The 2013-2014 Champions League season will soon kick off, with all 32 teams that will play in the group stage set and ready for the draw, as most eyes are turned to the first-tier teams, which include the champions Bayern Munich, but also Barcelona, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal and Benfica of Portugal.
All the leagues with four-team allocations have gotten all four teams in: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal from England; Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sociedad from Spain and Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke from Germany.
Bayern Munich are heading into the new season, for the first time, as the favorites to win the competition they’ve won five times in the past, including last year in their perfect season which included a treble and beating Dortmund 2-1 in the Champions League final. A new manager in Pep Guardiola brings with it some tactical and adjustment problems for new players, but besides their loss to Dortmund in the Super Cup while missing half of their lineup, they haven’t lost a match.
No more declaring of Barcelona as the favorites. They did win their fourth league title in five seasons last year with another superb Lionel Messi season, but were knocked out in the Semifinal of the Champions League after conceding 7 goals and scoring none. They’ve been to the semifinal for the last six seasons, and might bring forth the most exciting attacking duo in Europe this season with Neymar and Lionel Messi, who still haven’t done much together.
New manager with renewed expectations. Chelsea were knocked out in the group stage last season, the first time they weren’t in the round of 16 since the 2002-2003 season. They did, however, win the Europa League title and finish third in the Premier League, and have enjoyed a mostly successful start to the season in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho brings with him high hopes, but possibly not enough quality upgrading where it’s been needed.
A new era with a manager who is a two-time European Champion with AC Milan as a manager. Carlo Ancelotti replaces Jose Mourinho, coming in to a team that was torn apart socially. Real Madrid finished second in the La Liga and were knocked out in the semifinal of the competition for the third year running. They haven’t won or reached the final since 2002.
A new manager, David Moyes, who has never managed in the Champions League before. Manchester United are the Premier League champions, but haven’t made any significant signings, while their record over the last two seasons in the competition: one failure to qualify from the group stage and one exit in the round of 16 isn’t something to be too proud of.
By beating Fenerbahce in the play-off round, Arsenal make sure they’re in the Champions League for the 14th consecutive time. However, they finished 4th in England last season, and haven’t been past the round of 16 in the competition for three years in a row. No major signings coming in this season from Arsene Wenger means there’s a chance nothing much will happen this year as well.
Porto have won the league in Portugal 7 times over the last 8 seasons, and find themselves in the Champions League for the 10th time in the last 12 years. However, since winning the competition in 2004, they have been to the quarterfinals only once.
Benfica were knocked out in the group stage of the Champions League last season, and ended up losing in the Europa League final. Last season was about tragic endings – in Europe, in the league, in the Cup. They make it into the Champions League for the third time in four years, hoping to make it into the quarterfinals like in 2012.
An excellent season for Atletico Madrid was only enough for a third place in Spain (their best finish since 1996) and a round of 32 finish in the Europa League. It’s their first trip to the Champions League since the 2009-2010 season ,when they ended up getting knocked out in the group stage.
The Ukrainian champions of the last four seasons, they reached the round of 16 last season before getting knocked out by Dortmund in the round of 16. They’ve been to the quarterfinals only once (in 2010-2011).
Had to go through the play-off round and beat PSV in order to reach the group stage for the 15th consecutive time. They finished third last year in the Serie A, and were knocked out in the Champions League in the round of 16 by Barcelona. They haven’t made it past the quarterfinals since winning the competition in 2007.
Finishing fourth last season in the Bundesliga, Schalke had to go through the play-off and beat PAOK of Greece in dramatic fashion in order to reach the group stage of the Champions League for the third time in four years, making it to the round of 16 last time, knocked out by Galatasaray.
Back in the Champions League after a disappointing Europa League campaign last season. They finished second in Ligue 1 last year and have made an impressive start to their new season amid all the money being splashed around them. They’ve been to the Champions League five consecutive seasons before last year.
The Russian champions return to the Champions League after one season of “only the Europa League. They made it all the way to the round of 16 last time they were in the Champions League, and overall this marks their 4th group stage season since 2002.
It’s been a very long time since PSG have made it into the Champions League two years in a row, but it isn’t going to change soon. They made it to the quarterfinals last season and won the French championship for the first time since 1994. It hasn’t been the smoothest of starts for them so far with more new signings needing time to adjust.
Last season marked the dominant return of Juventus to European football, while winning the Serie A title for the second consecutive time. They’ve made an impressive start to the new season, including a 4-0 win over Lazio in the Italian Super Cup, and are hoping to make it at least to the quarterfinal of the Champions League, like they did last season, knocked out by Bayern Munich.
Finished second in Russia last season, while reaching the round of 16 in the Europa League. Their last visit to the Champions League was in the 2011-2012 season, reaching the round of 16, losing to Benfica.
Part of the reason Roberto Mancini was sacked had to be his failure to make it past the group stage of the Champions League for the last couple of seasons. City finished second in the Premier League last year and their competitiveness in the league is assured. Pellegrini’s main mission will be to make it into the round of 16.
Three consecutive championships in the Netherlands don’t translate into Champions League success, especially when Ajax keep finding themselves in the group of death. Ajax haven’t been past the group stage since the 2005-2006 season, failing to qualify from the group stage over the last three years.
A strong summer with great signings might mean that Dortmund are going to finish in the top 2 of the Bundesliga once again, and reaching the Champions League final for a second consecutive season isn’t so far fetched, despite the difficult odds.
Basel have won the Swiss title five consecutive years, and have made it to the group stage by beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Ludogorets Razagard of Bulgaria in the qualifying stages.
Almost eternal champions of Greece, they haven’t been to the round of 16 in the competition since the 2009-2010 season when they were knocked out by Bordeaux. Last season they played with Schalke, Arsenal and Montpellier, finishing third in the group stage.
Galatasaray have won the Turkish league for the last couple of years, but their success in the Champions League last season was a long time coming. It was their first visit to the competition since the 2006-2007 season, and it ended in a very impressive quarterfinals appearance. They knocked out Schalke in the round of 16, and made it very difficult for Real Madrid in the quarterfinal.
After finishing third last season in the Bundesliga, Leverkusen make it into the Champions League for the second time in three years. In 2011-2012 they made it to the round of 16, where they were knocked out by Barcelona, losing 10-2 on aggregate.
Copenhagen won the Danish league title for the fourth time in five years last season, but they haven’t been to the group stage of the Champions League since the 2010-2011 season, when they made a very surprising appearance in the round of 16, losing to Chelsea.
Finished second last season in the Serie A, but have made it back to the Champions League for a second time in three years, hoping to do a little better than in 2012, when they made it to the round of 16 out of the group of death.
It was quite a dramatic finish in Belgium last season as Anderlecht claimed their third league title in four years. They also made the Champions League group stage last season for the first time since 2006-2007. However, since the beginning of the competition, Anderlecht continue to fail in it, never making it into the round of 16.
Celtic have won the Scottish league title for the last couple of seasons and should have a few more seasons of domination until Rangers comeback. In the Champions League, they made it past the group stage for the first time since 2008, losing to Juventus in the round of 16. They’ve beaten Cliftonville, Elfsborg and Shakhter Karagandy in the qualifying stages to make it into it this season.
The Romanian champions haven’t been to the Champions League since the 2008-2009 season, never making it past the group stage in the current format. They’ve beaten Vardar, Dinamo Tbilisi and Legia Warsaw in order to reach the competition this season.
The Czech champions make it into the group stage of the competition for the second time in three years. They finished third in a group that included Milan and Barcelona last time, falling to the Europa League. They beat Željezničar, Nõmme Kalju and Maribor to reach the group stage in 2013.
A fantastic season for Sociedad last season saw them finishing fourth in the La Liga. They did very well in the qualifying stages, beating Lyon 4-0 on aggregate with some wonderful goals, making it into the group stage for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.
Austria Wien won the league title in Austria for the first time since 2006, and are hoping that their first group stage Champions League match will lead to more than the expected four place finish.