EUROPE – Its back.
The prestigious and most glamorous club competition on the planet is back and with it returns the excitement of midweek fixtures as well as the best of the best squaring off against each other.
More than any other season, the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League comes at a critical point most especially as regards predicaments of some of the biggest clubs in the world. AC Milan and Inter Milan would not compete in Europe for the first time in nearly 60 years, last seasons finalist Juventus are struggling, Chelsea are struggling and a new look Manchester United make a return to the grandest stage of all.
Here are some of the key factors going into this seasons edition whose final would be held at the historic San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy.
THE TIME IS NOW FOR THE NOISY NEIGHBOURS.
For the first time in a long time or at least since they debuted in the competition a few seasons ago, Manchester City finally look like this could be their year to go far in Europe. Over the last three seasons they have struggled with the step up in class and big occasion the Champions League seems to provide. Also they have never had the luck of the draws, often facing heavyweights such as Barcelona or Paris St Germain. At key moments their mental strength has come into question and they have failed. This season however they have sprinted out the block with the kind of ferocity associated with the legendary Real Madrid team of the 50s and 60s. They top the Premier League table in England, have scored 11 goals and conceded none. More importantly though they have massively strengthened their squad with record signing Kevin De Bruyne and English star Raheem Sterling. Of the lot Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero would be key. If the supporting cast can play their roles effectively, then this might just be their season. They wouldn’t win the title of course but going far would do the club a world of good and return the English teams to the summit of Europe. They kick off against last seasons finalist Juventus of Italy.
CAN THE RED HALF OF MANCHESTER MAKE A GRAND RETURN.
Manchester United last season fired David Moyes and brought in Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal for the same reason. The UEFA Champions League. Moyes didn’t finish in the to 4 and was fired, Van Gaal came in and was charged to do exactly that. He accomplished the feat and question quickly turn to the 3 time Champions chances. Louis Van Gaal has said he doesn’t know if they can compete and quite we do not know either. The Dutchman has sold more players than he has bought and this season with Captain Wayne Rooney injured, only teenager Anthony Martial remains as a striking option. Many argue he is a winger and ofcourse Marounne Fellaini has been deployed in that position recently. To win the Champions League you need a deep squad and United just don’t have that. Yes the defence might be better, conceding only three goals all season but with the season still early fatigue has yet to set in. lots of questions would be asked of the team but an easy group draw make it a whole lot easier. In the knouckout rounds, anything can happen. They kick off against Dutch Champions PSV.
Jose Mourinho finds himself in a position he hasn’t been in his decade plus long career, facing questions regarding his competence. Last season, Chelsea dazzled their way to the League title toping the table for virtually the whole season, scoring beautiful goals along the way. This season is different, fourth bottom having lost three games already this season, concern is at fever pitch. Rows with players and staff have not helped and Mourinho is left digging into the depths of his experience to wiggle his way out of this. No doubt about his pedigree but at times like this key decisions need to be made. Rumours are the players have lost trust in him and that the board soon would. There is no better way to respond than a dominant run in the champions league. Chelsea won the competition in 2013 and would want a repeat feat.
THE SPANISH DUO.
Spain have five competitors in this seasons group stage. Barcelona and Real Madrid are joint favourites to win the trophy this season. They have won the last two editions between them. Ronaldo and Messi like the past seven seasons would go head to head once again. Juventus prevented an el classico final four months ago but all roads lead to Milan for both sides. New manager for Real, depleted squad for Barca, both teams have obstacles to surmount. Neymar and Gareth Bale both also play huge roles for their teams and their influence cannot be underestimated. Ronaldo is poised to break Raul’s all time goal scoring record for Real and there is the little known story of the quest to be the champions league’s top scorer. He and Messi are neck and neck at the top. The role both their managers would also play is crucial, Rafael Benitez and Luis Enrique. Enrique weathered a storm last season to go on the lift the trophy and Benitez must find a balance between his three superstar forwards in Ronaldo, Bale and James Rodriguez. The weekend victory over Espanyol put to rest many of those fears.
In conclusion other team vying for the trophy include Bayern Munich, who would look to get over their semi final heartache last season. The likes of Roma, Arsenal, Athletico Madrid, Dortmund and Wolfsburg would also look to play their roles.
It is still early stages in the competition but this is where it all kicks off and come 2016 in Milan, all 32 teams would no doubt want to grace the showpiece finale.