The sound of the champions league anthem is to die for. It sends shivers down the spine of the calmest professionals in the world. Ramps up the crowd in every stadium and brings tears to eyes of fans around the world.
The UEFA Champions League returns today and boy are we rearing and ready to go. La Decima was achieved last season by Real Madrid their first title in over a decade. Now the task is can they defend the title, a feat that no team has accomplished.
From next season the belief is that we won’t have a group like this anymore. A group of Champions. Champions of Italy, Champions of Greece, Champions of Spain and Champions of Sweden would all fight for a place in the Round of 16. Over achievers last season Atletico Madrid would want a repeat performance from last season were a few less seconds would have seen them crowned champions of Europe while for Olympiakos their defeat of Manchester United last season has given coach Michel renewed confidence that they can do it again. Juventus the three time back to back Seria A Champions, nothing but success in Europe would suffice. With a new manager in Massimilliano Allegri hopes are high that a new chapter is about to begin for the Old Lady. Malmo FF might just as well make up the numbers but if past seasons have taught us anything giant killers are always poised to strike.
Favorites to progress would be Juventus and Atletico Madrid.
After achieving the much talked about LA Decima last season, defending champions Real Madrid have set their sights on not just an eleventh title but also a defense of their crown a feat no team in history has been able to accomplish. 2005 champions Liverpool are back in the competition for the first time since 2009 and would want to make their presence felt as they look to re-establish themselves as a force in Europe. Basel who defeated Chelsea home and away last season would fancy a shock here and there to put them in a position to capitalize on any slip ups. For Ludogorets, the Bulgarian side are the minnows in the group and would push for solid performances to prove they are no push overs.
Favorites to qualify should be Real Madrid and Liverpool, but something tells me any slip up may open the door to a Basel invasion.
The team from the principality also make their return this season but have lost star player Radamel Falcao to Manchester United and also James Rodriguez to Real Madrid. They still boast a very competitive team though and would look to make an instant impact in the competition. Bayer Leverkusen are arguably the most popular team from Germany not named Borrussia Dortmund or Bayern Munchen. Performances last season weren’t so inspiring, however new signings and a very confident start to their Bundesliga campaign have left much more to be desired. Runners-up last season in the Europa League, Benfica are the cursed team from Portugal who have lost their last seven European finals. Very unlikely they make it to the final of this one more so having lost star names Ezequel Garay to group contenders Zenit St. Petersburg. Getting out of the group would be the first step to excise the ghost of last season’s final. Zenit St. Petersburg with new manager Andre Villas-Boas at the helm have been perennial contenders in the champions league for years but have never really delivered even with star player Hulk. They have added to their ranks this season with the addition of Garay and Javi Garcia from Manchester City.
Favorites to go through are Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen.
Arsenal and Dortmund meet again in group D after two very competitive ties last season. Both made it through the group stages that time and a similar feat is expected. For Dortmund they lost star striker Robert Lewandowski but have welcomed home the prodigal son Shinji Kagawa back to the club from Manchester United. He already scored on his debut last weekend. Arsenal broke their transfer record last season with the signing of Mesut Ozil, well this season they have spent big again bringing in experienced campaigner and Chilean Star Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona. Danny Welbeck has also joined from the Red Devils. Anderlecht and Galatasaray make up the group and must get one over each other and hope Arsenal and Dortmund slip up to have any chance to qualify.
Favorites to go through are Arsenal and Dortmund.
Champions of England and Germany meet again this season at the group Stage and both might just have something to prove. Bayern Munchen were destroyed by Real Madrid in last season’s semi-final and Pep Guardiola is not one to take defeats on the chin, he would feel Bayern belong back in the final with a chance to reclaim their crown from 2013. Manchester City scored over one hundred goals last season but were bundled out last season by Barcelona. Manuel Pellegrini has not strengthened his squad of sorts but still has star players Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero and that might well be enough to see them past the group stages. Also not to forget they are only allowed to register 21 players due to financial fair play implications. Roma are the team that make this group very interesting. Runner-up in Seria A last season Roma are back in the big time and star player Francesco Totti would look to lead his team past one of the big boys and they do have a chance most especially if they turn the Stadio Olympico into a fortress. CSKA Moskva might have dominated the Russian League in recent times but they have never lit up the Champions League and this season should not be any different. Manchester City and Bayern Munchen to progress.
Favorites to go through are Manchester City and Bayern Munchen, expect Roma to cause a major stir.
Barcelona and PSG renew old rivalries in the group stage this season having played out two draws in the knockout round last Season. Barcelona won on the away goals rule. New manager in Luis Enrique, new youngsters in Munir and maybe a rejuvenated Lionel Messi who missed the one trophy that has eluded him at the world cup in Brazil. PSG also have financial fair play implications but that hasn’t stopped them buying big, spending £50 million on David Luiz from Chelsea. Star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic claims he is the best player in the world, he needs to prove it on the biggest stage not the world cup and that the Champions League. Unfortunately APOEL only make up the numbers but Ajax have a point to prove. They have dominated Holland in recent years and all thats left is a return to glory in Europe and Frank De Boer must feel his time is now. They probably would come a little short but expect inspiring performances from Ajax.
Barca and PSG to go through.
Nothing hurts Mourinho more than not winning. Chelsea missed out on the title in England and also the Champions League after Atletico Madrid shocked them at the Bridge in a 3-1 defeat. Now they are rearing and ready to go and have added to their ranks in powerful forward Diego Costa and mercurial midfield maestro in Cesc Fabregas. Costa and Fabregas have struck up and instant partnership with the former scoring 7 goals already in the Barclays Premier League and the latter contributing an assist in every single game. They might be favorites in England and in Europe they are not far behind. Schalke 04 are their closest challengers with Sporting Lisbon fancying their chances as well. Maribor might have knocked out Celtic but the competition comes too early for their young and promising squad.
Chelsea and Schalke to progress.
Finally probably the most even group of all. 2004 champions FC Porto are the stand out team with Atletic Club Bilbao making their return to the grandest stage. Shakhtar Donetsk have been strong in past competitions but turmoil in their home country might prove a distraction for them. Bate Borisov would fancy their chances along with the others. Since winning the title in 2004 Porto have not been the same since and have consistently lost their biggest names to the power houses of European football. This might be their chance to re-establish themselves.
Porto and Shakhtar to progress.
The champions league is back and all road lead to Berlin. Strap in for the ride and see again in the knock out round. Ciao.