The famous anthem started up again tonight, and everyone is wondering who is going to win the Great British Bake Off. Oh wait, no that’s not right is it? No, everyone is wondering who is going to be lifting the cup with the big ears come May. The ten favourites with the bookies are a who’s who of European football. From Real Madrid to The Old Lady Juventus.
The true smart money is on the holders last season’s unstoppable Bayern Munich, with an improved deep squad and with Pep Guardiola at the helm it’s hard to see pass them. History how ever paints a different story, no team has ever retained the Champions League, sure sides have got close Man Utd and Barcelona spring to mind. Who can be so sure that it won’t happen again? There’s another issue with Bayern Munich, it’s impossible to know until push comes to shove, but will they have the motivation which moved them to demolish Barcelona last season? They always say it’s easier to get to the top, harder to stay there. It’s an issue which massively affected Guardiola in his last season at Barca, the previous season they were imperious, dubbed the greatest club side in history yet the following season they lacked the motivation to compete with Real Madrid for a full season and lacked the cutting edge to eliminate Chelsea despite having a man advantage and a 2-1 aggregate lead in THAT semi final. Pep is slowly implementing his ideas and is not changing everything to how he wants, which is smart management, but will his man management be enough to inspire more success in Lisbon?
What of the Spanish teams? I’m only going to talk about the big two with all due respect to Real Sociedad and Ath Madrid. Real Madrid depending on who you ask either did or didn’t break their transfer record again for Gareth Bale, can he give them the cutting edge they seem to have lacked in their semi final defeats? If he is fit and gels with the team and can find understanding on the field with Ronaldo then they will be hard to stop. Ancelotti is an expert in the Champions League, the first manager to ever manage 6 sides in it. Striking a balance and keeping everyone happy will also be a big factor in how far they go. Their biggest asset is their ability to counter attack, which Bale can excel in it will take either an extraordinary performance or a poor Real Madrid performance to stop them. Their second biggest asset is they do not have to solely rely on Ronaldo which brings me on to Barcelona and their dependence on a little Argentinian.
Barcelona if everyone is fit and at full tilt will win the European Cup, they are a side with talent seen once in a blue moon. A midfield that consists of Xavi, Iniesta and the excellent Cesc Fabregas give endless supply to the three forwards Neymar, Pedro/Sanchez and of course Lionel Messi. Their issue last season was an over reliance of the Argentinian who tired and got injured at a vital time. An unfit Messi was unable to stop their capitulation at the Allianz Arena a 4-0 defeat. Neymar was brought in a year early then originally planned with a large part due to the hope he could lift pressure and expectation and sheer reliance of Messi. He has settled well has already developed a good understanding with Cesc and Messi and can help them to their third crown in only 5 years. Expect to see Barca learning from their problems last season (including playing the same side constantly in the league tiring out the side come semi final time) and running Bayern and Real Madrid close, the winner surely will come from those three sides.
What off the rest? The English contingent of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd will all be hoping for better then last season where no English side made the quarter final. Man City will be hoping to qualify from their group for the first time whilst Chelsea will be expected to fair much better then last years group stage exit. Arsenal, led by Arsene Wenger have an excellent record of qualifying from the group stage but this season that will be challenged. Napoli and Borussia Dortmund provide tough and imposing opposition. An away win at one of those sides is crucial for Arsenal to get through. It is difficult to see them qualify but I never bet against Wenger how far they go depends entirely on the draw but against any top European opposition then it will be good night. The Manchester clubs, both with new managers will be expected to qualify from their groups. Manchester Utd were in desperate need to improve their midfield to make an impact on Europe again a rushed move for Fellaini who is no doubt a good player but is not good enough to bridge the gap between Utd and the top European sides, and the gap is growing each season. Man City will be a good shout to go further than their neighbours, after heavy spending, they now possess one of the best squads in Europe.
Issues remain over them defensively, and a 4-4-2 formation no matter how good the players can be exposed effectively, a quarter final appearance must be a minimum expectation. Jose Mourinho arrived at Chelsea and expectations are high for the Champions League, as Chelsea target a third European trophy in a row. Chelsea will be hopeful of success considering their history but also their performance against Bayern Munich in which they defended well and proved that they can compete at an elite level. Mourinho keeps noting how young his new side is, so expectations from the special one will not be about winning the competition yet but competing well and for his side to gain valuable experience. A quarter final will be expected from then anything is possible.
Paris St Germain having spent big on Edison Cavani will be looking to cement their growing European reputation. Quarter finalists Borussia Dortmund, despite losing Mario Götze in the summer, spent well and have had an excellent start to the season including an outstanding performance recently over HSV. They will come close again and are many peoples dark horses under estimate them at your peril. Juventus the Old Lady are a side that is very easy to look past and under estimate, but again they are dark horses, quarter finalists I have no doubt.
So who will win? It’s a lottery of course. It depends on the draw, luck, form and fitness. Unlike the popular BBC show their is no Paul Hollywood to decide who is the best side. That decision will be played out over the next nine months. If I was to pick a winner (I go to Au Freebets for this — check this out if you wish to join the punting action) it would be out of Barcelona Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, yes I know I’ve picked four sides (is that cheating?) but it is that close. But whom ever is victorious enjoy what you are watching, it’s the greatest competition in the world with the best players and best managers. So there’s only one thing left to say to them all: Get set, ready and bake!