Change is in the air. This year could see the coveted Champions League trophy leave Spain for the first time in five years.
Lisbon. Berlin. Milan. Cardiff. Kiev. For the last five years, no matter where the Champions League final was played, the trophy always ended up in Spain. With Zidane leading a core squad based around talismans Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid achieved the unthinkable, winning three years in a row, reclaiming the crown from Barcelona in 2016. But change is in the air. With Zidane and Ronaldo leaving Los Blancos in the summer, the team has underperformed so far this season. Real Madrid doesn’t appear as formidable as in years past. Bookmakers around the world think the door has opened for a new club to take the trophy out of Madrid. Will it leave Spain altogether for the first time since 2013?
The bookies favorite, currently leading their group. Pep Guardiola is in his third year at the club, and City hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, domestically or in Europe. They strolled to the EPL title last year, smashing records left and right. They were surprisingly brushed aside in the Champions League by Liverpool (who went on to be finalists), but that should serve as valuable experience. With Sterling flying, Aguero back to his best, David Silva adding goals to his repertoire, and a defense reinforced by Mendy’s return from injury, City look like a force to be reckoned with. At the time of writing, City has scored 33 goals in 11 EPL games, with 12 goals coming in their last two games in all competitions. And that’s without De Bruyne, who’s been out due to injury.
Next match: Manchester City vs Lyon, 11/27 at 3 PM EST
Always a threat, and current group leaders. However, Barcelona hasn’t lived up to their high expectations since 2015. In fact, since that trophy winning year, the Catalan super club hasn’t progressed further than the quarter-finals, losing to Atleti, Juventus, and Roma, respectively. But this year, the magic of Leo Messi combined with the experience of, among others, Suarez, Rakitic, Umtiti, Pique, and Sergio Busquets, plus the flair of youth from the Brazilian trio of Phillipe Coutinho, Malcolm, and Arthur, spells danger for Barcelona’s Champions League opponents. They will want revenge after ducking out of last year’s tournament to Roma a little too easy. They currently lead La Liga, and with Real Madrid underperforming, Barcelona look the favorites if the trophy is to stay in Spain.
Next match: Barcelona vs PSV Eindhoven, 11/28 at 3 PM EST
This might be Juventus’ year. They’ve picked up 5-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo to add to the likes of Bonucci, Chiellini, Dybala, Matuidi, Khedira, and Mandzukic. They’ve only dropped two points in Serie A all year, and they still don’t look like they’re at their best. Ronaldo is just getting started, scoring his first Champions League goal — a stunning volley — in their dramatic defeat to Manchester United. That loss didn’t help, but they’re still top of their group and with Valencia and Young Boys left to play, they’re likely safe there. The Old Lady has appeared in two of the last four finals, losing first to Barcelona and then Madrid. Will the trophy follow Ronaldo from the Spanish capital to the north of Italy?
Next match: Juventus vs Valencia, 11/27 at 3PM EST
Bayern doesn’t look as strong as they have in the past, starting out their domestic campaign at a relative crawl compared to recent years. But, Lewandowski is still firing on all cylinders, with four goals already in the Champions League this year, and with experience at the back in the form of Hummels and Neuer, Bayern is always a threat. They’re undefeated in the competition so far, and top of their group.
Next match: Bayern vs Benfica, 11/27 at 3 PM EST
Liverpool and PSG
Liverpool stuttered against Red Star Belgrade and thus find themselves second in their group, one better than PSG who began the campaign with a loss to Liverpool, thanks to a late Danny Sturridge peach of a goal. The Reds aren’t favored to make it to the Champions League final again like they did last year, partially because it seems that Mo Salah has settled back to Earth from the stratosphere of greatness and is only performing well this season, not exceptionally. Despite that, don’t count them out. Their attacking trio of Mané – Firmino – Salah is still one of the deadliest attacks in Europe, and many have called their center half Virgil Van Dijk the best in England at the moment.
Meanwhile, in Paris, no team has ever started off a league campaign as well as PSG have this year, with 12 consecutive wins. Unfortunately for Neymar, Mbappe, and Co, they haven’t been able to translate their league success to the Champions League. With only one win from four, PSG is in the dangerous position of dropping out of the CL at the group stage for the first time since 2011, when they only made the Europa League. They need to win their next two games to guarantee qualification. Otherwise, they’ll have to ride their luck to get them through.
Next match: Liverpool vs PSG, 11/28 at 3 PM EST
Manchester City has some valuable experience to count on that they haven’t been able to refer to in the past. For Juventus, reinforced with the signing of Ronaldo, it looks like this could finally be their year. In my opinion, however, the Champions League isn’t leaving Spain, though it will move cities. With their mix of experience, youth, and Messi, Barcelona will need to seriously falter to avoid making it to the final, which I don’t see happening two years in a row. With most bookies giving them around 6:1 odds, I think it’s the right time to put some money on Ernesto Valverde’s boys.