The Champions League is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and the easily the most prestigious club competition. Sixteen teams remain in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League, a 334-day journey that ends in Kyiv next May. Those teams are:
- Group winners: Manchester United (ENG), Paris (FRA), Roma (ITA), Barcelona (ESP), Liverpool (ENG), Manchester City (ENG), Beşiktaş (TUR), Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)
- Group runners-up: Basel (SUI), Bayern München (GER), Chelsea (ENG), Juventus (ITA), Sevilla (ESP), Shakhtar (UKR), Porto (POR), Real Madrid (ESP)
Real Madrid is the most successful club in the competition's history, having won the tournament 12 times, including its first five seasons. Spanish clubs have accumulated the highest number of victories (17 wins), followed by England and Italy (12 wins apiece). The competition has been won by 22 different clubs, 12 of which have won it more than once. The reigning champions are Real Madrid, who secured their twelfth title in the competition after defeating Juventus 4–1 in the 2017 final. Thus, they became the first team in the UEFA Champions League era to successfully defend their title. The 2018 final will be at NSK Olimpiyskyi Stadium, Kyiv – the stadium that staged the UEFA EURO 2012 final. The game is scheduled for Saturday 26 May 2018.
Below are the top 5 teams most likely to win this year’s competition...
5. Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich are unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions and had little problem in a Champions League group that featured PSG, Celtic, and Anderlecht. Granted, the German giants lost 3-0 in their away trip to Paris against the world’s most expensive footballer (Neymar) & co., but they beat Anderlecht and Celtic at home by a combined 6-0, defeated PSG 3-1 in the home leg and also took care of Celtic and Anderlecht in the away trips (2-1 wins for Bayern in both).
Most impressive, however, is Bayern’s form since the sacking of Italian maestro Carlo Ancelotti who was replaced by club legend Jupp Heynckes. Bayern have seen their energy transformed winning ten of their last eleven matches in league play, beating league rivals RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund to advance in the DFB Pokal, and they now sit 13 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table.
The lingering questions of Bayern’s pedigree under Ancelotti have been swiftly wiped aside by Heynckes’s “new year-same us” group. Is this spurt of form the direct result of Heynckes’ appointment, or has the team fully turned a corner into the familiar, well-oiled engine that fans are used to seeing?
Luckily, they have plenty of time to answer that and more. FC Bayern’s Champions League Round of 16 tie will come against Besiktas, with the first of two legs taking place on February 20.
4. Real Madrid
Nineteen... That’s how many points Real Madrid find themselves behind league rivals FC Barcelona. A matter of fact, "Loc Blancos" now sit in 4th place in La Liga behind Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. How’d that Clasico go, you ask? Let’s just say “not well” and leave it at that.
With Zinedine Zidane's men underperforming in the league, surely their Champions League form is soaring, right? Well, not necessarily. True – Real Madrid had absolutely no trouble with APOEL at any point in their aggregate 9-0 win over the Cypriot side, and they did beat Borussa Dortmund both home (3-2) and away (1-3). The trouble came in the form of Harry Kane and Spurs, with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 at home in the first meeting then falling 3-1 away in early November (thanks, Dele!).
Here’s the turning point, though: take all of this with a pinch of salt.
It is Real Madrid, after all. They are the first team to win the Champions League twice in successive years. Can they three-peat this year? No other club in the world – outside maybe Barca – expects more of its team each time they take the field (rightly so). No other club in the world jeers their team (not rightly so) like they do.
The overall point with Real Madrid is that, while they may not be a sleeping giant, per se, not counting them as title contenders – especially if they were to get past upcoming heavyweights PSG – would be downright foolish. The first leg between these two is on February 14 – an afternoon Valentine’s Day treat for those stateside.
3. Paris Saint-Germain
With the recent surge of talent headed to the French capital – looking at you, Neymar, Mbappe, etc. – it’s easy to see why Paris Saint-Germain have catapulted to the top of the favorites list for many pundits. Given the drama that seems to surround the club week after week, it’s easy to see why Unai Emery’s men have become the “desired teams to face” for those with comparable power.
There isn’t really much to hide when it comes to PSG, though, perhaps a strength and weakness all in one. Outside of their league defeat against Strasbourg in the beginning of December, PSG have won every competitive fixture they’ve played in since late October’s 3-0 win over OGC Nice to all but wrap up the title. They top the French table with 53 points, well in front of AS Monaco (42 points), Lyon (42 points) and Marseille (41 points). PSG have a full month to prepare for a visit to Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid.
2. Manchester City
The only English team with a claim to the throne (sorry Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea) - Manchester City are one of the most comprehensive teams in world football, and one who many are claiming might actually jump the Catalonians for the favorite in this year’s Champions League.
As always, the draw plays a crucial factor. We’re losing a top five favorite in the month of February alone just because Real Madrid and PSG go head-to-head, after all. Though fixture congestion is a major issue with Pep Guardiola this year, he’ll be more relieved than not to face FC Basel on February 13, no matter what he claims about them.
Whether Alexis Sanchez joins from Arsenal or not, this City team will be loaded to the max. Ederson has proven reliable and that backline is making significantly fewer mistakes than we saw in the earlier months. Couple that with the fact that City’s attack has yet to slow down and that Gabriel Jesus is due back in time to compete and you have one of the scariest sides in the league this year. Is a quadruple on the cards for @PepTeam? Maybe, just don’t ask him.
1. FC Barcelona
It should be of little surprise that, once again, FC Barcelona lead the line in the January list of favorites. Despite Philippe Coutinho being cup-tied after his move from Liverpool, Barca is stacked with a healthy Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Iniesta, Paulinho etc. – hence why Guardiola tipped his former club last month.
Clearing Group D with 14 points and no losses against Juventus, Sporting CP, and Olympiacos, the Catalan’s scored nine goals while conceding just one – impressive regardless of the opposition. The noticeable headline is doing it all without Neymar while retaining their impressive league position, but this Barca team goes a bit deeper than that. Valverde’s side are now unbeaten since August 20th and are poised to make a run even without their newest record signing Brazilian.
The Champions League draw, however, was not as kind to them as they would have liked. Barcelona travels for the first leg of their UCL tie with Chelsea on February 20. These two clubs have an interesting history when meeting in this competition (see 2009), and although the Blaugrana might be tipped as favorites for the entire show, even the biggest of giants fall.
The UEFA Champions League returns to action on Tuesday, February 14 on Fox Sports.
Author: Scott Stewart