The Champions League back and it seems likes ages ago since we had the alure of Europe gazing back at us from our TV screens.
The qualifying teams all eagerly held their breath in Nyon, as UEFA announced the next round of games. Sadly for two of the British contingent, they were handed games against teams that had previously beaten them in years gone by, so there is a score to settle.
There are no easy games in the Champions League and if you are looking for contenders to take the crown from Barcelona on the 28th May in Milan, it’s doubtful a British team will be among the names considered.
A look at the teams left suggest there are not even a handful of real opposition for the Catalans. Last year’s beaten finalists, Juventus, had a slow start in their Serie A campaign this season, but are now top of the league after beating Napoli over the weekend.
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Their credentials are synonymous with the competition, but unfortunately the Italian club have been runners-up more than any other team in the competition.
Despite the star names of Paul Pogba, Mario Mandzukic and Gianluigi Buffon, the Bianconeri look good and defensively sharp, but only qualified behind Manchester City in their Champions League group earlier in the campaign.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri has had to deal with losing Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, so to get this far, although it was expected, is some achievement.
Real Madrid have a rich history in the European Cup, but they are not numero uno in the re-named Champions League. Since the re-invented competition their Spanish rivals, Barcelona, have won the trophy on more occasions. Real won their group stage ahead of PSG and, even though the likes of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema regularly star for Zinedine Zidane’s side, Barcelona are still the better side in Spain.
Los Blancos face Roma and will undoubtedly see them off, but not many are tipping Real to even reach the final this year. Spain manager Vicente del Bosque believes Real Madrid would have won more Champions League titles had he remained as Los Blancos boss. The 65-year-old guided the Spanish giants to two Champions League trophies, two La Liga titles and a UEFA Super Cup during his four-year spell at the club.
“It is very difficult to win [the Champions League],” Del Bosque told Telediario. “We had a lot of luck and some very good players in a favourable period for the club. Without being vain or arrogant, if I had continued I believe we would have won more European cups.”
Over in Germany, eyes are very firmly on domestic champions Bayern Munich, with Wolfsburg also in the latter stages this year. Bayern are currently eight points clear of second placed Borussia Dortmund, while Wolfsburg languish in 8th place, twenty-six points behind the Munich club. Many can’t see anyone else vying for the Champions League title other than Barcelona and Bayern, and many would love to see the two teams tussle it out in the final.
Bayern’s last season under Pep Guardiola will mean that they will really have the desire to give him one last hurrah. Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal and Arjen Robben will be play key role in guiding the Bavarians to the final this spring.
It’s hard to see anything else but a Bayern vs Barcelona final. No one else comes near. It’s possibly a season too soon for PSG, and Manchester City are England’s best hopes, but come May it could well be the battle of the Bs in Milan.
You heard it here first.