Everyone loves an outlandish prediction, and for this week, I am going to have a little fun. Whether things turn out spot on, or just hysterically wrong, it is always good to look back and see how close reality actually turned out compared to what was first though. And so on the eve of this year’s UEFA Champions League competition finally getting underway, it seems appropriate to have a guess in some form or another. So what will the rest of this article entail? The whos, whys and hows behind this year’s quarter-final line-up, of course! Now I am not fully in touch with the powers that be, so I cannot forecast who will play who, but it is just about within my power to release the correct eight teams. The first few will not surprise you.
FC Bayern Munich
The European champions are just that for a reason and it would be a brave man that bets against them reaching the semi-finals and indeed, beyond, in this year’s competition. They have strengthened the best squad in Europe over the summer with the additions of Thiago Alcantara and Mario Gotze, meaning places in the side will be at a premium and players will be hungry to get in the starting eleven and stay there. Their attacking power is frightening and if they can reproduce the same defensive performances as 2012/2013, led by the outstanding Manuel Neuer, they will go very close to retaining their crown.
Last year’s finalists made others stand up and take notice after an impressive 2013 run to the final. The fact Dortmund have hold of Robert Lewandowski for one more year means they possess one of the best goalscorers in Europe who troubled every side he faced last time round. I would be surprised if they reach the final once again having lost creative force Gotze across the country to arch-rivals Bayern Munich, and they will need players such as Bender, Gundogan and Reus to really step up and accommodate his loss. Jurgen Klopp finally has a good European campaign under his belt too, which should stand them in good stead in these latter stages.
Barca have started the 2013/2014 season in very mean (and successful) fashion, with four wins out of four in their La Liga fixtures so far. They have the Champions League pedigree, too, with two wins in the last five seasons. Expect plenty more attractive, attacking football that relies on the quick pass-and-move that they have become accustomed to. Their main new signing is of course the much-hyped Neymar. Much will depend on how he can slot in to a previously established system that clearly works. Of course, Lionel Messi continues to score goals for fun and as long as this pair stay fit, they will give anyone a very good game.
Arguably now possessing the most powerful attack in the whole competition, Real Madrid are definitely the team to watch. Any side that boasts Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria, Isco and now the world’s most expensive footballer Gareth Bale, they will strike fear into the hearts of every single member of whatever opposition. In Carlo Ancelotti they have a manger with nous and experience in delivering success in this competition. The only negative is the loss of Mesut Ozil to Arsenal, but Bale’s arrival has more than compensated for his loss. If they can sort out their back four and become more organised with a settled goalkeeper, they will go far.
Contentious pick number one comes in the form of the Parisien club. Why will they make the quarter finals? The quality in their squad is incredible and with names such as Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Motta, Cavani, Ibrahimovic, Pastore and Lucas Moura, it is undeniable. Towards the end of last season, the side really started to gel under Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc will look to build on this promise. They strolled to the French Ligue 1 title and are certainly due some European success. Their group is one of the easier ones and the goal will be progression to the later stages to have a shot at one of the best sides in Europe to prove their worth. Keep an eye on them.
English champions Manchester United will be looking to make up for last season’s upset and unfair dismissal against Real Madrid in the last sixteen. David Moyes has finally reinforced the United midfield with the smart investment in Marouane Fellaini, but it remains to be seen whether he will be the key to finding glory in this competition once again. Wayne Rooney, however, stays wearing the red shirt and his involvement may feel like a new signing after his future was thrown into turmoil at the end of the last campaign. It is realistic to expect United may do better this time out, but ultimate glory in the final may prove too much.
The return of the Special One means many Chelsea fans are expectant for this coming season. In his previous tenure, Jose Mourinho had the team organised efficiently and well-structured defensively which meant they were always a threat in European competition. Expect that to be no different now that he has returned. Up front he has added the experienced Samuel Eto’o alongside the likes of Andre Schurrle and Willian who give even more attacking bite alongside the proven likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard. If it all comes together, Chelsea will be very difficult to disturb and looking to prove their triumph of two seasons ago was no fluke.
Contentious pick number two comes from the less-popularised side of Madrid. Always teetering on the brink of something special, Atletico will want to finally make an impression now they have a straight shot at a European run this year. Again, the very final stages of the Champions League may prove too much: but at least in Thibaut Courtois they have a fine young goalkeeper for at least another season, whilst they have acquired David Villa on the cheap from Barcelona which may prove excellent business given his successes in this competition over the years. Always colourful going forward, the real test will be whether their backline can withstand some of Europe’s best attacking talent.
So there it is. I’ve officially confirmed the best eight teams and all the quarter finalists in the UEFA Champions League 2013/2014. Who have I left out? The likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Arsenal, AC Milan, FC Porto, Internazionale, Marseille, Napoli, FC Schalke, Benfica and Juventus, no less. All big calls, and of course the list goes on as well. But just you wait and see. I reckon I’ll get pretty close; in the meantime, enjoy matchday 1!