By Israel Igiri
The battle for supremacy will be reignited in Europe as action begins in the money-spinning UEFA Champions League. The road to the final of this season’s elite club competition in Europe which takes place at Atletico Madrid’s Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on June 1st, 2019, will see 32 teams battle one another for the most coveted club trophy in Europe.
With interesting match-ups in the group stages, the competition looks set to thrill the whole of Europe. Liverpool’s opener against Paris Saint Germain and their battle against Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli side will certainly be mouthwatering battles, as in AS Roma’s battle with Real Madrid and Barcelona’s clashes with 2010 Champions, Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur. Also, returns for Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba to their former teams are another captivating encounters that will keep football fans glued to their TV sets.
This is a season fans would not want to miss as the top guns try to stop the defending champions, Real Madrid from winning a record breaking fourth consecutive Champions League title. In this new era at the Santiago Bernabeu without Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, it is still difficult to look beyond the Los Blancos as top contenders for the title. However, teams like Manchester City, Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munchen, Liverpool and Juventus- with Ronaldo now in their ranks, will certainly make serious challenges as rated as the sides most likely to usurp the crown from Julen Lopetegui’s men.
A LOOK AT THE EIGHT GROUPS
- Hoffenheim, Young Boys and Crvena Zveda (Red Star Belgrade) are all making their UEFA Champions League group stage debut, taking the total number of clubs to have appeared at this stage of the competition to 140.
- FC Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas is about to embark on a record 20th UEFA Champions League campaign.
WHAT ARE THE FANS’ EXPECTATIONS?
Rueben Orovwuje is anticipating a season of great competition as he gives his top contenders for the title:
“The most exciting and competitive club football competition is back again with a double bang. Having won the title 13 times and with a stunning three back to back wins, I am regarding Real Madrid as massive red hot favourites to win it. No Ronaldo, no Zidane, no problem. PSG are desperate lions as their major and utmost aim is to win the Champions League having changed four managers in the past 6-7 years and also investing huge money to bring in talented players. While they were knocked out in the last 16 by Real last season, it will be interesting to see how this start-studded Les Parisiens open their campaign against a talented and young Liverpool side who boast of one of the most fearsome attacks in Europe at the moment.
Also, Barcelona who are playing one of the most exciting football in Europe at the moment and are seen as the bookies favourites to win the trophy, have an exciting experienced frontline with Messi and co all raring to go again. We cannot rule out Manchester City who with their star man Kevin De Bruyne and the experience of their manager, Pep Guardiola, can challenge for the title.
Bayern Munchen have played the semi-final of this competition 4-5 times in the last seven years and are certainly not pretenders. Kovac having taken up the managerial role at the club will be hoping to turn their fortunes around and go one step higher in the competition this time around. Lastly, Juventus are also another top club desperate to win the trophy having lost two finals in the last four seasons. They are certainly in the mix to win it as they now boast of an extremely talented player in Ronaldo.”
For Nobert Nwobodo: “It is the return of the most exciting and intense club football competition with all its sparks and freshness as 32 teams will be battling for the most prestigious club trophy in Europe. All being said, my clear favourites for the title are Barcelona. They are tagged as one of the big boys in Europe and have won the trophy five times. I believe with Coutinho and other good signings they made this season like Arturo Vidal, Malcom, Lenglet and Arthur, they should be able to cover the vacuum left by the departure of Iniesta. Also, another factor is the Messi factor. With him, all that is not possible on the pitch can be made possible. Leo has been talking about the importance of Barcelona winning the UCL this season.
Here is what Chigozie Joshua has to say “I think Liverpool have a great chance. Lately, they haven’t won by the large margins people expected because Premier League teams knowing that the Reds had significantly strengthen their attack, couldn’t afford to initiate careless attacks and have been mostly on the defensive. Anyway, in the Champions League, the big teams are not going to be defensive and the blistering counterattacks of Liverpool front three combined with the tireless pressing from their strengthened midfield plus their improved defence should make them go really far. Regarding Man City, I am not really sure. You know the trend of Pep’s post-Barcelona teams. They are monstrous at the start of the season, win the league early on, but eventually tire out when the important CL matches come rolling. So, I am not sure with them.
Real Madrid, losing the coach who took them to three Champions League title wins in a row, and also losing their most valuable player and legend Ronaldo in one go, have something to prove. They have been good in the league. But the question is would that motivation seep over to the Champions League considering they have already won it three times in a row?
PSG with one of the best attacks in the world, are obviously in contention. But that is what everyone said last season. I think their first game against Liverpool would be a good gauge to know how ready they are.
Of course, there is Barcelona who with Messi stand a chance. The question is: with the recent legendary achievements of their greatest rivals and their underwhelming performances in the competition in recent years, will they be able to push themselves to greatness once again? Has Tiki Taka been mastered and outplayed by other teams? We saw what happened with Spain at the World Cup. Would the Catalans need to totally restrategize and overhaul their signature style?
Other teams worthy of note are Bayern Munchen, Juventus and Atletico Madrid. These are teams that must also be put in contention.”
Paul Okoye is of this view: “I am looking forward to a cracker as usual. I think te UCL will live up to expectation again this time around. CR7’s move to Juventus has automatically made them one of the favourites alongside Barcelona, Bayern Munchen, Liverpool and Manchester City.”
Henry Nzekwe feels there are no clear favourites for the Champions League this season as he said: “There’s been a significant shift in the dynamics of the competition with the departure of Zidane and Ronaldo from the Madrid setup. So, I don’t think the defending champions have a shot at making it four in a row. Although there are still lots of good players in the team, the edge is gone.
I believe this season’s competition will be the most unpredictable in recent times. None of the European giants can actually be said to be at the peak of their powers, so, I think several teams have a chance at winning the title.