For the first time since early June, we are ready to hear the Champions League anthem once again. With a new season having just begun, there have seen some major storylines in the world of football, and arguably none bigger than the transfers of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to Paris St-Germain. That being said, there will no doubt other storylines that everyone will be following during this year’s edition of the Champions League.
Here are potentially the four most intriguing narratives that will possibly develop:
Juventus: Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Can the old lady finally reverse her fortunes?
Since Juve last won the UEFA Champions League (Eurpoean Cup) in 1996, they made their way to 3 successive cups finals. Since that PK triumph over Ajax in Rome, they have gone on to lose their last Champions League finals, which puts them at the top of the list of clubs having lost the most in the final game (7 out of 9). Coming on from last year, Juve lost arguably their biggest defensive piece – Leonardo Bonucci. While this might come as a bit of a blow, they did not hold back when adding a few pieces to their club that could help players play in their more natural positions. Blaise Matuidi will bring some stability to a locker room that after the final in Cardiff, appeared to be very unstable. Matuidi will also slide into a midfield that seemed a tad out of sorts at times last season. The French midfielder should take a bit of relief off of Sami Khedira, who at times showed his age last season. Douglas Costa, Federico Bernadeschi and Matteo De Sciglio (who will help fill the void left by Bonucci with Rugani) all join Matuidi as new comers to the Juve starting XI next season. Juve will have a strong run in the UEFA Champions League as per usual, however, there are still flaws in their game that will keep them just short of club football’s ultimate prize. Prediction: Semi-Finalist
Real Madrid: Will Los Blancos complete the 3-peat? (And 4 in 5 years)
12 titles overall – the most all time – back to back Championships and appearances in 3 of the last 4 finals? Real Madrid is atop the club football world right now. Madrid come in once again as the favorites to win Europe’s top prize. They have one of the world’s best attack with the “BBC” (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) three-headed beast, as well as a very strong midfield, led by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. A major area of concern for Real Madrid is the fact that they will be competing in 4 different competitions this coming season; the Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League, La Liga, and the Club World Cup. Zinedine Zidane will have to be the ultimate maestro once again, as his club looks to have extended runs in all competition. The key for Madrid will be the ability to win games whilst not straining their star. A factor that works in Madrid’s favor is that a good grouping of their players are still very young and have the ability to fill in, whilst still producing. A few of these young players that are going to be vital in helping Real Madrid go for 4 trophies this season are, Marco Asensio (21 years old), Raphael Varane (24 years old), Isco (25 years old), and Casemiro (25 years old). Will Real Madrid be able to go the distance and “3-peat” as Champions League Winner? Absolutely.
Prediction: Top 2
England: With 5 teams (the most) in this year’s edition, can a Premier League team finally reach the final for the first time in 7 years?
With Manchester United winning the Europa League title last season, this marks the first time since the 2005-2006 campaign that England has 5 teams in the Champions League. No English team has won the Champions League since Chelsea reached the final in 2011-2012. Since then, no team from the Prem has really shown that they can be a true competitive force in the tournament. The exception could possibly be made for Man City in 2015, however, they never really showed they were capable of it, having lost 2 times to Juventus in the group stage and then drawing Kiev and squeaking by PSG until ultimately losing to Real Madrid. Tottenham draws the “group of death” this year which could end up putting a quick end to their campaign. Chelsea also face a tough matchup, as Atletico look poised to take the group. Liverpool has a relatively easy grouping, however I do not anticipate them getting past the knockout stage against Europe’s true best. Manchester United come in with a lineup that is infused with new talent. Lukaku is in great form and the addition of Matic will allow Pogba to play a more natural position. Should they advance through the group stage (they should) the addition of Ibrahimovich will add one of the world’s top strikers to their attack and could create a deadly tag team with Lukaku.
Prediction: Manchester United makes it the furthest.
Which team will play Cinderella this year?
APOEL in 2012, Villareal in 2006, Deportivo La Coruna in 2004, and Kiev in 1999. The Champions League has shown us that it is not always the size of the club that determines how far you make it, rather the size of the heart of the club. This might not be the case so much in recent years, however we have seen a fair amount of teams advance through the group stage over European giants. There are a few contenders for a Cinderella team in this year’s tournament. RB Leipzig will be a must watch wild card team. If Naby Keita can continue on his tear, tabled with rising stars Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner (21 goals in 2016-2017), the German club looks poised to strike in a division that does not have one team that really stands above the rest. With this being the last year with Leipzig for Keita before his move to Liverpool, he will surely have a fire in him to have a crack at some hardware. The team will also be looking to build off of their domestic success from last season (2nd in Bundesliga). The team also added Jeffrey Bruma and Jean-Kevin Augustin to their already stacked offense. The Bulls will surely be looking to get more out of their domestic competitions, but they will be looking to attract more eyes from around the globe on their vastly underrated team.
Prediction: RB Leipzig advances into Quarter final rounds.