It’s still early to tell just how will Europe’s biggest club look heading into next season, but it’s safe to assume that the next Champions League winner will be one from the following group, which includes Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Why not Manchester United? David Moyes doesn’t know what the Champions League looks like, and United weren’t good enough with the same squad and a much better manager. Dortmund? Their golden era of competing with Bayern Munich isn’t over, but they gave it their best shot last season. This year will be a bit low key compared to the last.
The easy pick, and the defending champions. Up to this point, they haven’t lost a single player from their pretty much perfect squad, not to mention adding Mario Götze and a two-time European champions manager in Pep Guardiola.
Why yes? There isn’t much Bayern Munich actually need to change, except maybe add a player or two for depth. Mario Gomez is likely leaving, and who knows about Arjen Robben. Still, with Götze on the team, Bayern have so many options to play different ways up front, while nothing from their superb defense, which hardly conceded any goals in both major competitions has left. In fact, they might actually add to that line with David Luiz or someone else. Life isn’t the football manager game, and adding talent doesn’t always make a team better, but it’s hard to see how Götze’s arrival hurts them.
Why not? Adding a player to a position you’re already stacked in isn’t always a good idea. Ego (which there is plenty of at FC Hollywood) gets in the way, and Ribery and Robben won’t like to see their minutes getting hurt by a new player arriving, not to mention Toni Kroos suddenly finding himself out of a job or playing out of position. Teams will learn how to counter the attacking wings of David Alaba and Philipp Lahm, and there’s also a reason no team has repeated the Champions League title in over 20 years. You need luck on your side as well, and eventually, as good as Bayern are, you run out of it sometimes.
As long as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are on this team, it’s hard not to put them in the category of the favorites, although probably for the first time in six years, they aren’t the preseason favorites to win the title.
Why yes? Barcelona have already made the biggest signing this summer – Neymar, who is showing us every day, and against the likes of Spain & Italy as well, that he is the real deal, and with Xavi and Andres Iniesta still very capable of forming the greatest creative midfield duo known to man, Lionel Messi is going to have it easier than ever. Pedro and Alexis Sanchez will be better than last season, and Barcelona will get the centre back that solves all their problems in the back line.
Why not? Signing Neymar is great for business and popularity, but it doesn’t take care of Barcelona’s biggest problems: Their defense, and something about their system needing a tweak or two. Don’t get me wrong – it should be enough of an upgrade to retain the Spanish La Liga title, but the Champions League offers a much more difficult tactical problem, which Barcelona don’t have enough at the moment to solve.
So far nothing has been done to change a team that’s made the semifinal three consecutive seasons, but they were only one goal and a few minutes away from reaching the final last year. How much change is there going to be?
Why yes? Cristiano Ronaldo is still an unstoppable force of nature, with more rest than usual on his side this summer. Gonzalo Higuain will be replaced by someone better, and in any case, Karim Benzema is a better and more versatile player. The energy flowing through the club as Jose Mourinho finally leaves will be enough to have a much better start (the key period of last seasons’ failure) this time around, and Carlo Ancelotti knows how to win Champions League matches & titles.
Why no? Real Madrid have been chasing Barcelona for so long they ignored the changes in Germany, and remain a team that completely relies on Cristiano Ronaldo to win its matches. The last time a team with Ronaldo won the Champions League, they needed more than a little bit of luck in a penalty shootout, not to mention enjoying running through the competition just before the rise of the Spanish teams. Xabi Alonso is no longer an elite midfielder, while the players they have at right & left back are simply not good enough against teams that rely heavily on playing through the wings.
Just so people remember – PSG didn’t lose last season to Barcelona, and if it wasn’t for Messi coming on off the bench to save the day, we might have seen the French Club in the semifinal for the first time since 1995.
Why yes? PSG have a very solid team, with a very strong defense and one player (if he stays) that has no problem finishing matches on his own. Lucas Moura, playing for an entire season this time, is going to show everyone just how big of a superstar he is, while the Qatari ownership will find a way to improve the midfield and give Zlatan Ibrahimovic another talent to play off of.
Why not? The problem with Ibrahimovic? He forces a team to play in one style, and one style only. While it might be good in the long run (showing his success in league campaigns), in two leg encounters it’s easier to cut off the ball-supply to the Swede, not leaving the team with much, especially not a chance to win the tournament.
The return of Jose Mourinho brings the expected enthusiasm, and once the signings start coming in, we’ll see a team strong enough to make it a second title in three years.
Why yes? Chelsea have plenty of talent up front, but they do need a new striker. Jose Mourinho himself has made the semifinal of the competition for the last four years, and was just short of making the final with Real Madrid on all three occasions. Eden Hazard will finally get the chance to show he is one of the next big superstars of global football, and the biggest plus for Chelsea: Mourinho doesn’t mind playing ugly football to win.
Why not? Mourinho didn’t win the Champions League with Chelsea. He didn’t even reach the final. Chelsea have a terrible defensive and central midfield situation which might not be fixed in time, not to mention an aging defense and goalkeeper that needs more than once change. There is a limit as to how much money Mourinho is going to be able to spend on new players this summer, and it isn’t going to be enough to create a team to his liking.