Wayne Rooney returned to form on Wednesday night to return Manchester United back into the UEFA Champions League proper and with that we have the full list of teams that will compete for the European crown. We can now look towards Thursday’s group stage draw in anticipation of what will no doubt be another fantastic season of drama and excitement in football’s greatest club competition – but who will win it come May? Here we break down the favourites to lift the trophy in the final in San Siro:
The reigning champions struggled to victory in the UEFA Super Cup against fellow domestic rivals Sevilla in early August and were dumbfounded by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup when they were unable to overturn a shock 4-0 defeat in the first leg but their form in the Champions League is rarely questioned
The strike partnership of Neymar, Suarez and Messi will continue to terrorise defences and when, not if, they comfortably qualify for the knockout stages the addition of Arda Turan is sure to strengthen their chances in the competition.
We saw last term how effective the impact of Luis Suarez’s late start was and Turan’s return to football – once Barça’s transfer ban is lifted – should help them to handle their many title campaigns successfully.
Chelsea have started the season poorly but the hunger of Mourinho to win his first Champions League as boss of the Blues will surely be a key factor in ensuring sloppy performances such as those against Swansea and Man City are not a feature in their European games.
The arrival of Pedro and his subsequent debut goal against West Bromwich last weekend will have been a lift for Chelsea but it remains to be seen if the Spaniard can make his consistent success in Europe rub off on the likes of Hazard and Diego Costa.
Gareth Bale will be closely monitored and scrutinised by the Spanish press this season but it is in Europe where he will need to impress if he is to defy his critics and reach his potential with Madrid. If he can perform like he did for Tottenham in the San Siro all those years ago then there is no reason he can’t be part of a winning team in the same stadium on May 28th.
As ever the Galactico’s have strengthened over the summer and with the signing of Matteo Kovacic from Inter Milan they will continue their culture of attacking football in their attempt to claim their eleventh title. Moreover their continued pursuit of David De Gea looks to be over for now and so their defence could become a problem.
Relative newcomers to the competition when matched up against their fellow favourites, the Cityzens will be eager to show they can finally mix it up with the big boys of European football.
Their performances in the Premier League thus far have been a joy to watch and with Yaya Toure once again showing why he is one of the world’s best, City should be feared this season.
There’s also the small matter of the ever-improving Sergio Aguero.
The German champions are always in with a shout of winning the Champions League. Their duels with Barcelona and Real Madrid in the competition’s recent history have been nothing less than fantastic but with the loss of Bastian Schweinsteiger – who admittedly became a fringe player under Guardiola – and no new additions from Borussia Dortmund the Bavarians could struggle.
However let’s not kid ourselves, Pep Guardiola is always capable of greatness and should Bayern excel in the competition it won’t be a surprise by any means. Arturo Vidal could also be used to help avoid heavy deficits against their Spanish combatants.
The best of the rest:
Keen to sustain their place in the Champions League via the Premier League top four, LVG’s men will struggle to be successful this term, particularly given the inexperience of their squad that has changed dramatically from their last outing in Europe’s elite competition.
The expectation to win the Premier League is piling pressure on Arsène
Wenger and so the Champions League could prove a competition too many for the Gunners but making the quarter-finals will be a minimum expectation for their fans.
Too many players have left for them to have any real impact on the competition this season. With question marks still hanging over the future of Pogba, Juventus would do well to succeed domestically, let alone in the Champions League.
New signing Angel Di Maria will have to return to the form that won Real Madrid the trophy in 2014 if the Parisians are to have any chance of winning the tournament. Zlatan and David Luiz will also have to be at their best throughout. Reaching the semis would be a success for the club.