UEFA Champions League Preview

Soon it will all be back. The music that makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up as the players equally excited, focused, and petrified make their ways onto the pitch each clutching to the hand of an overwhelmed child. That anxiousness you feel before your favourite team takes on the pitch.

Following a memorable World Cup, The Champions League, undoubtedly the best football competition in my mind, is back! While most of you will have the luxury of supporting your own team, I’ll be casting a more unbiased eye on the competition with my favourite team, Manchester United, joining the likes of AC Milan, Inter Milan and Celtic on the sidelines.

After an extremely interesting summer where big-spending teams tried to work within the constraints of the newly-applied Financial Fair Play rules, the different squads are starting to take shape. Some of the competing teams have strengthened considerably. At the top of the list is Chelsea. The 2011-2012 Champions League winners have added Cesc Fabregas as well as Diego Costa and Felipe Luis. Fabregas looks as sharp as ever so far this season and the Brazilian pair of Costa and Luis were integral parts of Atletico Madrid’s stunning campaign last season. Add to that the mercurial talent of Eden Hazard and the commitment and passion of John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic and you have a pretty decent team. The problem that a lot of teams with so many good players face is being able to sacrifice individual attacking talent for defensive organization and solidity. However, with Jose Mourinho at the helm looking to become the first manager to win it all with three different clubs, Chelsea have the ideal candidate to achieve just that.

Going into the new season, a lot of talk was centered on Barcelona signing Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan is currently banned from football activities for famously biting – yes you read that right, biting- Giorgio Chiellini during a World Cup game. Whatever your position is about Suarez’s situation is, his addition to a Barca team already boasting Neymar and Lionel Messi is a terrifying proposition to opposition defences. Barcelona also found half an answer to their long-standing problems at the centre back position with the signings of Mathieu and former Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen.

As for Barcelona’s arch rivals Real Madrid, last season’s winners in a famous Madrid derby final against Atletico, numerous opinions exist surrounding their transfer business this summer. They have failed to sign a top quality striker to lessen the burden on Benzema’s shoulders with the signing of Javier Hernandez only seen as a stop-gap. They have added World Cup stars Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez for a substantially expensive fee but have lost two of their stalwarts in Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria. With doubts surrounding the form of goalkeeper Iker Casillas after his nightmare World Cup tournament, I’d be very surprised if this Madrid squad managed to do what no team has done since the early 90s and win two consecutive Champions Leagues.

Xabi Alonso left Madrid to join Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Bayern Munich. While the union of Guardiola and Bavaria has dominated German football, dreams of European dominance were brutally destroyed at the hands of Real Madrid last year. The free signing of Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund provides Guardiola with the clinical finisher his squad lacked last year. All in all, the additions of Lewandowski, Alonso and Morrocan defender Benatia fill positional needs at Bayern as they look to build on the exploits of their German players to conquer Europe again.

This summer was also another expensive one for PSG who made David Luiz the most expensive defender in history only three weeks before he was seen by millions sobbing in Brazil having produced one of the World Cup tournament’s worst ever performances. PSG executives were probably looking for the receipt to ask for a refund on the $80m dollar outlay they spent to bring Luiz to the French capital as he chased shadows on the Belo Horizonte pitch in that famous 7-1 loss to eventual World Champions Germany. However, the team still possesses valuable assets and if Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on his game, they can definitely compete against the best. Their energetic midfield with Verratti, Motta, Matuidi and Cabaye can give them the platform to create a few shocks.

While Atletico Madrid came so close to an astonishing success last season, it’s difficult to see them going as far this year. The departures of Felipe Luiz, Thibaut Courtois and Diego Costa have sort of stripped the team of its identity and while the signings of Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann represent terrific value for money, I doubt the team led by the brilliant Diego Simeone can reach the heights of last year.

The group stage draw has thrown up some interesting matchups with some of the returning teams such as Liverpool, Roma and Athletic Bilbao potentially facing daunting tasks to make it to the second round.

As ever, there are plenty of continental titans with points to prove, with records to tick off and with ambitions to be sated. Plenty of teams look much stronger than last year. However, the Champions League ultimately often comes down to which team has the least weaknesses and ticks the most boxes. On paper, it’s a tight affair between Bayern Munich and Chelsea and it would come as shock to nobody if those two teams compete in the final to be held in Berlin’s Olympiastadion on the 6th of June.


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