No side has successful defended the Champions League but ahead of the start of the group stage this week bookmakers believe that Bayern Munich are good enough to achieve that unique feat. The German side were the best in Europe by some way last season and on paper they look an even stronger outfit this season and there has been a significant appointment that has strengthened the management of the side.
Pep Guardiola could have gone to Chelsea but following a year long sabbatical from the sport decided to make his next role after leaving Barcelona managing Bayern Munich. He had unprecedented success in a relatively brief spell with the Spanish club that he played for so it will be interesting to see if the managerial skills that were so effective at Barcelona translate into his role with the champions of Germany.
Munich beat Borussia Dortmund in May in the first ever all German Champions League final. Arjen Robben scored the winning goal late on but his side were clearly superior to their opponents and a win by at least two goals would not have been flattering. The relative strengths of both sides has swung in favour of Munich as they have signed Mario Gotze from their rivals.
The Bayern squad that were so impressive in Europe last season is pretty much the same for this campaign. The side still includes the nucleus of the German national side, supplemented by Robben who plays for Holland and Frank Ribery who represents France. That player was voted the best in last season’s Champions League in a recent poll.
The recent Super Cup match against Chelsea highlighted Munich’s ability and determination not to be beaten. They equalised literally in the last five seconds of extra time and then won a penalty shoot-out characterised by fine spot kicks before the unfortunate Romelu Lukaku missed the decisive one for Chelsea which cost them the Cup.
The match was no more than a friendly but it brought together two managers who wanted to gain some kind of edge over their counterpart ahead of more important matches in the Champions League. Jose Mourinho was irritated to come off worse but the match and Chelsea’s subsequent performances in the Premier League suggest a world class striker will be needed if Mourinho is to win the trophy he craves most for the third time in his career.
Manchester City look the best equipped of the English sides to win the Champions League. They have had tough draws in the last two years but look more capable of progressing to the elimination rounds this time. The new manager has plenty of European football experience and the signings made in the summer should compliment the players who will have learnt from the experience of the last two years.
Manchester United have a decent draw and progress to the next round should be secured with a match or two in hand. If Wayne Rooney decides to stay beyond January and finds his best form United will have two genuine world class players in him and Robin Van Persie to score the goals. The defence looks settled and the goalkeeper gets better each season. The key to their prospects is how well Marouane Fellaini adapts to a role as a midfield playmaker.
Beyond the German and English sides the only other genuine contenders are Spanish clubs. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona will be hoping huge investments in one player will prove the difference if they meet one of the German sides in the later stages of the competition. Madrid were eliminated by Dortmund and Barcelona lost to Munich in last year’s semi-finals but have both strengthened in order to become more competitive as the final approaches.
Gareth Bale is now the most expensive player in the history of the sport and an appropriate return on the investment would be the Welsh player helping Madrid win the Champions League for the first time since 2002 when Zinedine Zidane scored that stunning winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the final at Hampden Park. That was the last time Madrid appeared in the final and Bale has been bought to provide something extra in key matches against Barcelona in the league and knockout ties in the Champions League.
Cristiano Ronaldo has decided to stay with Madrid but the departure of Mesut Ozil to Arsenal could reduce the effectiveness of their midfield. Luka Modric will now become a key figure and the signs were good in Bale’s first game for the club against Villareal when he scored and Modric impressed in the middle of the field.
Barcelona have also not been shy in spending vast amounts of pesetas or Euros as it is now. The bright young thing of Brazilian football, Neymar, has been bought for 57 million Euros and ahead of the World Cup in his own country he will be expected to fit in alongside Lionel Messi. However, it will be interesting to see how players from Argentina and Brazil adapt to each other’s style.
Bayern Munich have played in three of the last four Champions League finals, though they lost in two of those. However, they looked just about unbeatable last season and a continuation of that level of form can see them become the first side to win back-to-back Champions Leagues.