Manuel Veth –
The 2017/18 season of the UEFA Champions League came to a close in spectacular fashion on May 26, with Real Madrid clinching a third consecutive title when they beat Liverpool 3-1 at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv. It was a great victory, considering how Real Madrid almost didn’t make it to the final. Here on the Futbolgrad Network, we discussed Bavarian giants Bayern München and their 3-4 aggregate loss to Los Blancos in the semi-final, with Madrid scraping through in the end.
It was also the end of an era for both teams with their top players nearing the end of their respective careers. This season’s Champions League (UCL) looks to be another classic, with no clear favourite to win.
Last year’s Champions League saw both qualified Moscow teams exit early in the group stage with Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow both leaving the UCL to feature in the Europa League, and exiting in the round of 32 and quarter finals respectively. With both Lokomotiv and CSKA Moscow clinching an automatic spot in the Champions League, fans are hoping for a better European campaign.
With a third Moscow team in the running, Spartak Moscow might complete a trifecta of Russian teams in the Champions League this year. Only though, if they win their last two qualifying round matches against Greek side PAOK.
Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid are the favourites to win the Champions League
Elsewhere in Europe, Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid are the three favourites to win the Champions League, with Bayern München, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus rounding out the next three. While it is doubtful that Madrid will win a fourth consecutive time, they are still a formidable side despite the loss of key players.
Juventus’ sixth seed is surprising as they were the team to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Madrid, and he will be key to helping them win a long-awaited Champions League trophy. With Ronaldo on board, they not only have signed the best player in the world, but also one who has consistently tormented them in Europe.
With the departure of veteran Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi will be taking the captain’s armband this season at Barcelona. Despite relatively poor campaigns in Europe in the last few years, compared to their Real Madrid rivals, Barcelona have added youngsters like Malcolm, Arthur and Clement Lenglet to play along Messi, and improve their European performance.
Manchester City had an extraordinary league campaign at home reaching a milestone 100 points last season. The team is brimming with talent, and despite a quarter-final exit in the Champions League last year, they performed better than their United rivals, who were eliminated in the Round of 16 by Sevilla.
How do Russian clubs compare?
Manchester United are not favourites this year to win, having finished 19 points behind City in the Premier League, and a less than stellar European campaign. The summer transfer window saw them bring in players like Fred, Lee Grant and José Teixeira to bolster their defence and midfield. Manchester United will be looking to have a better run in the Champions League this coming season, worthy of the team that won the Premier League title, the FA Cup and Champions League trophy under Sir Alex Ferguson in 1999.
While the current United team may not be the dream team of yesteryear, with plenty of young talent they will be contenders.
Despite the odds, Juventus are looking the best-balanced team in the competition this year, with arguably the best defence in Europe, a strong midfield, and an attack which is now very formidable, thanks to the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo. While Lokomotiv Moscow and fellow Russian team CSKA are rank outsiders, both teams represent the top of the Russian Premier Liga.
Both also include players that performed beyond expectations at this summer’s FIFA World Cup, and both will be looking to improve on previous year’s performances. Their performance will also be based on the group stage they draw, with Lokomotiv seeded in Pot 1 with the likes of Barcelona, Bayern and Read Madrid, while CSKA are in Pot 3 with Liverpool, Roma and FC Schalke 04.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.