The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious club competition in world football. It matches the top teams from every European country against each other in a grueling competition that takes place all across the continent of Europe, beginning with qualifying in July to the final in late May. Every footballer at some point dreams of playing in the competition and hopes to lift the trophy with “big ears” at the end of their continental campaign. For many players it will remain a dream, but for the teams favored in the top 10 it is an expectation to excel in the competition.
Those in the top 10 are the most elite teams in all of Europe, making them the finest clubs in the entire world. These clubs have already spent over €1.2 billion in this summer’s transfer window to improve their squads. The level of investment in these clubs is at an all-time high. Managers are constantly attempting to find the next tactical evolution or emerging star to give their squads an advantage. International football is a game of constant one-upmanship. These clubs are poised on the brink of greatness, having all finished at the top or within the top 4 of their respective leagues in the previous season.
With domestic campaigns around Europe kicking off in the coming weeks, UEFA Champions League group stage play will begin on September 16. As teams scrap and struggle to qualify for group stage play the field of competitors is still not yet full. Defending champions Real Madrid have already bolstered their squad to defend their crown. Challenging them will be nine other squads who make up the ten teams with the best odds of lifting the trophy in Berlin next May.
10 Atletico Madrid – 25 to 1
The runner up in 2013-14 returns to the competition with a dramatically changed squad. The trio of Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa, and Felipe Luis have all left for Chelsea. Striker David Villa has left the Spanish club to join MLS expansion franchise New York City FC. They have replaced these experienced talents with several high profile transfers including the French playmaker Antoine Griezmann. The €30 million Griezmann acquisition was not the only key move that manager Diego Simeone made during the summer. He also acquired goalkeeper Jan Oblak, former Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, left back Guilherme Siqueria, and 19 year-old striker Angel Correa for a total of €58.5 million, bringing their summer spending to €88.5 million.
Last season, Diego Simeone proved that his squad could beat the best teams in Europe. They captured the La Liga crown, beating out both Barcelona and Real Madrid over the 38 game season. Simeone’s men also proved that they can compete among the most competitive clubs in Europe on football’s greatest stage. They have replaced their outgoing talent with a new crop of elite players that give the team a youthful injection while maintaining a veteran influence.
9 Liverpool – 22 to 1
Losing Luis Suarez during the summer was almost an inevitability after the Uruguayan striker contributed 31 goals last season. Liverpool received the tidy sum of €81 million for the villainous striker, which gave them more than enough money to bolster their squad. Their efforts to replace Suarez began with the alliterative Southampton trio of Lallana, Lambert, and Lovren. They were soon joined by Divock Origi, Emre Can and Lazar Markovic which brought their summer spending total to €111.4 million.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has already captured a Champions League winner’s medal. He remains a steady midfield presence alongside young English talents like Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, and Daniel Sturridge. Brendan Rodgers has squad depth that should allow his to compete successfully in multiple competitions. After a four season absence from the Champions League, the mighty Reds are making their return. After falling just short in the Premier League title race last season, this squad will now have the added pressure of the continent’s greatest competition. Their young talent will need to show maturity and level headedness if they are going to win the Champions League this season.
8 T7. Arsenal – 20 to 1
Arsene Wenger won his first trophy since 2005 when he led Arsenal to the FA Cup title last season. The Arsenal manager has come under fire in recent years for refusing to spend, but he has cast aside this label in the last few transfer windows. Last season their major transfer coup was Mesut Ozil and this season he is joined by Chilean supertstar Alexis Sanchez. Wenger also added French defender Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina, and Calum Chambers. This Arsenal squad now possesses a squad depth that it hasn’t had for years. Years of earning the coveted “fourth-place trophy” will allow them to field a squad with plenty of Champions League experience, however the question remains whether they can perform at the top level.
7 T7. Juventus – 20 to 1
Juventus is coming off another successful Serie A campaign. This most recent campaign ended with them lifting the Scudetto for the third consecutive season. However, this offseason has seen them lose manager Antionio Conte. They have replaced him with Massimiliano Allegri, the former manager of rivals AC Milan. So far this transfer window has seen the departure of Mirko Vucinic, Federico Peluso, and Fabio Quagliarella. Several clubs are rumored to be interested in their midfield talents Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba. They have added former Real Madrid star Alvaro Morata and Manchester United cast off Patrice Evra, but they will need to look to veterans like Claudio Marchisio and the midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo to guide them to victory in this competition. If they perform up to their capabilities, Juventus could be a dangerous team to watch.
6 T5. Paris Saint-Germain – 12 to 1
Paris Saint-Germain is comprised of a collection of superstars of international acclaim. Their attack is led by the indomitable monolith Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The heart of their backline are the two players to wear the captain’s armband for Brazil this summer, Thiago Silva and the €50 million arrival David Luiz. While they may have to deal with the looming departure of striker Edinson Cavani in the coming weeks, PSG will still field a squad with incredible star power. French midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye expertly compliment the playmaker Javier Pastore who notched 18 goals and 18 assists last season. Manager Laurent Blanc will have to deal with several big personalities, but on their best days PSG is capable of beating any club in the world.
5 T5. Manchester City – 12 to 1
The defending Premier League champions still have yet to prove their mettle in the UEFA Champions League. Now in their fourth season in the competition, the pressure is on Manchester City to deliver big performances to lift them out of the group and make a run in the knockout stages. So far in the transfer window the club has been quiet, only adding veteran defender Bakary Sagna, Brazilian midfielder Fernando, and backup goalkeeper Willy Caballero. Captain Vincent Kompany will be at the helm in defense, but will need to require improvement from the rest of his back four.
Manchester City have an embarrassment of riches in attack. Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero is the lethal spearhead of the attack to go along with the pace and trickery of Jesus Navas and David Silva. They are joined by the most dominant central midfielder in the world, Yaya Toure. Toure was rumored to be on his way out of Manchester early in the transfer window, but talks have cooled in recent weeks. If they are able to remain solid in defense, it is going to be hard to compete with the firepower that City has at their disposal.
4 Chelsea – 10 to 1
Jose Mourinho did not lift a trophy in his first year returning to Stamford Bridge. Last season saw Chelsea sell Juan Mata, while this summer saw the departure of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, David Luiz, and Samuel Eto’o. The squad that returns is dramatically different than the squad that lifted the Champions League trophy in 2012. Eden Hazard is now the focal point of attack. Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, and Felipe Luis have been added to the squad. Costa and the return of Didier Drogba transform a weak position in their last campaign into a strength in their current one. The Blues had one of the top defenses in Europe last season. The defense is led by John Terry and Gary Cahill who form one of the most dominant center back partnerships in the world.
The midfield will suffer without the goal scoring talents of Frank Lampard, but Marko Van Ginkel may take on a larger role in order to compensate. Oscar, Ramires, and Willian maintain the squad’s Brazilian influence with each contributing creativity and determination. Chelsea also possesses an advantage no other squad can boast, two of the best keepers in the world. Thibaut Courtois returns from a mutli-season loan at Atletico Madrid where he led them to the Champions League final and La Liga title. Petr Cech remains one the world’s best shot stoppers. Outwitting Jose Mourinho is a monumental task for most managers, breaking down his Chelsea defense may prove to be impossible for many.
3 Barcelona – 9 to 2
Luis Suarez, Neymar, and Lionel Messi could be a legendary attacking force that soccer fans will be talking about for years to come. Last season, Barcelona fell short in their La Liga campaign and were eliminated earlier than expected from the Champions League. This season, new manager Luis Enrique is expected to produce results immediately. Barcelona has strengthened their squad in addition to adding Suarez by purchasing Ivan Rakitic, defender Jeremy Mathieu, and adding two keepers to replace Victor Valdes.
The Barcelona starting keeper job is up for grabs between German Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo. If either proves their mettle in the early season the job could be theirs. Gerard Pique looks to return to form after struggling significantly in the most recent season. As football moves away from tiki-taka, it will be a difficult task for Barcelona to transform. Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi now have the next generation of talent to educate in the ways of Barcelona. This is a team accustomed to winning and that will not change this season.
2 T1. Bayern Munich – 4 to 1
After falling to Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semifinal, Bayern Munich is seeking vengeance. Boasting a squad comprised mostly of Germans that featured on the World Cup winning side, signifies that Bayern is ready to return to the final as they have done in two of the three previous seasons. In the offseason they added striker Robert Lewandowski from rival club Dortmund, which gives them another potent attacking threat to pair with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. That attack also features the World Cup Silver Boot winner, Thomas Muller.
Bayern possesses a stellar attack, but their greatest strength lies in their defense. Manuel Neuer is the best keeper in the world and continues to revolutionize the position with his penchant for playing the ball outside of the area. That defense is buoyed by the best right back in the world Philipp Lahm, whose stalwart influence cannot be overstated. Jerome Boateng, Dante, Holger Badstuber, and David Alaba comprise the remainder of this backline that only conceded eight goals in the competition before they were decimated by Real Madrid. Pep Guardiola has said he is on the hot seat if Bayern do not perform, but there is nothing that can stop Bayern except themselves.
1 T1. Real Madrid – 4 to 1
The defending champions, Real Madrid, are co-favorites in the Champions League. They seek to become the first team to repeat as champions since Milan performed the feat in the late 1980s. In order to accomplish their goal, they purchased Colombian dynamo James Rodriguez from Monaco for €80 million. James joins Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to form an attacking trio that only Barcelona and Bayern can hope to match. Former Bayern star Toni Kroos has joined the squad and his dissecting passes will be sure to drive defenses crazy.
Madrid has also signed Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas, who is coming off the tournament of a lifetime with the Ticos. He could be a long term solution to Madrid’s keeper problems after last season saw the dramatic decline of their captain Iker Casillas. Their defense remains the same, with Varane, Ramos, and the villainous Pepe returning to the defending Champions. Their midfield features the cultured talents of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric, and Isco, who should be able to pick up any slack should Angel Di Maria move from the club as rumors have suggested. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has found success at virtually every stop in his illustrious career, repeating as Champions League winners would make him a Madrid legend.
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