OneFootball·20 September 2023
OneFootball·20 September 2023
The Champions League is back and Manchester City are favourites to retain the trophy having won it for the first time last time out. But which one club is the biggest danger to those ambitions?
As a Manchester City supporter of over 30 years, it’s still difficult for me to shed the pessimistic streak I grew up with, even after all the recent success.
For that reason, I think City themselves could be the biggest barrier to retaining the trophy this season. The summer transfer business was decent but I still wonder whether there’s enough squad depth to compete on multiple fronts again this year and in the latter stages of the Champions League, an injury to a key player like Rodri, Rúben Dias or Erling Haaland could be costly.
Inter ran them closest last season, narrowly falling to defeat at the final hurdle.
And Simone Inzaghi’s side are even better this year, starting the Serie A season in sensational form, sitting top of the table with a perfect record, scoring 13 times and conceding just once, a goal which came in a 5-1 thrashing of city rivals Milan.
Another kind draw could see the Nerazzurri return for revenge.
Going to have to go for the cliche shout on this one but there’s a reason why Real Madrid have won five out of the last ten tournaments.
Carlo Ancelotti is a mastermind when it comes to this competition and despite losing Karim Benzema they are still one of the strongest teams in Europe. Vinícius Junior will likely shake off injuries and find his form at some point in the season but there’s one decisive factor in their squad and he arrived from Germany in the summer.
Jude Bellingham has started the season in Ballon d’Or-winning form and if he keeps that up then Los Blancos could lift number 15 next spring.
If recent seasons have shown us anything, with City consistently going far in the Champions League and Liverpool challenging for both the Premier League title (winning it once) and Ol’ Big Ears (also winning it once and appearing in three finals), it’s that any side good enough to fight for the Premier League nowadays is good enough to have a crack at winning the Champions League too.
So why not Arsenal? The Gunners are back in the big time for the first time since 2016/17 and they will have to avoid injuries to be at their very best but that’s true of every team.
With a friendly enough draw — Inter’s run last year only saw them knock out Porto, Benfica and Milan for a place in the final — making it all the way to Wembley looks relatively realistic for any of Europe’s top five or so teams. Arsenal have the opportunity to prove that’s where they are right now.
The latter are increasingly a viable option after the Spanish champions showing hallmarks from their former manager’s heyday, aided by a few familiar faces.
İlkay Gündoğan already appears at home in the Blaugrana’s midfield while loanee João Cancelo looked increasingly solid in Tuesday’s 5-0 trouncing of Antwerp.
If the stars align this season, Xavi Hernández will fancy his chances of Guardiola’s former prize student finally becoming the master.