal with a miserly defence? They conceded just 21 goals in the league last season. That is 17 less than second place Real Madrid.
The addition of Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan will further aid their ability to defend. While Turan is an attacker, his work-rate and pressing will aid the Catalans in defending from the front.
Expect them to be right in the mix towards the final stages of the Champions League. And who knows, they might just create another record.
Verdict: 2nd favorites – As we said above, the only reason they are the second favorites is because no one has ever won the Champions League back-to-back.
3 – Chelsea FC
Surprised that they are in the list despite their recent problems? Don’t be. If anything, their troubles in the league does not bode well for teams looking to beat them to the European title.
The more Chelsea FC drift away in the league, the more focused they will be on winning the Champions League. Without a doubt, Jose Mourinho has the tactical ability as well as the quality in his squad to win the competition. Especially after two years of underwhelming results in the competition, he would like to set the record straight.
Also, this is not the first time a team struggling in the league does exceptionally well in Europe. Well, that is, if the struggles lasts beyond these four games. Expect Mourinho to iron out the problems at Chelsea FC for their European trips, if not in the league. He knows how to set up his team, has the personnel to do the damage on the counter with the pace of Costa, Hazard, Willian, Pedro.
Verdict: Good chance – the worry is do Chelsea FC have the defensive personnel to win the Champions League? On the evidence of the latest showing, apparently, not. They need to make a defensive signing to increase the chances.
4 – Bayern Munich
Pep Guardiola is in his final year of contract with the Bavarian giants. Having won the league in each of the season in Munich, one regret that the former FC Barcelona manager has is his failure to take Bayern to European glory.
Expect Guardiola to focus his energies on making one final push with Bayern before moving on in the summer to a new challenge, mostly.
Guardiola has recruited Arturo Vidal as replacement for Bastian Schweinsteiger. The addition of the Chilean warrior will give them the much needed physical prowess in midfield which can be vital in Europe.
Verdict: Very good chance – Alongside FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Bayern have the best chance to win the competition. Pep Guardiola’s extra motivation may help them in bringing the cup back for the first time since Jupp Hynecks’ last season in-charge.
5 – Manchester City
City have been the sleeping giants of the Champions League for far too long. With their new found fire, they are one of the teams who will will be right up there till the final stages of the competition. One mustn’t forget that if it was not for a late Juan Roman Riquelme penalty miss, then Manuel Pellegrini would be guiding Villarreal to the finals of the elite competition in 2005-06.
He is capable of taking City to the promised land in Europe, and with the addition of pace and creativity that they have done over the summer, the Citizens stand a good chance to do the damage to their opponents.
Verdict: Decent chance – City will have to out do the likes of Bayern, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid to win the Old Big Ears. Unlikely, but, not impossible. If it all clicks and they have some luck, they are capable of winning the Champions League this season for the first time in their history.