Bayern, City and PSG can win it, while Sevilla and the winner of Chelsea vs Atletico could spring a surprise – but Liverpool and Real have NO chance in the Champions League, say our experts
- The Champions League makes a welcome return this week with the round of 16
- Bayern Munich are the bookmakers’ favourites to retain their European crown
- Manchester City are expected to run them close as they chase their first title
- Paris Saint-Germain will aim to go one better than last year but face Barcelona
- Sevilla are fancied to be the dark horses as the knockout rounds progress
The Champions League makes its much-anticipated return this week as Europe’s finest teams begin their journey through the knockout rounds to the ultimate prize.
And there are some mouth-watering last-16 ties with Barcelona taking on Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea drawn against Atletico Madrid and Liverpool matched with RB Leipzig.
Bayern Munich are the reigning champions and the bookmakers’ favourites to do it again, but Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City aren’t far behind. Manchester United, meanwhile, are the only Premier League team to have been eliminated so far.
Bayern Munich won the Champions League last season – but who will follow in their footsteps?
But who will go all the way and who will be the surprise package? We asked our reporters the following three questions:
1. Who will win the Champions League this season and why?
2. How will Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea fare in the knockout stage?
3. After Atalanta and Lyon last season, who will be this season’s surprise package and how far can they go?
1. Bayern Munich. It’s an extraordinarily open year, as the effects, both physical and psychological, of the pandemic and the lack of fans and now neutral venues at so many games disrupt predictability.
So who’s to bet against a bizarre Real Madrid revival? Or Liverpool getting a centre half fit and suddenly looking half decent?
On balance though, it looks to be between Bayern, Man City and Atletico Madrid. Maybe it’s just subservience to the laws of history and a stubborn refusal of my brain to contemplate change, but you sense Atleti and City won’t get there: they both have their own unfortunate experiences of never quite doing enough in the Champions League.
It would be extraordinary if Lionel Messi signed off at Barcelona by leading them to glory again
To justify that rationally I would say that City, without Sergio Aguero, lack the clinical finisher needed in the latter stages and Atleti will get distracted by winning La Liga.
So, Bayern, with no obvious weaknesses, with the know-how and only RB Leipzig to (perhaps) challenge them in the Bundesliga, will do what only Real Madrid have done in modern history and retain the trophy.
2. History – our old friend – tells you that City will look superb until they hit some bright-eyed, young team with more desire and nothing to lose. So, semi-final exit to RB Leipzig it is then.
In reality though, I feel this could be the season they challenge seriously. But I still feel, when they do end up against a heavyweight such as Bayern, they’ll come unstuck.
They probably have more chance against Barca and Real Madrid than previously, but it’s hard to win this trophy without a world-class striker and Aguero doesn’t look like he’ll be properly fit.
Manchester City are leading the way in the Premier League – is it finally their year in Europe?
Liverpool could easily fall to Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig. Even if they don’t, the whole defensive debacle thing means that, though they’ll be desperate to save their season, they will come undone sooner or later. My guess would be the quarter-finals.
I have a sneaking suspicion Thomas Tuchel might do something special against Diego Simeone’s Atleti. I’m sure he’ll run them close. Ultimately, Atleti will edge it before ducking out at the back end of the season when pressure to win La Liga becomes the overriding priority
3. Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marco Rose is the latest Stuttgart-school coach off the Jurgen Klopp/Ralf Rangnick production line. (He played under Klopp at Mainz, was nurtured by Rangnick at Red Bull Salzburg.)
He’s about to follow the Klopp/Thomas Tuchel route by taking over at Borussia Dortmund. His teams have energy and dynamism and he’s a really impressive individual so I think they’ll have a plan for City which may shock many. But ultimately I expect City to overcome.
So, for a run to the semis, I’d say Sevilla. On the back of eight straight wins, including a 2-0 victory over Barca in the Copa del Rey semi final first leg, they are quietly rebuilding under returning director of football Monchi and Julen Lopetegui. (Remember him? The coach who was fired by Spain just before the 2018 World Cup for taking the Real Madrid job, from which he was then predictably fired just a few months later.)
Sevilla are in good form and have a team of talents – they could easily be the surprise package
They have that mix of young, lesser-known starlets, which cause Premier League scouts to have palpitations: striker Youssef En-Nesyri, who West Ham want, a 23-year-old Moroccan with 17 goals this season; Jules Kounde, 22, a classy French centre half, interesting all the top Premier League clubs; Bono, the 29-year-old Moroccan goalkeeper, has seven successive clean sheets.
As long as they’re not distracted by maintaining fourth place in La Liga, they can go for broke and have some fun at the expense of those with much more to lose in this tournament.
1. Bayern Munich. The holders are in imperious form, having lost one game in all competitions since September. They showed last season that they can cope with the disruption and inconvenience caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
If they can wrap up the Bundesliga title with time to spare – not a given with RB Leipzig on their tail – they will be able to concentrate on securing a seventh European Cup.
Bayern Munich, who have lost just one match since September, are favourites for a reason
2. Liverpool have it all on to get past Leipzig, simply because they cannot be relied upon to keep clean sheets. Something will have to change immediately if they are not to go out.
Manchester City should not struggle particularly against Borussia Monchengladbach and this year represents another great opportunity to make real progress, particularly if Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne can return fresh and fit.
As for Chelsea, they are greatly improved already since their change of coach but lack the genuine quality to get further than the last eight.
3. I don’t see that happening this season. I think the majority of them will go out at this stage.
1. Manchester City. It’s the one they want more than any other, they have the momentum this season and they also have the defensive rigour which has so often been lacking down the years when we get to the critical juncture.
They can also capitalise on Bayern, Real, Barcelona and Liverpool being at less than their best. A vacuum at the top of Europe.
2. Chelsea to go out in the round of 16. Atletico Madrid are too powerful for them. Yes, Chelsea look less confused now Frank Lampard has gone. But behind the unbeaten record under Thomas Tuchel are some bang average performances.
At 36, Cristiano Ronaldo would love another Champions League success after five wins so far
Liverpool’s progress depends on the quarters/semis draws. They’ll get past Leipzig but could exit at the quarter-final stage for a second year if they face a decent side.
We’re back to two-leg knockouts this season, which means defensive rigour is needed not to ship away goals. Liverpool lack that rigour right across the field.
3. I just don’t see sides like Borussia Monchengladbach or Leipzig breaking into the quarters or semis. It looks to me like there’ll be fewer surprises.
But this could be the year than Atletico Madrid lift the trophy. Bringing Luis Suarez to the club was inspired.
1. Atletico Madrid. History is against them in this competition but this season surely represents their best opportunity to become European champions for the first time.
2. Liverpool will do well to get past RB Leipzig given the crisis in which they find themselves. Chelsea have improved under Thomas Tuchel but they will be massive underdogs in their clash against Atletico Madrid. Manchester City will be hopeful of reaching their first Champions League final.
3. Sevilla are in excellent form in Spain and will fancy getting past Borussia Dortmund to reach the quarter finals.
Atletico Madrid lead the way in Spain’s LaLiga – can they spring a surprise in Europe too?
1. PSG – they have a very tough knockout game against Barcelona but both the team and new manager Mauricio Pochettino have reached the final before.
They came through a tough group after a few scares but in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe they have individuals who can turn any game.
2. Man City and Liverpool should get past German opposition in Borussia Monchengladbach and Leipzig, even given Liverpool’s current problems.
Chelsea have a tougher task against Atletico Madrid. They will hope Diego Simeone’s men will be more focused on La Liga and they may be right – this could be a feather in Thomas Tuchel’s cap.
3. Chelsea chances have gone under the radar in Europe but with the quality of their squad there’s no reason they can’t make the semi-finals.
Ditto Borussia Dortmund. Underachieving in the Bundesliga, Erling Harland and Co will fancy chances of making amends in Europe and Sevilla aren’t the strongest opposition.
Kylian Mbappe and Paris Saint-Germain will have to overcome Barcelona in the round of 16
1. Paris Saint-Germain. I picked them at the start of the competition and I am sticking with them, though the tie against an improving Barcelona looks dangerous.
Neymar is determined to bring the title to Paris and will be a force to be reckoned with when he returns from injury, while Kylian Mbappe remains the most devastating counter-attacking player in world football and Mauricio Pochettino has shown he has what it takes to prosper in the Champions League by leading Tottenham to the final in 2019.
This PSG squad has far greater depth than that Spurs one did and they have what it takes to go all the way.
2. Unless Liverpool can sort out their defensive problems, it is hard to see them progressing beyond the quarter-finals, even if they manage to dispose of RB Leipzig.
City, on the other hand, may go all the way to the final – precisely because they appear to have resolved the issues at the back that undermined previous campaigns, thanks largely to the arrival of Ruben Dias.
Chelsea have picked up under Thomas Tuchel yet it is difficult to imagine them knocking out La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid over two legs in the last 16.
Liverpool have faltered in the Premier League of late and now face RB Leipzig in Europe
3. Sevilla. The nucleus of the team that won the Europa League last season remains, and they have made typically astute signings, such as Ivan Rakitic, who has returned for a second spell in Andalusia six years after leaving the club for Barcelona.
Jules Kounde is one of the Europe’s best central-defensive prospects and centre-forward Youssef En-Nesyri has improved greatly since last season.
They should have too much for faltering Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 and nobody would be happy to face them in the quarter-finals.
1. I’ll go for Manchester City, regardless of whether they’ll also be caught up in the Premier League title race. They have the talent to succeed in both and have a kind last-16 tie against Borussia Monchengladbach.
2. I’ll back all three to reach the quarter finals. City should fly through against Monchengladbach. After conceding the Premier League title, all of Liverpool’s eggs are in the Champions League basket, and they can beat RB Leipzig.
Chelsea have the hardest test but I’ll even back them and new manager Thomas Tuchel to dig deep and find a way to get beyond Atletico Madrid.
3. It would be good to see Sevilla go far in this competition after all of their success in the Europa League. They’re clearly good at knockout football, so apply that to the main event this season.
1. Manchester City. Yep, it’s that time again. Except we mean it this year… on current form, you’d be bold to bet against Pep Guardiola’s side.
They have been imperious in recent months, particularly at the back and all Champions League winners are built on solid foundations.
Provided Guardiola doesn’t wander too far from his winning formula – as he did against Lyon last season – they should hold no fear of anybody.
2. I believe Manchester City could go all the way. Liverpool, too, still have enough to hurt any team in Europe. But the fragility and inconsistency which have blighted recent performances will surely catch up with them – perhaps even against RB Leipzig.
As for Chelsea, their clash with Atletico is now a fascinating match-up. The Chelsea of Frank Lampard’s final weeks looked ripe for an early exit but Thomas Tuchel has already brought more cohesion and tactical clarity. I think they will reach the last eight.
3. Sevilla. Borussia Dortmund are there for the taking in the last-16 – the German side have won just one of their last six matches – while Julen Lopetegui’s side are on a run of nine straight victories, picking up eight clean sheets en route.
Their incredible recent record in the Europa League should provide confidence and knowhow and, with a favourable last-eight draw, I back them to reach a first ever semi-final.
Chelsea are playing well under Thomas Tuchel – but will Europe prove a bridge too far?
1. Atletico Madrid. They are a danger to everyone, coached by an absolute master. They won’t be popular, given that Diego Simeone is their manager and Luis Suarez is their star striker, but they are the best team in Spain and their pedigree in this competition indicates this is the year they will go one step better.
2. Liverpool might be in dreadful form but they will get enough opportunities to score goals to put Leipzig out. If they reach the quarter-finals, it would be a brave man to say that would be the limit of their progress. Atletico Madrid will knock Chelsea out, while the minimum for Manchester City this season must be the semi-finals. Really, with the depth and talent of their team, they should be getting to the final.
3. Sevilla are a fantastic club and if they can get past Borussia Dortmund nobody will fancy facing them in the last eight. Actually, the winners of this tie will be the competition’s dark horses. The youth and energy Dortmund have will make them formidable. What a shame that circumstances mean the Westfalenstadion, with its baying crowd, will not be able to inspire them.
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article