With the qualifying rounds already well under way, the buzz for the return of the Champions League is starting to build and it won’t be long until the group stage draw is upon us. Last season’s victors
Chelsea will be keen to get going, as will clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester City and Manchester United who failed to make much of an impact last time out.
Big money has been spent this summer and plenty of United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal transfer news is still on-going in an attempt to make them the strongest of the English challengers for the European trophy. Chelsea and Arsenal have made some big signings in the close season and exciting talent such as Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski will give them the confidence that they can make their mark on the competition when the draw is made. United and City started the season as favourites for the Premier League title and they will also be right up there in the betting when it comes to the Champions League. Having both been knocked out at the group stage last season, the competition will certainly be high on their priorities and you could do a lot worse than to predict that either one of these two Manchester clubs will make the final at Wembley, next May.
All four English clubs are expected to do well and it is the first time for years that all four will genuinely believe they can win the trophy. The main threat to the English teams will once again come from Spain, as Barcelona and Real Madrid will look to improve on their semi-final defeats last season. Barcelona have a new manager but very little will change for the Catalan club as Lionel Messi and co. will be the early favourites to take the cup. Real Madrid are already under pressure in the league and they may see the Champions League as a welcome distraction when the group stages start, but Mourinho will be desperate to win the trophy with a third different club.
Aside from the usual suspects you can’t ignore last season’s finalists Bayern Munich, who probably feel they deserved to win the trophy before losing on penalties on their own patch. The Germans will definitely be a threat, but surprised a few last season by making it to the final and would be some way down my pecking order when selecting a pre-tournament winner.
Big spending PSG would like to think they have a chance, but like Manchester City last season, it may not be the right time or place and their main success will be in years to come. It is certainly the closest Champions League to call for a while and any side who makes it through the group stage will fancy their chances.