Europe’s top competition, the UEFA Champion’s League, is about to get underway once again, as the knockout stage begins Tuesday. This is a chance for giants such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, FC Bayern, and others to make their case for being the best club in the world. But it’s also a chance for struggling clubs like Leicester to gain some confidence, and an opportunity for clubs in electric form (like Manchester City and Napoli) to keep building momentum. We decided to take our picks for who we think will emerge as champions of Europe.
Nik: FC Barcelona
FC Barcelona always has to be considered when discussing potential UCL winners. The attacking threat of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar is undoubtedly the best in the world. Messi and Suarez are joint-top scorers in La Liga, with 16 goals each. The two of them also have 5 assists each. In the UCL, Messi racked up 10 (!) goals in the group stage. Neymar only has 5 goals, but has provided 7 assists in just 17 games. When you combine that with the creativity of Iniesta and the tactical strength at the back (9 clean sheets in their La Liga campaign), Barcelona has the capacity to not just win the competition, but dominate it.
This was shown in their group stage, as they won Group C by a whopping 6 points, which was twice as much as the next closest margin. They racked up 15 points (5 wins, 1 loss), and looked convincing throughout. Last year’s heartbreak in the semi-final against rivals Athletico Madrid should just provide added motivation this year.
Coming off a 6-0 win, Barcelona is currently in fine form, having narrowed Real Madrid’s lead to 1 point at the top of the table. They will receive a test in the first knockout round against PSG, but I think that they will take it in stride and glide into the Last 8.
Kieran: FC Bayern
Bayern Munich will win this year’s UCL. For one, they have the best defensive in the world. Along with having the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, there back line consists of, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Phillip Lahm. Mats Hummels proved himself at Borussia Dortmund leading them to 2 Bundesliga Titles and in 2013 guiding them to a Champions League final. Hummels has been great this season next to his centre-back partner Jerome Boateng who has been one of the best center backs in on the world for the past number of seasons. They also have the best fullback cover in world football, David Alaba, who is a left back by trade but can play anywhere on the field. Lahm is one of the best Right-backs in the world that can also play as a Defense-midfielder. Lahm will be retiring at the end of the season which will surely give him the motivation to win the final come May. Along with a great defense, Bayern has such a diverse midfield. They have Xabi Alonso who can dictate the way his team plays as a defensive-midfielder, they have Thiago Alcantara can support the attack from midfield. They also have Arturo Vidal and Renato Sanches, who both are very good passers and physical presences in the middle of the park.
The other reason Bayern will win the Champions League in May is their ability going forward. Robert Lewandowski just seems to score boatloads of goals every season. And even coming off a dry spell, Thomas Muller is a high-quality replacement. The wide support they have is ridiculous: Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery. And while they are injury prone, their backups are still better than most wingers in Europe: Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman. Costa, after transferring from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2015, has been out of this world for Bayern, as he can play on either wing, and his speed and ability at shooting from distance gives him an advantage over any defender.
Combine that with a Champions League winning manager in Carlos Ancelotti, and I just can’t see Bayern putting a foot wrong in the second half of the Champions League campaign.
Juventus will be a favorite to win the Champions League this season. The Italian side is stacked with quality in all parts of the pitch. The firepower they have going forward is incredible- with the likes of Dybala, Mandzukic, and Higuain leading the attack, Juventus has enough goalscoring threat to take down any defense they come up against. The side also boasts a quality midfield- players like Miralem Pjanic, Juan Cuadrado and Rincon provide a solid base for their attack, while holding/defensive players like Sami Khedira and Marchisio can always be relied upon to perform at a consistent level.Not enough can be said about the defense Juventus has, with experienced veterans like Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini, Dani Alves, Liechtensteiner being a solid presence in the back. When all else fails, you have the ever-present veteran Gianluigi Buffon in between the sticks. This Juventus team is a perfect example of the saying ‘defense wins championships’- the defending champs of Italy have just St conceded an astounding 16 goals this campaign, currently atop the Serie A table.
Also, another crucial factor that cannot go ignored when predicting champions is the experience a team has in big games. In tournaments like the Champions League which has many “it-all-comes-down-to-this” plays, the difference between a win or loss can be the experience players on the pitch has in similar situations. Juventus has been in the Champions League final recently, and while they might have won it, the experience many players got from such a high-intensity match is invaluable. Players like Mandzukic, Dani Alves, Buffon, and Higuain have an incredible amount of experience in high-pressure situations in both club and international tournaments, which could prove to be the fine margin that separates a victory from a heartbreak from indecisive plays or set pieces in a match.
Ben: Real Madrid
Real Madrid is looking to add another title to their trophy case this year by winning the Champions League. They have an all around god squad with every position filled. There attacking ability is one of the best in the world with the likes of Ronaldo, Bale, Morata, and Benzema. Their midfield might be the best in the world with players like Kroos, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric, and Isco. All of these players play both ends of the field very well.Then we talk about their defense. They have an all-around great defense with players that are both attacking and defending, as well as they have the best center back in the world in Sergio Ramos. Not only does Ramos bring a huge presence in the back he is always coming to save Madrid with a late minute goal. Another huge factor is that Madrid has a ton of experience. They have played in all type of competitions and they have won many competitions. The last big factor is simple…Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo may be the best player in the world, and with his talents, Madrid are looking like huge favorites.
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Authors: Nik, Kieran, Kevin, Ben