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.
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.
8 T7. Arsenal – 20 to 1
7 T7. Juventus – 20 to 1
6 T5. Paris Saint-Germain – 12 to 1
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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