Every club wants to add it to their trophy cabinet, yet only one can triumph above the rest, claiming the title of the best club in Europe. Who will win this season’s Champions League, and will it be a team from England? Here’s a look at the five clubs with the biggest chance.
When Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy for the 12th time in their history, it was the ultimate justification Zinedine Zidane’s side were the best side in Europe, arguably the world. Having won the competition the previous season with a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in the shootout, Madrid looked far more comfortable in 2017’s final, eventually beating Juventus 4-1 and setting a new record for the first club to successfully defend the title.
However, with a stuttering start to the 2017/18 league campaign and the signs of clubs around the world getting stronger, are Real going to steamroll the competition again? A lot will be riding on talisman Ronaldo, whose hattrick saved his side from German giants Bayern Munich in the Quarter-Finals and once again against Atletico Madrid in the Semis. Such is the Portuguese’s influence in the competition, there are question marks about his ability as he enters his 30s and at the back-end of his career.
Now at 32, will Ronaldo have the legs to compete the way he normally does? One thing is for sure, he’s definitely not featuring as much as he did in his prime, and this could be a plan set by Zidane and Ronaldo to ensure the 4-time Ballon D’or winner remains refreshed. There is something different this year too; not only Ronaldo’s playing time but also the players around him. This year, there are more than just a handful of superstars in the team.
We could potentially be witnessing one of the stars of the world football in 21-year-old Marco Asensio as he makes his mark on the European stage. Having had his breakthrough for Real Madrid last season, the Spaniard has continued his fine form into the new season, seeing him score wonder goals against Barcelona and Valencia. Having previously relied upon Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale for goals, there is now another outlet who can be just as deadly and young enough to keep going for years.
All the players may not be in their prime as they were a couple of seasons ago, but Real certainly have what it takes to succeed. Will Zidane do what no other manager could even dream of, and win the Champions League for a third successive time?
Manchester City are in fine form at the moment, depicting the tactics of a Pep Guardiola side with a solid backline and a midfield capable of controlling the game, accompanied by a deadly strike-force miles above the rest in the Premier League. Such is their early dominance this season, it will be interesting to see if they are able to maintain their high performance football but with Guardiola now firmly settled in, he’ll have no excuses to go all the way in Europe.
Pep’s love affair with this competition dates back to his Barcelona days when they were simply unstoppable, winning against the elite many times. In his four-year managerial spell with the Catalan club, the 46-year-old won it twice and added it to his trophy collection, also becoming the youngest manager to have ever won it. Now at the Etihad, he has a monstrous task of lifting the trophy once again with a club that are only in their seventh season in the Champions League.
Already they have shown they have the cutting edge that pips them at the top of the league, alongside Manchester United, and will be a force to be reckoned with. While their usual dominant displays were slightly effective last year, they were found wanting in too many games due to a lack of goals. However, this year Man City are adding something extra to their game. Instead of having a club full of individuals, this side are starting to look more and more like a collective and once that cohesion is instilled within them, their passing play and movement will be second to none.
The pairing of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero is proving to be a fruitful one as they have combined to score nine goals between them in just 10 games and will look to emulate that form in Europe. Already being touted as the next Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, Guardiola has stated his faith in playing two up front has seen them score more goals by sayig:
“We scored a lack of goals last season so we thought that maybe they should play together. The way we played as a team, we are so happy.”
But will scoring plenty of goals be enough to tame the likes of Bayern, Real Madrid and other strong competitors this season?
When Jose Mourinho lifted the Europa League trophy at the back end of last season, many rival fans mocked the competition as it represented a lower level of competition in Europe. However, regardless of the road to the final, United ended up winners, adding a medal to their collection and knowing they will feature in the Champions League the following season.
Now here, a lot will have to be done to ensure the Red Devils can make the step up from Europa League to Champions League. It shouldn’t be a problem at all when considering the squad assembled at Old Trafford and especially when considering how Mourinho has won this competition before, arguably with weaker sides too. It’s surprising to see that the Portuguese manager has never won the competition with an English side.
It’s a tactician’s nightmare to go up against Mourinho and it will be a real issue when competing against the best in Europe. With a side that’s currently sitting at the right end of the table and looking like a huge improvement over last year, United fans can truly feel as if they have a real chance of winning the Champions League and bringing back glory to the club.
The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba will have a major influence on the team and confidence is rocking at the moment as there could be a title charge this season too. Such is the managerial record of Mourinho that you wouldn’t put it past him to win multiple competitions, similar to last season.
It’ll be foolish to bet against United this season, as this could very well be their year.
Speaking about tacticians, one Italian might just have what it takes to go toe to toe with his rival. Antonio Conte masterminded the Premier League in his first season in English football and will be eager to add the Champions League to his growing repertoire, a competition he has yet to achieve glory with. In fact, his record in Europe’s elite campaign is not one to look back on.
Conte’s Juventus side lost to Bayern in the quarter-finals in his first Champions League season and were eliminated at the group stage the season after. With a poor record in Europe, will the Italian’s record cause a hindrance at Chelsea?
The Blues achieved the ultimate goal back in 2012 when Didier Drogba’s winning penalty meant they were the first and only London club to win the Champions League. Since then, however, in the past five seasons, Chelsea have only come close once, making it to the semi-final but have suffered in the other seasons, even being eliminated at the group stage in 2013, a year after their triumph.
The result of the 3-4-3 formation deployed by Conte was plain for all to see; it was a resounding success which saw Chelsea win 13 games in a row from October to January. With 30 total wins under their belt, it was clear Conte had found the winning formula and one that has been replicated at many other clubs since. The question is, will this formation work in Europe?
High pressing may work in English football where the pace is quick and anything can happen but with a more relaxed approach needed in Europe, where a lot of patience is required, will they get it right? Having pretty much dominated English football last season, will Conte be able to dominate Europe?
Not forgetting the runners-up in that 2012 final and a club who have won the trophy five times, Bayern Munich are one of the favourites to win the Champions League this season. Having made it to the semi-finals in four of the last five seasons, Carlo Ancelotti will be eager to make that extra push into the final.
At his disposal, the Italian has a side envied by many clubs around the world. Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world and with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in defence, Thiago, Ribery and Robben in midfield, not to mention Muller and Lewandowski up front, this is some squad. What is considered a complete team, it is surprising to know that Bayern haven’t won the Champions League as many times as the likes of Real Madrid or even AC Milan and have only won it once in the last 15 years.
In recent news, many believe Ancelotti’s time at the club is coming to an end but with a title win last season and a year under his belt, the Italian still has something to prove at the Allianz. If he could add the Champions League trophy to his cabinet as well, something he’s achieved with Milan and Real Madrid, this could be the icing on the cake that cements his managerial status as the very best.
With these five clubs in contention to win Europe’s biggest prize, the Champions League 2017/18 will be entertaining to watch. Having seen all of these clubs win their opening games and look comfortable while doing so, it will be interesting to see which manager and which club has masterminded the competition to be the very best.