Last season’s Champions League was riddled with the developing dark horse stories.
Roma were steamrolled 4-1 at Camp Nou in the first leg of the Quarter Final which looked enough evidence to see Barcelona go through to the Semi Finals. Yet, Roma went through on 4-4 aggregate because of that single away goal, upsetting a traditional European powerhouse.
Liverpool got the better of a record-breaking Manchester City over two legs, becoming eventual finalists because of it, where they could have won if it wasn’t for the injury to Mo Salah.
So who will fate favor this year and will they be able to take advantage of it?
Here are our Unfit underdogs for this year’s Road to Madrid.
The Reds are back and ready to compete with a competent and confident keeper.
Alisson Becker was the best move Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool could’ve made this summer because of Loris Karius’ sudden Luciferic demise in skill. Alisson was a absolute wall in the Serie A last season, only conceding 28 goals and securing 17 clean sheets to boot.
New boy Naby Keita has had a decent start to his Premier League career, as well, and will only grow more confident throughout the Group Stages. We can’t forget about Fabinho too – who has yet to make Premier League debut under Klopp – but will surely be a mainstay in the side if they can make it to the Round of 16.
And then there’s the returning cast of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, the troublesome trio who lit up the world last year. Although Salah hasn’t been at his best in these opening weeks, Mane has looked like a new signing, scoring 4 goals in 4 games thus far.
It’s the speed at which these three can counter-attack that is awe-inspiring and if they can make their way into a second final, MSF could be the difference in returning a Champions League trophy to England.
It’s been a slippery start in La Liga for Atletico in a season where they, arguably, have the best chance of winning the league since 2014.
The biggest issue with Diego Simone’s side right now is the unsure midfield set up. The Argentine manager is almost obligated to play Thomas Lemar because he adds that different dimension Atleti lack on the wings (and because they just paid €60-some-odd million for him). Along with Lemar, Saul and Koke are now mainstays in the starting 11. That leaves Simone to choose between the young Spaniard Rodri, who has looked comfortable in Los Colchoneros’ set up already, or last season’s breakout star Thomas Partey.
Balancing a defensive mindset without risking too much creativity will be the toughest thing for Simone to fix, even if Atleti aren’t known for their scoring prowess. Because of this, we might see a slight tweak in the Argentine’s infamous 4-4-2 system, possibly opting for Lemar to have the freedom to drift inside and float around the field, almost playing as a No. 10 from the wing.
We also have to remember that Gelson Martins and Santiago Arias have yet to be introduced into this team and could be vital members of the squad come end of the Group Stages.
Although Atletico have struggled thus far, Diego Simone is easily one of the best managers in the world and is in great position to turn things upside down, hoping to bring the right side of Madrid a bit of glory.
Jupp Heynckes was supposed to deliver a fairy-tale ending for Bayern last season after Carlo Anchelotti’s disastrous reign in the Bavarian State. Even if Heynckes was unable to defeat the eventual champions Real Madrid, the Trebel winning manager did restore order in the club, something Munich was desperate for after Anchelotti and Pep Guardiola’s time at the club.
Now clear favorites to win the Bundesliga every season for the foreseeable future, Bayern are no longer looking for silverware at home, but rather continental success like that of 2013.
This Bayern core of Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, etc., are in deep need of something new and Niko Kovac has brought just that along with him from Frankfurt.
Kovac is known for his intense training session, making sure his sides are in impeccable shape in order to play the high pressing football he demands. It looks to be working so far for the German Giants, forcing Hoffenheim and Stuttgart into countless mistakes with their press and subsequently enacting their offense.
Bayern have a easy road to the Round of 16 with Ajax, Benfica and AEK Athens occupying Group E with them. With such a bright start, they will surely be comfortable in Kovac’s system come February, ready to regain their prestige in Europe.
Such a long road ahead for every club in this years Champions League and it all starts September 18th with Atletico visiting Monaco and PSG preparing for the fortress that Anfield is.