Champions League set to launch
Soccer fans in the Northern Hemisphere know it’s fall every year when the Champions League Group Stage rolls back around, and after a few months off, the tournament is all set to kick off again. As expected, the top teams of Europe—the Manchesters’, the Madrids’, et al.—are back for the 64th edition of the League, but the surprise of the year is a return to the Champions League by Swiss side Young Boys BSC, a club based in Bern. Young Boys has not earned a spot in the Champions League for the last 32 years. Another drought ended this year, but only twelve years long, with AEK Athens qualifying for the League. Both teams just snuck into their qualifications by beating their last opponents in the qualifying round 3-2 on aggregate.
As for the top teams, some shake ups in the summer transfer window have given and taken life away for a few teams in their quest for the crown of Europe. For Manchester City, they’re big signing this summer was right wing Riyad Mahrez, formerly of Leicester City, who is going to give a boost to the already dominant Manchester City attack. However, the two trademark transfers of the summer were between Champions League teams. After a stunning appearance at the World Cup, Kylian Mbappe was transferred from A.S. Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) for almost fifty million pounds more than the other trademark transfer: Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, a transfer from Real Madrid to Juventus, and Mbappe are two superstar players who could have a huge impact on the Champions League as the tournament winds down. For the past few years, PSG has struggled to defeat Chelsea in the knockout rounds of the tournament, but Mbappe’s speed and technical ability could give PSG the boost to break into the final rounds. Real Madrid will survive without Ronaldo.
The last three tournaments have been won by Real Madrid, with the help of Cristiano Ronaldo, so Madrid will have a tougher time reaching the final stages. On the other hand, Madrid’s lineup is a weird, but talented, mix of veterans and young players that might just have what it takes to pull the team into the semifinals or finals of the tournament. Juventus, the team that bought Ronaldo, is in a similar boat since adding the superstar, but they are just a little bit more experienced than the young players on the Madrid side.
Juventus is looking to end a 13-year championship drought with their purchases this summer, and they may just have what it takes to cruise through the group stage and dominate into the knockout round to a finals victory. The last two years have seen Juventus lose to the eventual champions, Real Madrid; now, the Juventus team has more experience, a little more talent, and the determination required to work through the dregs of Winter matches to earn a Champions League victory. If I was forced into picking a team to win, Juventus would be my choice. On the other hand, the Champions League is always a toss up in the knockout round, so look out for potential dark horse teams like PSG or Atletico Madrid to give the traditionally better teams a tough time.
One thing every Champions League fan can agree with, though, is the general lack of ability in English teams. The prediction I am going to make with true confidence is that no English team will make the semifinals this year. Recently, Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, was recently quoted in an interview with Spanish football news outlet Marca as saying, “The Premier League seems better than it is because of the way it’s sold and the way they broadcast the product.” Guardiola may have just meant the league as a whole is not as good as it seems, but I believe that top to bottom, English teams are oversold and cannot stand up to the other European giants: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus. Over the past few years, English teams have gone out earlier than expected (with few exceptions) and watch for the norm to hold true in this edition of the Champions League.