Champions League 2021/22
As the first international break draws to a close, the much-awaited new season of the UEFA Champions League is set to get underway in the coming week. Europe’s elite clubs have significantly bolstered their ranks in the summer transfer window, hoping to not only challenge but also defy expectations in the tournament.
In addition to the familiar names this time around, a new raft of ambitious clubs too, mark their return to Europe’s elite competitions, several years after repeatedly failing to qualify for the tournament. Current UEFA Europa League Champions, Villarreal, return to compete in the Champions League after ten years of absence in the competition. Meanwhile, Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol also return as the first club from their nation to qualify for the competition since their previous feature in 2010/11.
High-profile names such as Paris-Saint Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Chelsea, among others, are, yet again, strong contenders for the trophy, having significantly boosted their odds following exemplary movements in the transfer market. With several clubs in strong contention this time around, the upcoming Champions League season is host to several mouth-watering encounters as clubs from across the continent battle it out at Europe’s premier club football tournament.
1.) Chelsea (England, Last Season: Champions)
Current holders of the UEFA Champions League title, few expected the Blues’ to go all the way in the tournament. Following an inconsistent start to the campaign under Frank Lampard, the appointment of Thomas Tuchel brought stability for the remainder of the season as Chelsea went on the progress in the competition.
The Blues ultimately defeated domestic rivals Manchester City to clinch their second Champions League title as they go in as favourites for the competition this time around. Exceptional business in the transfer market ensured the club backed the manager and addressed the problematic positions in the squad. The arrival of Romelu Lukaku provides them with the much-needed imposing presence and clinical finishing upfront while Saul Niguez – on loan- from Atletico Madrid strengthens their midfield options.
Overall, Tuchel has every area covered to mount a strong challenge for the Champions League title this season. Having already tasted success last season, Chelsea are extremely capable of building on their achievement and maintaining their consistency in the competition going into the tournament.
2.) Paris Saint-Germain (France, Last Season: Semi-Final)
Widely regarded as a ‘FIFA XI’, an influential transfer window has made the Ligue 1 giants overwhelming favourites for the trophy this season. Though the club have repeatedly failed to cross the final line – most recently losing to Bayern Munich in the 2019/20 final – PSG’s acquisitions mark them as prima facie favourites going into every game in the competition.
A sparkling transfer window saw them recruit the services of multiple former Champions League winners in Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, and Georginio Wijnaldum, while the club have also managed to keep hold of their star forward in Kylian Mbappe despite strong interest for Real Madrid. PSG are arguably the only team to boast world-class talent in every position, thus, making them clear favourites for the title.
In Mauricio Pochettino, PSG have a coach capable of taking them past the finishing line, however, considering his poor record vis-à-vis winning silverware, the Parisian club’s campaign will make for an intriguing affair this time around.
3.) Bayern Munich (Germany, Last Season: Quarter-Final)
Favourites for the Champions League title for several seasons now, Bayern struggled to assert their domination owing to injury concerns last season. The German Champions, however, once again, return as strong contenders this season on the back of a shrewd transfer window, having bolstered their ranks for the battle up ahead.
Rampant performances in the 2019/20 campaign saw the club cakewalk toward the European title that season. However, an injury to their talisman Robert Lewandowski and vulnerabilities in defence resulted in a disappointing loss to PSG in the quarter-final the following year. With the return of several key players and new arrivals in Marcel Sabitzer and Dayot Upamecano strengthening squad depth, Bayern are, yet again, understated favourites to challenge for the cup this season.
With Julian Nagelsmann at the helm, the club have a young and hungry manager undoubtedly capable of guiding them to European glory. Provided he replicates and improves on his past successes at RB Leipzig, the German manager could well attain a European trophy in his first season at the Bavarian club.
4.) Manchester City (England, Last Season: Final)
Following years of disappointment in the tournament, Pep Guardiola ultimately guided the Cityzens to their maiden Champions League final only to be outplayed by an invigorated Chelsea side last season. However, hoping to clinch the title this time around, City came leaps and bounds in the transfer market, smashing a British-record transfer free to acquire the services of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa this summer.
Comprehensive victories on course to their maiden final saw Guardiola’s side emerge as unshakable favourites for the trophy last season, however, City ultimately failed to cross the finishing line when it mattered most. This time around, Guardiola will be extremely keen on breaking the deadlock and guiding City to their first European honour in the history of the club.
Under Guardiola, City have by far been the most consistent side in domestic competitions, however, the all-elusive European cup will be the definitive marker of Guardiola’s success at the Manchester club.
5.) Manchester United (England, Last Season: Group Stage)
Following sensational performances against PSG and RB Leipzig during the group stages last season, the Red Devils looked set to traverse deep into the competition, however, an unexpected defeat against Istanbul Besaksehir and subsequent loss of momentum saw them unfashionably drop to the Europa League. Then, overwhelming favourites for the Europa League, the club made it to the finals but disastrously failed to emerge victorious against a resilient Villarreal side.
Now, following an impeccable transfer window, the Red Devils are outstanding favourites for the Champions League trophy this season. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo gives them an ineffable boost in the dressing room, while, in Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, the team now boasts valuable experience to tackle crunch moments during challenging Champions League nights.
United are undoubtedly battle-hardened following several disappointing losses in the latter phases of domestic and European cup competitions in recent seasons. The manager, Ole Gunnar Solsjaer, boasts a squad capable of challenging on multiple fronts this season however, it remains to be seen if the club can emerge from their setbacks in recent cup competitions.