Champions League Preview

Champions League Preview
Jul 26, 2016

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Champions League preview 2016/17

As the new season quickly approaches I will analyse the favourites and potential outsiders to win the world’s premier club competition in Cardiff.

Real Madrid – Can Zidane’s Blancos create history?

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No side has retained the European Cup since Milan in 1990 and none in its current format. Real Madrid beat their rivals Atletico in last season’s final on penalties to complete La Undecima and now seek to add a twelfth to their considerably large trophy room.

The Manager: Zinedine Zidane
Madrid and France legend Zidane was appointed manager earlier this year after Rafa Benitez’s dismissal and despite failing to trump Barcelona’s domestic dominance, he delivered the club’s second Champions League trophy in two years.

The Star: Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo added the European Championships to the Champions League medal this season as his Portugal team beat hosts France 1-0 in the final in Paris. Ronaldo narrowly missed out on the European Golden Shoe this season as Luis Suarez’s fine form for Barcelona meant the Portuguese winger couldn’t add yet another trophy to his cabinet. The Portugal captain scored the winning penalty in the Milan Champions League final and scored again for Madrid in the Lisbon final of 2014 and in Moscow 2008 for Manchester United. His hat trick against Wolfsburg in last year’s quarter finals saw them narrowly through to the semi-final and if Madrid are to retain the trophy, they will need Ronaldo to be at his best.

 

Atletico Madrid – Can Simeone’s men get over the line?

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Last year’s beaten finalists have now failed on two occasions to beat their city rivals in the Champions League final. Atletico are yet to win a Champions League title but have a relatively young squad with Saul, Koke, Gimenez, Oblak and Griezmann mixed in with the experience of Godin, Gabi, Juanfran and Torres. They also have a great team spirit and desire which makes them very difficult to beat.

The Manager: Diego Simeone

A young manager known for his erratic touchline antics and well-organised set up, Simeone is one of the hottest properties in the managerial market athough it would be very difficult to lure the Argentine away from the club that loves him. Simeone’s tactics will be key if Atletico are to cross the line and bring the trophy across Madrid.

The Star: Antoine Griezmann

Named top scorer and player of tournament for France at this year’s Euros, the striker is a composed finisher, an athletic runner, a superb dribbler and a hard-worker. His goal against Bayern Munich saw Atleti through to the final but in the final, he missed a penalty in regular time which could have changed the whole match. He will be Atleti’s key man on the pitch next season.

 

Barcelona – Will Enrique add to his collection?

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Barcelona’s Champions League campaign came to a disappointing end last season as they were knocked out of the quarter-finals by Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid. Despite comfortably winning every knockout round the previous year; routing Manchester City, PSG and Bayern Munich on the road to Berlin, they struggled to break down their well-disciplined opponents. However, their arsenal includes one of the best players of all time in Lionel Messi as well as Brazil superstar Neymar and current European Golden Shoe holder Luis Suarez, which makes them one of the most potent attacking sides in history, winning 5 trophies in 2015.

The Manager – Luis Enrique

In his first season as Barcelona manager, the former Spain midfielder won a treble, winning La Liga at Atletico Madrid’s stadium, defeating Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and Juventus in the Champions League final. A lot of talk was about his seemingly unstoppable attack and not enough credit given to the young manager for his total domination of the footballing world during 2014/15 despite starting the season without the suspended Luis Suarez and any recognised striker in the squad.

The Star – Lionel Messi

Undoubtedly one of the best sportsmen ever to don a pair of football boots, the Argentine is quick, agile, strong, a brilliant finisher and one of the best dribblers of all time. His humiliation of Germany and Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer in the 2014/15 Champions League semi-final is testament to this. A fourth Champions League title would only confirm his legendary status.

 

Juventus – Will Allegri make his mark on Europe?

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Juventus are Italy’s dominant side, winning this season’s league title having been so far behind Napoli at the start of the year it seemed their dominance was about to slip from their grasp. The form of young sensation Paulo Dybala saw the Bianconeri win the title comfortably despite Napoli’s 36 goal striker Gonzalo Higuaín’s best efforts. They made it into the final of the 2015 Champions League final where they lost 3-1 to Barcelona but were knocked out of this year’s tournament by Bayern in a thrilling 6-4 aggregate loss.

The Manager – Massimo Allegri

The Italian took over from Antonio Conte and in his first season at the Old Lady, he made it to the Champions League final and won Serie A with almost no problems. The start of last season came with a slow start but a switch to the increasingly popular 352 formation saw a rapid return to form for the Turin club. He has since improved his squad with the purchases of Miralem Pjanic, Dani Alves and loan signing of Medhi Benatia

The Star – Paulo Dybala

The Argentine forward is one of the main reasons Juventus qualified for the Champions League, his goal tally making him one of Europe’s hottest properties. His quality making Carlos’s Tevez’s departure seem trivial and securing Juventus yet another league title. He will be hoping to add a Champions League medal to his already impressive cabinet.

 

Bayern Munich – Could Ancelotti do it again?

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Bayern Munich have consistently made it far into the Champions League but they haven’t won it since Jupp Heycknes’s treble in 2013. Guardiola has departed their club, leaving Italian Carlo Ancelotti to take the reigns. Dominant in their own league, they now seek to win their 6th Champions League title.

The Manager – Carlo Ancelotti

The Italian won AC Milan two Champions League titles in his time there, he added to that and won his third for Real Madrid in 2014, only Liverpool legend Bob Paisley has as many as him and should the Italian succeed again, he will become the most successful manager in the competition’s history.

The Star – Thomas Muller

The German had a poor tournament in the European Championships but remains a key player in Bayern’s system. His ability to orchestrate an attack with his playmaking ability combined with the finishing ability of a natural number 9 is credit to his hard work in becoming a successful footballer. He was key in their Champions League campaigns of 2012 – scoring in the final they went on to lose – and 2013 – the season in which they won the competition last.

 

Manchester City – Can Pep bring the trophy to the other side of Manchester?

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Manchester is a city accustomed to winning but the Champions League is an honour currently reserved for the red half of the city. However, last season’s campaign was encouraging and they have since improved both their squad and arguably their manager with the appointment of two time Champions League winner Pep Guardiola. The signings of Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito also improve their chances when added to their eye-catching front line of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Could Guardiola finally deliver City the trophy they want the most?

The Manager – Pep Guardiola

The Spaniard is possibly the best manager in the world and has a history of winning, his two Champions League trophies at Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 were early signs of a great manager in the making and Man City can consider themselves very lucky to have a manager of his calibre.

The Star – Kevin De Bruyne

I am aware that many will criticise me for not choosing Sergio Aguero but Kevin De Bruyne is capable of scoring all kinds of goals and creating chances for his teammates. His winner against PSG in last season’s quarter finals showed his ability to perform when his team needs him the most.

 

Paris Saint Germain – Can Emery go one better?

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PSG are serial big spenders in Europe and under Laurent Blanc they were known for making big money moves for the best players in other leagues like Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luiz. Their domestic domination was not difficult due to the lack of competition in France but they have struggled in Europe, failing to make a Champions League semi-final as of yet despite their enormous wage bill and star-studded squad. They sacked Laurent Blanc at the end of last season and turned to Spaniard Unai Emery.

The Manager – Unai Emery

The former Sevilla boss is already a history maker having won three consecutive Europa Leagues, a record for the competition. He departed the Spanish club having beaten Liverpool 3-1 in this year’s final and took Polish anchorman Gregorz Kryckowiak with him to France. It remains to be seen how Emery will influence PSG’s European form but with a European competition specialist, things are looking up.

The Star – Hatem Ben Arfa

The former Newcastle ace has had a rollercoaster career but one thing is not questionable: his talent. He can change a game in an instant with a moment of brilliance utilising his skill, intelligence and dribbling ability. After a torrid season in which he had his loan terminated at Hull and was released by Newcastle. He signed a one year contract at Nice where he rebuilt his career and sealed a move to the France giants. Can Ben Arfa finally get the silverware to match his talent.

 

Arsenal – Can Wenger complete his collection?

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Arsenal have been disappointing in Europe since Cristiano Ronaldo took them apart in 2009 semi final. They have struggled in the round of 16 normally and last season struggled to get out of the group stages but were rescued by an Olivier Giroud hat trick against Olympiakos. However, with a new season comes new hope and with a few new signings a Champions League run is not off the cards.

The Manager – Arsene Wenger

Arsenal legend Wenger has won every trophy in England bar the League Cup and the only major honour that remains is the elusive Champions League title. He came closest in Paris in 2006 when Barcelona broke Arsenal hearts, beating them 2-1 in the final.

The Star – Alexis Sanchez

Athough Mesut Ozil is the chief recipient of most praise in Arsenal, Alexis has the ability to not only change a game by himself, but he seems to make his teammates play better when on form. His inspired performances against Manchester United and Leicester showed this, should Arsenal progess into the latter stages of the Champions League, they will look to the Chilean for inspiration.

 

Borussia Dortmund – Will Tuchel win Dortmund a long-awaited second European Cup?

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In 2012, Dortmund won the domestic double but in 2013, they got to two cup finals and lost them both to Bayern, simultaneously finishing as league runners up, to Bayern. Since then, they have found it difficult, losing their best players to Europe’s elite clubs. This season however, they have been shrewd in their acquisitions, with the signings of two highly-rated young attackers Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele as well as World Cup winners Mario Götze and Andre Schurrle.

The Manager – Thomas Tuchel

Tuchel was an obscure figure when Dortmund plucked him from Mainz to replace the charismatic Jurgen Klopp at the start of last season. He quickly became very highly rated as he took Klopp’s gegenpressing style, already deeply embedded in the team, and added a bit more method to the madness, taking a page from the book of his former mentor: Marcelo Bielsa.

The Star – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Despite the quality of newly-named captain Marco Reus, it’s difficult to look past Dortmund’s prolific Gabonese striker Aubameyang. The striker is the current holder of the African Player of the Year award and is known for his electric pace and physical presence. If Aubameyang is on form, it will be very stop him this season.

 

Tottenham Hotspur – How far can Pochettino’s young guns go?

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Last season brought the Lily Whites of London a genuine chance at the title but they weren’t good enough to pip Leicester. However a third place finish brings hope as does the rise of young stars Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier. They have strengthened their team since last season with Dutch striker Vincent Janssen and Kenyan Victor Wanyama. They will hope that this is only the beginning.

The Manager – Mauricio Pochettino

The Argentine is another graduate from Bielsa’s academy and his high-energy, high-discipline tactics have drawn praise worldwide. He is young and seems to place a great deal of trust in his younger players. It has paid off so far and it remains to be seen how far it can go.

The Star – Harry Kane

Mr Tottenham himself won the Premier League golden boot last season and has showcased his fine finishing ability as well as his taste for the spectacular last season but had a disappointing Euros. He remains England’s best young striker however and Spurs hope his good club record continues.

 

Leicester City – Can Ranieri’s foxes keep living the dream?

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Leicester shook the football world last season when they overcame odds of 5000/1 to win their first league title. They were wholly deserving in their championship but have lost their key midfield man N’Golo Kante. Having refused to lose form for all of last season, optimists will say they can only improve.

The Manager – Claudio Ranieri

Little needs to be said about the charismatic Italian’s impressive achievements at the Midlands club and opposing teams will not want to underrate him or his team. They are England’s champions after all.

The Star – Jamie Vardy

The pacey England striker’s rise from non-league to Champions League is well-known and his all-round ability should be a reason for even Europe’s finest defenders to be afraid of the former Fleetwood man. Leicester will need the frontman to be at his best if they are to progress into the tournament’s latter stages.

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