After the long gap created by the pandemic, there are twelve teams hoping to grab a win. There are four teams already through to the quarter finals, including Paris Atletico Madrid.
Atalanta and RB Leipzig. There are eight others, including the greats of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester City are still hoping to make it through their second leg matches. It all seems like a messy picture, but a few weeks in August it offers up some delicious action that we can enjoy.
Here we offer some predictions about who could become Europe’s Champs in the strangest year of the competition to date. While Liverpool won it last year, there will be a new champion this year.
The bookies prediction
If we look to where the smart money is going then we would have to pick Manchester City. They have been propelled to the position of favourites – and the club is certainly hurting after losing the Premiership title to Liverpool. Taking the Champions League title from Liverpool would offer some redress. Smaller motivations have led to bigger victories, you sense they will take the remaining matches personally.
Bayern Munich are also a favourite of the bookmakers. Bayern are bouncing into the tournament to come with the Bundesliga title and the obvious confidence this brings. If we think that being a title winner is a boost to chances, we should also acknowledge that Paris Saint-Germain will also pose a threat.
If you are wondering who to back if you want a long shot, then Chelsea is your team. Certainly, it would be an amazing, unthinkable achievement for Frank Lampard to take his young team to this title. However, they have had an excellent season and don’t under-estimate this scrappy underdog.
The best of the rest
While we would love to think that bookmakers can see the future, we should not discount any of those who remain in the competition. You might think Atalanta is a shock for this time in the competition. However, the Serie A club will be a formidable opponent for any team – and PSG. The team are on a 19-game unbeaten run in all competitions. If you think – so what? Well, 15 of these were outright wins. This team knows how to get the right result.
Barcelona you would have thought would have a chance and should also not be discounted. There is a heritage of winning the title at the club, which means they feel compelled to bring their better game. However, they are not at their peak of performance and they lost the title to Real Madrid this year. There is a joker in their pack that can always change a game – Lionel Messi has what it takes to bring home a result even if the support is weaker than normal.
Then, there is Atletico Madrid who have not been defeated in the last 18 games and they knocked out Liverpool in the last round. Therefore, they could be a surprise contender.
What the pundits say
The Eurosport pundits believe Man City have a chance but they are going to have to be at their best to do it. They have a hard route through and potentially four elite teams to beat. They have a head start against Real Madrid but will still have to work hard to protect this lead. Next could come Juventus and then Barcelona or Bayern Munich, there seems nothing easy about this road to the title.
Atletico Madrid and PSG gave an easier route through teams that are perceived to be lower class. However, these are unprecedented times and no one knows how these teams will respond to the tight timetabling of August fixtures. There are few pundits that seem to want to back PSG this year, which is a shock considering the fortune of talent that runs onto the pitch for the Paris-based team.
What the pundits seem to be revelling in more than any of the elite clubs in the tournament are those unknowns. For instance, Leipzig have never played Atletico Madrid before. Atletico has an admirable record about German sides in the last eight. But, then Atalanta and Paris have never played each other before either – and with Atalanta on a no-loss streak and Paris with no win in the last eight matches – who would dare predict the outcome here.
Wait and see
In reality, the pundits are definitely only right about one thing – the unprecedented times will have more impact on the result that form or talent. It is which team that will step up and perform in the round of 16 on the 7th and 8th August, in the quarter-finals from 12th-15th August, the semi-finals on the 18th and 19th of August and the final on the 23rd August.
Only on 23rd August at 11pm in Lisbon is the only time we could hope to be certain how this uncertain year with its unpredictable tournament will end.