It’s the winner’s medal that every footballer wants to have as a souvenir of their time with their particular domestic side. And winning one comes at the end of a long and arduous campaign that must be fought in mid-week fixtures that are slotted in around home league games.
Even though the group stage of the tournament will continue until the start of December, already quite a few teams are starting to catch the eye. But the big question is which two will face each other in the final in St. Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena on 28 May 2022.
We can be reasonably sure that it will once again prove to be one of Europe’s richest clubs as it takes real strength in depth to see it through to the end of the campaign. But, at this stage, there are still plenty of candidates who could well make the final.
Last year’s winners, Chelsea, have been doing very well domestically this season, as anyone who has been keeping a close eye on the football results will be able to tell you. They’ve also been keeping any fans who have put money on their success pretty happy too by making countless bets come good.
They are almost certain, even at the halfway stage of the group stage, to move on to the round of 16. However, generally stronger in defence than in attack this season, this is one area in which they’ll need to step up their game.
Lack of attacking options certainly isn’t a problem for Jurgen Klopp’s team who will be looking to do better than the quarter-finals finish that they achieved last season. But Mo Salah and Sadio Mané can’t take care of everything on their own. There has been a slight tendency to let opponents back in during domestic games, but his hasn’t been an issue in Europe. So we can be reasonably confident of a semi-final finish, or better, this time.
Paris St Germain
Despite the many millions of euros that have been ploughed into the club over the last few seasons by their Qatari owners, European success has been frustratingly elusive for PSG. Stopped decisively by Manchester City in last season’s semis, they must be hoping that this will be their year. The surprise arrival of Lionel Messi has given them a real shot in the arm and, along with Idrissa Gueye, it looks like they’ve struck on a winning combination. As long as their defence stops making the sorts of mistakes that saw them being beaten 2-0 by Rennes, this could be the year for them.
Even though they were beaten in their first group stage meeting with PSG this season, Pep Guardiola’s team could well lay claim to being the favourites to lift the trophy next May. That loss to PSG could well be put down to the heavy schedule that saw them having to take on the French team as well as Chelsea and Liverpool in the space of a week, and all away from home. But if the team have anything, it’s the ability to create chances seemingly out of nowhere. This, along with a great ratio of shots on target and goals scored, means this is another club that should be well in the running.
With six wins and five runners-up places, the German side is the third most successful in the history of the competition with only Milan and Real Madrid outdoing them. They’ve made the strongest of possible starts in the group stage winning every match, averaging four goals a game and conceding none. Even the mighty Barcelona had no answer to their unrelenting onslaught. To give them even more confidence, they are also firmly perched on top of the Bundesliga with only Dortmund threatening their position.
Of the Italian teams in the Champions League, one could make a case for Inter Milan being the ones to watch, certainly on domestic form. But the unbeaten nature of Juventus in Europe means that they edge it over their Northern Italian rivals. The 1-0 victory that they ground out over Chelsea showed a team with real grit and determination. It was also probably the toughest match that they’ll face in the group stage with Malmo and Zenit St Petersburg occupying the two other places.
An honourable mention has to go to Manchester United. Even though they’re having a torrid time domestically, possibly even with a change of management on the cards, their not-so-secret weapon of Ronaldo could make all the difference in Europe. This will be especially true if he can repeat his performance against Atalanta on a frequent basis.
So while any of these seven teams could be the winners next May, you should write off the Red Devils at your peril.