The Champions League stage is set as the Road to Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano is going to be a bloody one.
The departure of Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid has seemingly blown the Champions League race wide open.
No longer is Madrid’s dominance feared on the big stage, paving the way for clubs like Juventus, Barcelona and Paris-Saint Germain to win lift the prestigious trophy this season.
But will it be one of those three to bring home some much needed European silverware?
Here are our Unfit favorites to win the UEFA Champions League this season.
It was 2014 when Camp Nou last saw winners’ medals, only being able to raise a single Champions League trophy during the MSN period under Pep Guardiola. Drawn into the “Group of Death” with Tottenham, Inter Milan and PSV, Barça will be kept on their tows from the start to avoid an early exit.
It’s not the groups stage Messi and co. find themselves crumbling at though, but rather the quarter finals, a stage which they have exited three seasons in a row and in staggering fashion.
Barça look revitalized with Philippe Coutinho filling Andres Iniesta’s shoes seemingly well already, along with Messi reprising his role as a center forward as Ernesto Valverde’s side plays through the superstar upfront. Their summer was focused on adding depth to their squad, which they were successful with the additions of Arturo Vidal, Malcom and Clement Lenglet. But, they will need their new signing Arthur and World Cup winner Osmane Dembele to be at their absolute best in an effort to give Barça more dimensional play than just Messi sitting on the ball and Luis Suarez running down the channels.
4. Manchester City
By this time, the hype of Manchester City’s Centurion title has surely worn off, right?
Although Pep’s side has achieved an incredible feat in the Premier League, all eyes will be on the Eastlands who hope to crown themselves European royalty.
In a week Group F, Man City will have no trouble getting to the Round of 16. It is after that where they will look to avoid or destroy their kryptonite, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
City are already a better side because of Benjamin Mendy’s dynamism at left-back, who has started the season magnificently, fizzing and lofting balls into the box tactfully in De Bruyne’s absence. Still, their main focus will certainly be making sure the Belgian cog is fit and ready by the Round of 16, as Pep’s offense is infinitely better with him running the show.
If everything falls into place, it’s really City’s to lose.
3. Real Madrid
The camel on Real’s back this entire campaign will of course be the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and the inexperience of Julen Lopetegui as a manager. The good news is, they still have an entire squad of 4-time Champions League winners and World Cup winners.
Gareth Bale will no longer be in the shadow of CR7 and is surely slated to have an unstoppable season in Real’s attack, already grabbing 3 goals and 1 assist in Real’s first three matches. Lopetegui has an entire return cast of Luka Modric, Casemiro, Isco, Toni Kroos and even Marco Asensio which is not too shabby for midfield options.
Karim Benzema struggled last season, although it cannot be stressed how consistent of a goalscorer he has been since joining Real (in case people forgot), which gave Lopetegui the full right to sign Mariano Diaz from Lyon. But, it’s the Lyon-born Benzema who has 5 goals in 4 appearances for Real so far, showing that Ronaldo was actually hindering the Frenchman’s capabilities.
It’s hard to see the Galaticos winning a record 4-straight Champions League trophy, but most thought it was impossible for them to win 3-in-a-row.
2. Paris-Saint Germain
Should we talk about PSG’s chocking now, or at the end of this? Let’s just get it out of the way.
PSG have had the talent for years to go capture the biggest achievement in club football and yet, they have never been further away from it in the past couple of seasons. Signing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe made them look like a shoe in to win it all last season, but it was a fault of Unai Emery – or at least that’s what Paris is hoping – for making the worst out of the best situation.
Now, Thomas Tuchel has been tasked with the enormous weight of expectation PSG’s board and fans have for a side spilling with talent, which is quite a big job for a relatively unproven manager. The German coach’s first task will be instilling selflessness and trust into Neymar, hoping the Brazilian superstar will show just that on the pitch. Tuchel will also have to improve PSG’s midfield who have been stuck in a cycle of underperformance under those European lights.
Another year, another heartbreaking exit?
Don’t think it’s so this time around for the men in black and white stripes.
Juve comes into this European campaign with added expectation in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo. Their consistent failure’s to win anything outside of Italy baffles the masses, but they have been extremely unlucky to be in two finals against two of the greatest sides to grace modern football.
The club did very good business this summer grabbing Joao Cancelo, off a fabulous season for Inter Milan, to finally get a full-back that will improve their side and Emre Can to give their midfield a proper destroyer and facilitator. Juve also kept Leonardo Spinazzola for added depth while reviving the great backline partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chellini.
Ronaldo’s experience on the big stage won’t hurt either. His presumable massive goal tally and goal heroic should only propel Maximillian Allegri’s side to the very top of this competition, leaving others to chase with little chance of catching up.
September 18th starts the Road to Madrid with PSG taking on Liverpool at Anfield for what will be the start of an unforgettable Champions League year with nothing but legacy on the line for all.
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