Champions League Season Preview
With the qualifying rounds of this season’s competition well underway, here is our UEFA Champions League season preview. We look at the chances of Europe’s elite clubs and how their business in the transfer market have impacted on their chances to claim the title. All odds quoted in this article are provided by William Hill and are accurate at the time of writing.
The Big Spenders
Manchester City (3/1) are the outright, clear favourites to finally claim the prize that has previously eluded them. City’s squad contains players of outstanding quality, such as the current PFA Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden. Ferran Torres’ development has been rapid and last season’s addition of Ruben Dias bolstered their defence, bringing out the best of John Stones. Pep Guardiola’s team are currently looking to add to their recent £100 million purchase of Jack Grealish by signing Harry Kane from Tottenham. If they complete a deal for the England captain, then you can expect their odds to potentially shorten even further.
🗣"It is hard to say no to Pep Guardiola and Manchester City." @skysports_sheth & @SkyKaveh discuss Jack Grealish's potential move to Manchester City and if the Sky Blues can afford him and Harry Kane. pic.twitter.com/b93a1VtfOE
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) August 2, 2021
Their biggest rivals, according to the bookmakers, are Paris Saint Germain (7/2), who have been extremely busy during this transfer window and seem to be on the verge of unveiling Lionel Messi on a free transfer, later this week. Adding one of the best players in the world to any squad would increase their chances of winning the trophy, but when you consider who PSG have already signed this summer, they are going to be very tough to bet against. So far the French giants have signed Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Gigi Wijnaldum all on free transfers. They paid Inter Milan €60 million for Achraf Hakimi and added defensive midfielder, Danilo Pereira for €16 million from FC Porto. With the added leadership, experience and quality of these new additions, PSG are serious contenders and will go deep into the competition.
BREAKING: Lionel Messi to PSG is DONE!
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 8, 2021
The Usual Suspects
The next clubs that appear at the top of the odds list are all familiar faces that you’ll always find in any Champions League season preview. Some of these teams have seemingly been included on reputation, rather than their current level talent and potential. As the transfer window is still open any of these teams could shorten their odds by acquiring one or two key players to improve their chances.
So far Bayern Munich (7/1) have had a quiet transfer window, only adding central defender, Dayot Upamecano for €42.50 million from Bundesliga rivals, RB Leipzig. Possibly their most important piece of business is extending the contract of Joshua Kimmich, a move which will please striker, Robert Lewandowski who will now continue to benefit from Kimmich’s creativity. Questions remain over how well new coach, Julian Nagelsmann, will be at the Bavarian club. The departure of Hansi Flick, to take over the German national team, will be a significant challenge for Bayern and how well they adapt to Nagelsmann’s new ideas and playing style will be key if they are to be serious contenders.
Bayern Munich are planning for the announcement of a contract extension for Joshua Kimmich.
The club are also progressing in talks with Leon Goretzka over a contract extension as soon as possible.
(Via: Fabrizio Romano) pic.twitter.com/BME9bPO4F6
— Transferchanger (@TransferChanger) August 8, 2021
Current Champions League winners, Chelsea (8/1), are in a strong position to retain their crown. Thomas Tuchel had an immediate impact last season at Stamford Bridge when he replaced Frank Lampard in January. He successfully guided Chelsea to Champions League glory and a top four finish in the Premier League. With a full pre-season to prepare and the impending re-signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan, the Blues look like they can mount another serious challenge in the competition. A potential forward line of Lukaku and Timo Werner, supported by Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech is a mouth-watering proposition for fans, but equally terrifying for their opponents.
💰 With his £97.5m move to Chelsea nearly complete, Romelu Lukaku will have the highest accumulated transfer fees of any player in football history.
He will be 1st, with £288m. Neymar is 2nd, with £279m. Cristiano Ronaldo is 3rd, with £207m. pic.twitter.com/wt3bnQOBig
— LDN (@LDNFootbalI) August 8, 2021
Liverpool (8/1) are another English team that bookmakers feel could realistically win this season’s Champions League. After a season disrupted by injuries to key defensive players, Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that the return of both Virgil van Dyk and Joe Gomez, along with the €40 million signing of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, will lead to a more successful campaign. The influential duo of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane should be well-rested, after a summer without international commitments, and the same should be true for Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Reds start the season in good shape and Klopp could further strengthen his side by adding Bournemouth’s exciting winger, Arnaut Danjuma.
Arnaut Danjuma 🔥 pic.twitter.com/qJj5DHvNsR
— 𝗝ü𝗿𝗴𝗲𝗻 𝗞𝗹𝗼𝗽𝗽 𝗙𝗮𝗻 𝗔𝗰𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗻𝘁 (@JNorb14) August 4, 2021
Rounding out the top six contenders are Manchester United (12/1). By signing Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho the Red Devils have made significant upgrades in key positions from last season. As Paul Pogba seems increasingly unlikely to sign another deal and Solskjaer has identified Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez as an ideal replacement. United’s transfer activity have made them impossible to ignore and if their new signings can successfully integrate themselves into the team, they will unquestionably find themselves in the latter stages of the competition.
European Super League Giants
How about Real Madrid, Juventus or Barcelona? History tells us that Real Madrid (16/1) can never be discounted in this competition. This summer Real have only added Austrian full-back David Alaba from Bayern Munich to their ranks and the loss of influential defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane cannot be understated. Los Blancos struggled in defence last season and losing two important central defenders seemingly leaves them short of reinforcements at the back. Messi’s arrival at PSG could reportedly speed up Kylian Mbappe’s transfer to Madrid with the Frenchman stalling on extending his current contract, which is due to expire next summer. The addition of Mbappe to the squad with see their odds shorten considerably, but due to defensive issues they will struggle to keep clean sheets and will need a favourable draw if they are going to navigate through the knockout stages.
While all the players on his team hugged during one of the goal celebrations, Mbappè remained distant and with little enthusiasm. He is more outside of the club than in. His decision to sign for Real Madrid is immovable. @defcentral #rmlive 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/NbkDVSofRE
— Los Blancos Live (@LosBlancos_Live) August 8, 2021
Juventus (20/1) have had a quiet transfer window, only adding Weston McKennie from Schalke. It now looks like Cristiano Ronaldo is going to stay at Juve after PSG opted to potentially sign Messi instead of the Portuguese mega-star. Ronaldo will want to have one more crack at winning the Champions League with the Turin-based outfit, following a relatively disappointing season. The return of iconic boss, Massimiliano Allegri will be a huge boost for the team and could see them mount a stronger challenge both domestically and in Europe. The key to their campaign seemingly depends on whether Allegri and Ronaldo can coexist, after the manager already publicly stated he wanted his forward to take on more responsibility next season.
Max Allegri on Ronaldo: "He can't just be a goalscorer." https://t.co/FOPxjjB6Pa
— VEEG Sports (@VEEGSports) August 1, 2021
A Messi-less Barcelona (20/1) are quite generously priced, considering they have just lost one of the best players in the world and are experiencing all kinds of financial problems. The arrival of Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero on free transfers will all add quality to the squad, but their ageing defence may well prove their undoing again this season. Gerard Pique (34) and Jordi Alba (32) have long been the defensive linchpins, with Sergio Busquets (33) providing cover in front of them. None of these players are getting any younger and last season’s 4-1 defeat to PSG at the Nou Camp showed how vulnerable they are at the back. Going forward Barca are quite a potent force with potential superstars Pedri and Ansu Fati both aiming to fill Messi’s boots. Koeman is going to need to get the best out of Antoine Griezmann if Barca fans are going to see their team progress past the group stages of this year’s competition.
Potential Dark Horses
Further down the list of possible contenders are Spanish champions, Atletico Madrid (25/1). Diego Simeone’s team resembles their manager’s qualities, tough, combative and hard working. The addition of Udinese’s Argentinian captain, Rodrigo De Paul, will add further steel to their midfield. They sometimes struggle to convert chances into goals and this might be true again, as they have yet to add an additional forward player to their squad.
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) August 4, 2021
Both Milan clubs look likely to struggle this season. Inter Milan (40/1) have sold Achraf Hakimi, Romelu Lukaku is close to joining Chelsea and it is rumoured that the club have agreed a fee with Tottenham for striker, Lautaro Martinez. By selling three of their best players it is fair to say that they are not the same team that won last season’s Italian league title. AC Milan (66/1) have lost their talismanic goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to PSG and still lack a solid spine to their team. They have added Olivier Giroud from Chelsea to bolster their attack, but a lot of responsibility seems to lie with veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who although is still capable of flashes of brilliance, is now 39 and struggling to fight against the ravages of time. It would be a surprise to see either Milan side progress beyond the quarter final stages.
Zlatan scored an 83rd minute bicycle kick winner to keep AC Milan top of Serie A!
He'll be 40 next year 🍷 pic.twitter.com/hSMuthrCFt
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 1, 2020
The final dark horse worth mentioning are Borussia Dortmund (33/1), who with Erling Haaland up front could be a wildcard in this year’s competition. The Norwegian’s prolific finishing could propel the club to the latter stages of the competition and they have added attacking support with the addition of Dutch forward, Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven, who is seen as a direct replacement for Jadon Sancho. If Malen and Haaland can form an effective partnership, with Jude Bellingham and Thorgan Hazard providing the ammunition, Dortmund could be a dangerous proposition for any team in Europe.
That was our Champions League season preview. Did we miss any possible contenders? Do you disagree with the bookmakers? Let us know your thoughts!
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