CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 19/20: Who Will Reign Triumphant?

The Champions League season was just heating up when the pandemic caused the suspension of football. The biggest club competition was entering the business end, and four teams had already booked their place in the quarter-finals.

Let’s delve into which team has the best chance of winning the European cup. The plan is to analyse each teams strength and weaknesses, before ranking the teams in order of their likelihood of winning the competition.

Quick reminder of remaining teams in the Champions League: Paris Saint Germain, RB Leipzig, Atalanta and Atletico Madrid have qualified for the quarter-finals. FC Barcelona vs Napoli, Juventus vs Lyon, Manchester City vs Real Madrid and Bayern Munich vs Chelsea, are yet to play the second leg.

JUVENTUS

The Italians suffered a 1-0 loss against Lyon in the first leg. They should be able to get the job done at home.

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Maurizio Sarri was supposed to make Juventus attractive, but their performances have been lethargic at times. The Italian champions regularly rely on the individual brilliance of players to win games. The loss against Lyon was a surprise, but not a huge shock considering how Juventus have played this season.

The Old Lady of Turin has managed 50 goals while conceding 24 in 26 league matches. In comparison, Lazio registered ten more, and Atalanta 20 more than the defending champions.

Of the 21 league wins, 13 victories were achieved by a single goal with lots of 1-0 and 2-1 successes. Juventus suffered two 3-1 losses against Lazio this season, as well as league losses against struggling Napoli and Hellas Verona.

Before discussing the positives, we must remember that great achievements do not happen overnight. Sarri’s methods will take time. Juventus won both important games against Inter Milan in dominating fashion this term which stands out as a big plus for Sarri and may go some way in deciding the destination of the Scudetto.

Juventus’ squad is an ageing one. Ronaldo and Chiellini are 35-years-old, and Higuain, Bonucci, Cuadrado, Matuidi and Pjanic are all older than 30.

The individual brilliance of Juventus players, especially Ronaldo, Dybala and Chiellini, should help them eliminate Lyon. However, with the core of the team getting on in years, Juventus may need to freshen things up before they can again challenge for the Champions League.

Prediction: This may divide opinion, Juventus are least likely to win the Champions League among all teams in the last eight.

ATALANTA

An astonishing 8-4 aggregate win over Valencia oversaw progression to the quarter-finals. Atalanta are the feel-good story of this season’s Champions League. They have the twelfth highest wage bill in the Serie A, similar to Reading of the Championship.

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Atalanta have attracted fans with their open, attacking football. On three separate occasions, they have scored seven goals in a game; 7-2 vs Lecce, 7-1 vs Udinese and 7-0 vs Torino. Atalanta have also enjoyed 5-0 wins against both Parma and AC Milan.

Atalanta play in the 5-2-1-2 or 5-2-2-1 formation. Their football is about pressing, fast transitions and Gasporini’s men are not afraid to seek one-on-one battles all over the pitch. Just like Leipzig, Atalanta’s future in the competition will depend on who they draw in the quarter-finals.

Atalanta’s football is fearless and attractive. They’ve scored a whopping 87 goals in 35 matches this season. However, they are fourth in Serie A and are already eliminated from the Coppa Italia. Atalanta have lost against Torino, Cagliari, SPAL and Bologna in the league.

Furthermore, having analysed both the games against Valencia, the aggregate score could easily have been closer for the Spaniards. Valencia were guilty of missing big chances, especially in the first leg.

PREDICTION: 7th favourites for the Champions League.

RB LEIPZIG

RB Leipzig gave qualified for the quarter-finals with a convincing 4-0 aggregate win against last seasons runners-up, Tottenham Hotspur.

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Leipzig’s strengths are the speed of their forwards, their intense pressing and ability to control the ball. All these traits were visible against Tottenham Hotspur as they controlled the game in both legs. Julian Nagelsmann, the youngest person to coach in the Champions League knockout stages, has transformed Leipzig from a pressing team to a much more balanced side.

Leipzig were also fighting for the Bundesliga title; however, three unexpected draws mean that they are 11 points behind Bayern Munich. How far Leipzig go in the competition will depend on their opponents.

Leipzig will fancy their chances against any team if they can play open football, but they will struggle against organised, possession-based sides. Evidence of this can be seen in their two games against Bayern Munich this season.

The Bavarians controlled the ball in both games and did not allow Leipzig space or time to have fast transitions. Nagelsmann’s team scored only one goal in two matches against Bayern while they have scored 74 goals in 28 Bundesliga fixtures this term.

Compare this to other matches where Leipzig had space to counter, or when their pressing was effective, and Leipzig are different beasts entirely. Stylistically, Leipzig would prefer to face Atalanta, Paris Saint Germain or even Barcelona. The likes of Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and Bayern Munich, can be the kryptonite for the East-German club.

PREDICTION: 6th favourites for the Champions League.

ATLETICO MADRID

Real Madrid’s increasingly noisy neighbours qualified for the quarter-finals in some style with a 4-2 aggregate win against defending champions, Liverpool.

With 12 draws in 27 La Liga games, Atleti’s year hasn’t been their best. Their most recent showing in Europe, however? Superb.

Against Liverpool, Diego Simeone’s team showed the spirit of their 2014 and 2016 campaigns where they reached the Champions League final twice. Looking at the result, it was a classic Atleti performance of solid defence and ruthless counter-attacks.

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It has been a fruitful combination for Los Rojiblancos under Simeone. They have twice won the Europa League, a La Liga title, one Copa del Rey, a Spanish Super Cup and a Uefa Super Cup. Simeone and Atleti’s rigid approach to games work.

Analysing the second leg, the narrative is very different. Liverpool dominated the ball in both legs: 70% and 71% possession respectively.

Liverpool had 34 attempts at goal compared to Atletico’s ten. It was a mistake from Liverpool goalkeeper, Adrian, which allowed Atletico Madrid to score at Anfield. Saul Niguez’s goal in the first leg also had an element of luck about it as the rebound fell to him. Despite splashing millions in the summer, Atleti have struggled for goals this season.

Simeone’s team have scored a modest 47 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season. In comparison, Atalanta has 87 in 35 matches. Atletico has scored just 31 times in 27 La Liga matches, and have only won 17 of their 38 games in all competitions.

Don’t let the 4-2 aggregate win against Liverpool fool you into thinking that Atleti will defend and counter their way to winning the Champions League.

Having said that, Atleti only need to win two more ties, and they will be in another final. Eliminating this brilliant Liverpool team will give them the confidence to try their methods against any side in the competition.

PREDICTION: 5th favourites for the Champions League crown.

PARIS SAINT GERMAIN

A 3-2 aggregate win against Borussia Dortmund saw the French outfit progress to the quarters. After heartbreaking losses for four seasons in a row, PSG have finally made it past the last-16 of the Champions League.

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The Parisians put in an impressive display in the return leg after losing 2-1 in Germany. Thomas Tuchel is under intense pressure to deliver Champions League goods. He needs resumption of football as much as anyone with surrounding rumours that PSG may go after Mauricio Pochettino or Max Allegri in the summer.

Tuchel was out-coached in the first leg, where his choice to match Dortmund’s 5-2-3 system backfired. The return leg showed that the German coach still has some tricks in his locker. Tuchel was the main culprit for the elimination against an injury-hit Manchester United last season, where the Parisians blew a 2-0 lead.

The reason for the scrutiny regarding Tuchel is the astonishing amount of talent in PSG’s arsenal. They have two of the best players in the game in Kylian Mbappe and Neymar Jr. The likes of Thiago Silva, Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, Mauro Icardi, Marquinhos and Verratti form a magnificent squad. One of which has underperformed on the European stage in the past.

In bringing back Leanardo as the sporting director, PSG has shown that they mean business, and no slacking will be accepted. PSG players have big expectations this season, and any failures may mean the end of their time in Paris.

The fear for PSG fans and the board is that they will shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to crunch moments. This season, PSG have lost 2-1 against Rennes, Dortmund and Dijon; as well as a 2-0 loss against Reims at home. In the 3-3 draw against Monaco and the 4-4 draw with Amiens, PSG’s defence and midfield were bypassed with surprising ease.

The French League has already been cancelled, which can be harmful to the Champions of France. With the Leagues resuming in Germany, Spain, England and Italy, other teams will have an advantage of freshness over PSG.

As we have seen in the Bundesliga, it takes time and match practice for players to get back to their best. The Parisians will play no league games this season, something that may cost them in the Champions League. A level where even the slightest mistakes are punished.

Does Tuchel know his best eleven or his best formation? Tuchel has used 4-2-4 this season, with a front four of Neymar, Mbappe, Di Maria and Icardi.

This looks terrifying on paper, but this team lacks balance in midfield and defensive stability. Furthermore, will Neymar stay fit for the knockout games? Especially considering the break forced upon him by the pandemic. PSG have many extremely talented players, but it takes a team to win the Champions League.

PREDICTION: 4th favourites for the Champions League.

FC BARCELONA

A frustrating 1-1 draw against Napoli after the first leg, has Barcelona with an away goal advantage. Napoli did not show enough in the first leg, or numerous other matches this season to prove that they can go to Camp Nou and get a result. Napoli are 6th in Serie A, winning only 11 games. The Italians have lost nine times and conceded 36 goals in 26 matches.

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Quique Setien was drafted in to replace Ernesto Valverde, but the revolution is taking longer than expected. Setien’s team are enjoying more possession, however, they have been passive. Injuries to key players like Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele have been a big problem.

Barcelona has struggled to find a proper position for Griezmann, and the Frenchman has struggled to make an impact. Setien hasn’t settled on a fixed formation or even his best eleven, so this break can be useful for the Barcelona coach to find some answers.

Barcelona’s current defence has many issues. Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Sergio Busquets lack the speed to play the high defensive line Setien wants to play. The one-on-one defending of Barcelona’s full-backs are average, and they have have been exposed against fast transitions on numerous occasions.

Look at Napoli’s goal in the first leg of the last-sixteen tie, Martinez’s goal for Inter Milan in the group stage, and almost every attack Valencia had in the 2-0 win.

In Lionel Messi, they have the best player in the world. Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele expected to miss all of the season with injuries. However, with the season extended to August, Barcelona has both of their star-forwards ready. Setien is a quality coach who will find solutions soon.

The individual brilliance of some Barcelona stars can take them to their sixth European cup this season.

PREDICTION: 3rd favourites for the Champions League.

MANCHESTER CITY

A 2-1 lead for City gives them the advantage of two away goals for the second leg.

The return leg will be the biggest test for Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid coach. Los Blancos won three Champions League titles in a row in the Frenchman’s first spell. However, they weren’t required to overturn a deficit like this, especially against a team as strong as Manchester City.

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Real Madrid will have to score at least two goals at the Etihad Stadium due to the away goals rule. An unlikely happening with Karim Benzema’s 19 goals doubling his closest challenger for Real Madrid top-scorer. Eden Hazard, the €100m signing, has been hampered by injuries and has scored only one goal all season.

Gareth Bale, Isco and Lucas Vasquez have scored three each, meanwhile James Rodriguez and Luka Jovic sit on the same number as Hazard. Even if Madrid can score two goals, they would still have to stop the likes of Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, and Kevin De Bruyne. Manchester City has scored 110 goals in all competitions this season.

Club captain Sergio Ramos is suspended after his red card in the first leg. So, without being disrespectful to Real Madrid, I will be putting all of our eggs in one basket here and discussing Manchester City’s chances.

The Citizens have numerous sources of motivation to win the Champions League this season. They have a very expensive cherry-picked squad of top talent. Pep Guardiola has conquered English football in some style, but the owners and fans want European glory.

The Catalan coach has not won the Champions League since 2011, even though he has worked with elite playing staff at both Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

The prospect of a two-year European ban may cause City to have two seasons without Champions League football. The Sky Blues may have wealthy owners keen to splash, but they do not yet have the European pedigree of their neighbours Manchester United or Liverpool. City’s hierarchy will appeal against the ban while Guardiola and company guns for Champions League silverware this season.

Manchester City’s defence cannot be trusted. They have conceded 43 goals in all competitions this season. Guardiola didn’t buy a replacement for Vincent Kompany, and the injury to Aymeric Laporte was an additional setback. Nicolas Otemendi has made numerous errors this season and has looked extremely ordinary, most notably in defeats against Norwich City and Wolves.

Madrid’s best chances to hurt City will come on the counter-attack, or by forcing them into mistakes. Something that helped Madrid to register their goal in the first leg.

Pep Guardiola’s tendency to overcomplicate situations in the knockout stages of the competition has to be taken into consideration. As mentioned earlier, Guardiola hasn’t reached a final in this competition since 2011. There are many examples of the former-Barcelona midfielder trying too hard in the dugout.

PREDICTION: Close but no cigar. Runners up in the Champions League.

BAYERN MUNICH

A 3-0 win in London sets up the second leg home tie in Munich.

With Liverpool knocked out, Bayern Munich are favourites.

Football is a very unpredictable sport, although numbers do not lie. The German champions have registered a staggering 127 goals in 42 matches in all competitions this season.

Hansi Flick has turned Bayern into a ruthless winning machine, and he has been awarded the job permanently. The Bavarians have scored a sensational 82 goals and conceded just 18 in 25 matches under Flick, winning 22 times, with one draw and two defeats.

Bayern Munich have won all seven Champions League games this season. Amongst these wins, there was the 7-2 hammering of Spurs and an emphatic victory against a dangerous Chelsea side.

It’s not just about the goals, under Hansi Flick, Bayern is averaging more possession than any team the top five European leagues. The Bavarians are top of the Bundesliga and into the DFB cup semi-final, where RB Leipzig, Dortmund and Borussia Mgladbach, are already eliminated.

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To sum it up, Bayern Munich may be on their way to a historic treble.

It is tough to find a weakness in this Bayern side. They have speedy wingers, two elite number tens in Muller and Coutinho, as well as a lethal finisher in Robert Lewandowski, who has 44 goals this season.

Bayern’s midfield is secure and skilful while their fullbacks offer creativity on either flank. The lack of pace in central defence may be their only issue. David Alaba has been deployed at centre-back which has proved ingenious, while Alphonso Davies plays at left-back. Although both players are performing exceptionally well, Lucas Hernandez will be fully rested after his injury lay-off, and Nikolas Sule may return too. Flick will have several decisions to make.

@HAMMAD121997‘s Prediction:
1) Bayern Munich
2) Manchester City
3) Barcelona
4) Paris Saint Germain
5) Atletico Madrid
6) RB Leipzig
7) Atalanta
8) Juventus
(Don’t take this personally Juventus fans)

Written By: @HAMMAD121997