WHO WILL WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE?

[ This is continuation of the article – No Surprises in the Champions League ]

The Road to Wembley is nearing its end
The Road to Wembley is nearing its end

With the second legs of the quarter finals to come, here is a look at how each of the eight teams’ prospects of winning the Champions League fair. Plus an analysis of what to expect from each club in the years to come.

With the team most likely to win the Champions League first,

1.    FC BARCELONA

Despite everything, they remain the class act. That they did not manage to lose a game in which they were significantly outplayed is testament to that. In the end, it felt as if PSG had snatched victory from their jaws.

As the second leg returns to the Camp Nou, there is no doubt that this is the stage on which they perform most. This was most certainly witnessed with AC Milan in the last round and even in last season’s sem-final defeat to Chelsea, their start at the Nou Camp showed just how brilliant they are at home.

The best team in the world
The best team in the world

The big question is whether it will be done with or without Lionel Messi. But for such a great side, that should not be highly disruptive. Yes, Messi is such an added advantage – but such an advantage adds to a team already laced with advantages everywhere you look.

The reason that Barca tops this list is that even with a semi-final draw to come, it is the only club that looks most capable of overcoming anyone and anything. Of course, avoiding Real Madrid or Bayern Munich would be great. But this team has a personell so used to dealing with big games on big occasions such as in this same competition, the World Cup and the European Championships. As such, if there is any team that can overcome anything, it is this one.

2.    REAL MADRID CF

No competition so defines Real Madrid more than the European Cup. The fact that the search for la decima (tenth title) has taken ten years has now led to it being an urequited obsession.

There is no better time to reclaim it than now. As such, it has formed the unifying factor in a season that has divided opinion, egos and subsequently attention. To calm the civil war, the need to win the Champions League has taken center stage.

But, a small shortcoming lies in the fact that in the Round of 16, Manchester United displayed just how to play against them. This would have been helpful especially to Bayern Munich, who themselves applied the same tactics successfully in last season’s semi-final. Thus, Madrid may sense it much easier to play against Barcelona than against Bayern. Not only because they have a recent decent run over them, but also because the Catalans will never revert to the defensive tactical shapes that United did, or that Bayern Munich did last year.

That risk however against a team of Barca’s quality would better be reserved for the one-off tie that is the Final. Before then however, Madrid bear the best challenge for the Champions League trophy.

Of great bearing is that for a team of this status, this is the final chance at turning an otherwise disastrous season into a meaningful one. Add Jose Mourinho – the best manager in the world at managing knock out ties and you have a potential recipe for success.

3. FC BAYERN MUNCHEN

They seem to have learnt from the pains of last year where the final kick proved insufficient on three fronts – most painfully in this competition’s final.

A verve of confidence has characterised their overall season. Brilliant displays in both the Bundesliga and Champions League has led to them being champions in the former and favourites in the latter.

The stagger of last season has been replaced by swagger.

But, as Arsenal showed in the last round, the overconfidence does at times breed complacency. It is that that means they have not fully yet finished off Juventus, and lays questions as to how they may perform against teams of better quality.

As such, these teams for now are Real Madrid and Barcelona. On the basis of personnel alone, Bayern lag slightly behind in terms of overall quality. Their squad is not as complete as that of the two Spanish sides.

That however does not mean that they are out of it. Given a fighting chance, Bayern will most certainly capitalise and that is why they are at par with those two Spanish sides in as far as the quest to win the Champions League continues.

4. PSG

The clear advantage that PSG possess is that in Carlo Ancelotti, they have a manager experienced enough to know what to do and when to do it. This is the man who after all, won more Champions Leagues than Serie A titles in his eight years at AC Milan.

As such, he has used the millions in his possession to assemble a quality European side. It may fail the collective test, but individually, PSG is a great side.

It is why they still hold Barcelona to a draw and why, if they do manage to get past them, will have the added confidence to probably go all the way. For that to happen, its leading lights – Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Thiago Silva, Carlo Ancelotti and to an extent, David Beckham – will have to be at their very best.

5. BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Their major shortcoming lies in the fact that they lack the ruthless clinicality required of champions.

Even if they do get to the semis, it is difficult to imagine them taking their one chance on goal – as Didier Drogba did last season against Barcelona.

For this young side, it is the most valuable learning experience they will ever get. That also applies to their manager, Jurgen Klopp, whom is also taking all this in for the first time.

Consistent performances like these mean that if this side is not separated, it has the potential to become a Champions League winning side – just as the young Manchester United side of 1999 benefited from reaching the latter stages in its two previous seasons.

6. JUVENTUS FC

Flattering to deceive, their performance against Bayern Munich revealed their true colours. That for a team which carries a name as illustrious as this, Juventus is merely benefitting from the history imposed on them rather than the success which this current team has actually achieved.

That is true in as far as European competition is concerned. For as far as Match Day 4, Juventus had gone nine consecutive games in European competitions picking up draws. That goes back to the Europa League of 2009-2010 where six of those draws were attained in the six Group stage games that were played then.

Beginning with Match Day 4, five consecutive wins were picked up. This however was against sides as weak as Celtic FC and Nordsjaelland, a transitory Chelsea, and a wasteful Shakthar Donetsk.

Antonio Conte can llook to a bright future
Antonio Conte can look to a bright future

That is why on meeting such elite opposition as Bayern, their flaws were exposed. As such, it would take a huge mental barrier to  overcome the position they now find themselves in. Further still, to go on and win the competition.

However, the mental block of the Group stages was unlocked with this team and, latter stages will most likely be a guarantee in future. Also, how quickly Antonio Conte comes to master the Champions League means that the imposed history of past years will be fulfilled by this team in future.

7. MALAGA

That they are not down and out is only due to the fact that Dortmund were wasteful. Whether they get past is one matter, but of certainty is that they will not win the whole competition.

It has been a dream debut run, and one that not only ends now – with UEFA having suspended them from European competition for next year (pending appeal) , it will be a while before we see Malaga again . Thus, any further excursions into European competitions by the likes of Isco will have to be away from Costa do Sol.

It is surprising that Manuel Pellegrini’s debut run in this competition was in 2006 – when he led a debuting Villareal to the semis and only missed out on the Final after Juan Riquelme’s penalty miss. For him, these experiences, coupled with his other Champions League experience while at the helm of Real Madrid may mean that if an opening in any of the continent’s big clubs were to arise, he would be perfectly placed to lead them into the Champions League. With a squad as good as, say,  Manchester City’s, one wonders just how much he can do.

For now, the best he can hope for is that fortune favours his side and that he will at least have the chance to contest another semi-final – but no further.

8. GALATASARAY SK

Their braveness cost them in the end. This season will be characterised by how they managed to give a good account of themselves at stadiums such as Old Trafford and Bernabeu – but ultimately lost on both occasions. It may have worked at Schalke and Braga and Cluj – but not at the most compelling of venues.

Thus, if Fatih Terim is to take anything from this, it is that at times, respect for opponents requires accepting one’s weaknesses.

It is all good when this gung ho approach is being practiced at home, where the intimidating crowd of the Turk Telecom Arena (world record holders for the loudest stadium roar in world football) are cheering you on. But when that is out of the question, strategy has to compliment the bravehearts.

As such, lack of the same means that Real Madrid’s trip to ‘hell’ will not be as significant as it should be. Of all the teams remaining, it is they who are clear certainties to be knocked out.

It would take a miracle for them to progress, let alone win it. For a competition which already is at a stage where surprises are out of the question, miracles are unfathomable.

[ Prior to this article, ‘No Surprises in the Champions League’ was written. Read it here ]

**All images courtesy of zimbio**

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