One question that pops into the mind of any football fan in the beginning of the season is to who shall win the Champions League and prove themselves to be the best team in Europe. Being the Premier Club competition in the world, it is the dream of every footballer to atleast play in the competition at some point in their career, let alone win it.
The UEFA Champions League is the annual continental club competition organised by Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and is contested by the top teams from the continent. 32 teams from various nationalities participate in the competition and the winner directly qualifies for the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
Regarded by many to be the toughest competition in football, it spans from mid-July to first week of June the following year. The 2012-13 Final was the most viewed in Champions League history and averages 250-300 million in television viewership each year. This year’s final will be held at the San Siro in Milan, one of the historic stadiums in Italy in which legends like Maldini, Barresi and Van Basten once plied their trade.
With most of the expected teams through to the next round or are favourites to progress, a few particularly stand out among the rest. In this column we take a quick glance at who are the clubs most likely to lay their hands on the prestigious trophy for the current season —
Paris Saint-Germain – Already crowned champions of France a record 62 days prior to the end of the season and the team is only getting better. Zlatan Ibrahimović gets better with age every year and the addition of Angel Di Maria has given a new edge to the side which has been faltering in the early knockout rounds in recent years. Thiago Silva is arguably the most efficient defender around providing solid cover at the back and the team can now rest players during league matches to keep them fresh for the Champions League ties. With Zlatan’s contract set to end at the end of the current campaign, it may be his last chance to pick up the one elusive trophy missing from his cabinet and his teammates will definitely like to provide a wonderful farewell to one of the best forwards of the current century.
Bayern Munich – German Champions and 5 times winner of the tournament will be desperate to get their hands on the trophy after getting mauled in the semi-final stages by Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last two years. With Robert Lewandowski at his peak form and ably supported by Thomas Muller, Douglas Costa and Arjen Robben led by master tactician Pep Guardiola, there are no limits to what this side can achieve. The Allianz Arena remains a fortress as ever and if the outfit manage to improve their performances in away fixtures, few teams would be able to match the firepower of the Bundesliga outfit. With Manuel Neuer between the posts and a midfield consisting of Philip Lahm, Arturo Vidal and Xabi Alonso this team has the strongest line-up of any participating team. Only one particular team stands in their away which they would like to avoid meeting atleast until the final.
Barcelona — Reigning champions of Spain, Europe and the World with a 38 match unbeaten streak. This team is currently unstoppable with the forward front three of Messi-Neymar-Suarez (MSN) pummelling and bulldozing past opponents. The last time the team lost a match was in October 3rd 2015 and since then have gone on to assert their dominance with the team now having a 8 point lead at the top of La Liga and 2-0 up against Arsenal in the pre-quarters of the Champions League with the second leg due in Camp Nou on Wednesday. Andres Iniesta has been a delight to watch all through the season and his tendency to step up in the big games makes him one of the players to look out for. Rakitic and Pique are two other players who have been integral to the side and the coach will have the same expectations from them going into the final months of the season. Meanwhile Claudio Bravo and Marc Ander Ter-Stegen are ever reliable as always with world class performances all throughout this year.
Although I have mentioned only three teams in my most probable list, however there are a few teams which may spring an upset. 10 times Champions Real Madrid are somewhat going through a difficult phase but with the talent they possess in their ranks, they just can’t be ruled out as yet. Another Spanish team, Atlético Madrid may be the dark horses just like two seasons ago when they made it to the finals owing to their sturdy defence led by Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez and Juan Oblak shielding the defence. Antoine Griezmann has of late been in terrific form and teams must have surely noticed and make appropriate plans to contain him. Current runners-up and Italian Champions would have made it to the list had they faced anyone other than Bayern Munich. Going into Munich with a 2-2 score and coming out victorious will be an uphill task for the Old lady but with the likes of Paola Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Paul Pogba in red hot form nothing is impossible. Perhaps the greatest goalkeeper to have graced the sport, Gianluigi Buffon is just three minutes away from setting a new record of not conceding a goal and his presence will surely give a boost to the side from Turin.
To be fair, football is too unpredictable a game and anything might happen over the course of 90 minutes. On their day a team like Porto can mount a serious challenge to even the best teams. However the involvement of millions of dollars of investment has bridged the gap between the best teams and the good teams. But who doesn’t like a twist? Everybody must be enjoying Leicester City’s run at the top of BPL standings and thus expecting a less fancied side to cause upsets isn’t totally out of the mark.
Who in your opinion is the best team currently? And who is most likely to win Europe’s Premier Competition? Have your say on the matter.