Champions League Preview: Will Money Buy Success?
Die Meister...Die Besten...Les grandes équipes...The champions.
That famous tune is back! This time, it promises to be twice more explosive as we watch out for the Champions of Europe. Interestingly resident club Arsenal is however, conspicuously missing after a failed ‘Next season’ last term, where they even finished below North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. There has been great sadness in Germany, as Bundesliga Champions Bayern Munich will have to do without their punching bags Arsenal in this edition.
Nonetheless, the big boys are all set for the action, and defending champions Real Madrid remain firm favorites. Zinedine Zidane’s men are in spectacular form and have a super blend of youth, experience, quality and depth. The senior players are at the peak of the performance, while the young players are also in fine form, and fighting for places in the team.
French side PSG is also top of the agenda this season, for all the reasons, fair and foul. They have been one of the busiest in the just concluded transfer period, and have acquired some of the finest talents in Europe. For €222m they shuttered records and stunned Barcelona after raiding them for Brazilian poster boy Neymar. When everyone was shouting ‘ceasefire’, the Qatari backed side then went out for French hotshot Kylian Mbappe for a projected €180m, albeit on loan.
Bookmakers, have PSG as second favourites this season, just behind Real Madrid. Although The Parisians have splashed money, they will be holding their breath, and hoping not to be the perfect case studies for money not buying instant success.
Talking matters PSG, this transfer period has seen Europe’s spend a bomb as they gear up for the season. Manchester City was also spending big, unsurprisingly so. Azerbaijan champions Qarabag, who visit Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, were also spending big.
By financial measures, PSG and Manchester City have the biggest responsibilities on their shoulders this season.
PSG is grouped alongside German Champions Bayern Munich, Scottish side Celtic and Anderlecht in Group B. The arrival of Neymar and Mbappe should elevate the French outfit to the level of Bayern, Barca and Real Madrid, at least on paper. Bayern is a regular in this competition, and we expect them to strongly tussle with PSG for the Group top spot. Celtic should come in third above Anderlecht.
Manchester United has been getting it right in the Premier League thus far, and there is everything, history included, to suggest that they are strong candidates to win. Newly acquired hitman Romelu Lukaku has been in sublime form with 4 goals so far. The Red Devils kickoff their campaign against 8-time Swiss champions Basel. While United has been convincing in their league start this season, Basel faltered with a 2-0 loss to BSC Young Boys. There's nothing much to read on the head to head to head record, save for the small matter of United not making it past the group stages when they were last pooled alongside Basel. Jose Mourinho’s are strong favourites to top this group and should be challenged to that spot by Portuguese side Benfica. CSKA Moscow has had a bad start to their season, and although they could pose a slight challenge playing at home, they look like the group’s punching bags.
Group C looks interesting. Exciting maybe.Qarabag is the first Azerbaijani side to reach this stage, and sorry to say, they have the exit staring at them even before the first whistle is blown. Although they have been busy in the transfer market, they face some of Europe’s most seasoned sides in a very competitive group. Atletico Madrid looks like a firm favourite in the group, going by their quality and pedigree at this level of football. The Spanish sides have managed to hold on some key players like Antoine Griezmann, and it could get better, once their transfer ban is lifted in january as they are likely to go for key players like the unsettled Diego Costa. Chelsea are not a replica or an upgrade of who they were last season, and Antonio Conte has not recruited convincingly. You really cannot write them off completely, and we can expect them to come second in the group. Roma has lost Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rüdiger and Francesco Totti and despite signing 10, it could be tough to replace the trio. They should settle for third, as Qarabag finish with second, possibly with no points.
Juventus and Barcelona are at it again in Group D. The Old Lady eliminated Barca last term at the quarters and will be looking to do that again as they contest for top spot. Interestingly, both sides have lost key players, Juve losing Bonucci while Barca lost Neymar. However, that is promising not to derail the stiff competition in this group, that will also see Greek side Olympiakos offer some competition as they enjoy a new lease of life under their new manager.
Liverpool find themselves in an even group, and Jurgen Klopp with be thanking the Heavens. Sevilla, who beat Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League Finals meet them again alongside Maribor and Spartak Moscow. The Reds have managed to retain on-demand Philippe Coutinho, and with Mohamed Salah, Firmino and Mane all in super form, the Kops can only can only rub their hands in delight. Liverpool should win this group, while Sevilla should settle for second. Maribor have won only one of their 12 Champions League group games and should finish bottom of this group.
Pep Guardiola spent a staggering £220m this summer with an astonishing £128.5m splashed on full-backs! The pressure valves have already been tightened, and he expected to get the business done in a group that has Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli and Feyenoord. Although City look good on paper, they have already made a mess of themselves this season in the Premier League and it will take an extra gear for them to avoid embarrassment in Europe. Dries Mertens, José Callejón, Lorenzo Insigne, Arkadiusz Milik and Marek Hamsik are part of a very competitive Napoli side that will be challenging the Citizens.Feyenoord did well in the domestic league last season, but they face a daunting task this season without key men among them Dirk Kuyt and Terence Kongolo.City, Napoli, Shakhtar and Feyenoord should complete the group in that order.
Who wants to qualify for the next stage? Welcome to Group G that is frankly a very open group. Monaco are favourites despite losing their key players among them Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiémoué Bakayoko. RB Leipzig is making their debut this season, and they are a force to reckon. Porto will also be tussling for a top spot in their group, while Besiktas, despite spending big, do not really offer a strong opposition.
The undisputed Champions of Europe look set for the first hat-trick of European Cup wins since Bayern Munich in 1974-76 season. Everything is working in Real Madrid’s favour and you can bet on them to reach the finals, let alone topping the group. With that in mind, competition will certainly be between Tottenham and Dortmund. Dortmund is a force in its own right, and will likely come third. Spurs has been awful at Wembley and that home record could hurt them. We tip Real Madrid to win, Dortmund to come second and Spurs third. Apoel Nicosia lost their top scorer and should finish fourth.
Will money translate into success this season? Well, that’s the big question as the Champions League season begins