The Champions League returns Tuesday less than two months after Bayern Munich won the title. How are the teams ranked entering the group stage?
The world’s greatest club competition returns to action starting Tuesday as defending champions Bayern Munich look to lift the trophy again.
The Champions League concluded just two months ago after the coronavirus pandemic put the competition on hold back in March. The knockout stage, starting with the round of 16, resumed in August.
One of the biggest storylines to emerge on the eve of the tournament’s start is the rekindling of the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo rivalry after Barcelona and Juventus were drawn into the same opening round group.
The 32-team tournament will crown a champion in May 2021, barring any stoppages due to the virus.
Here’s a look at the top 10 teams entering the group stage.
10. Inter Milan
After losing the Serie A race last season to Juventus by just a point and the Europa League final to Sevilla, Inter Milan are a team hungry for a trophy. How they do in the Champions League will depend heavily on whether Antonio Conte’s side decides to prioritize the league race over the Champions League.
The London-based club bring lots of promise and excitement this season. U.S. star Christian Pulisic leads an all-star lineup that includes Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Thiago Silva. The names are all there. This is a team that can go either way (either go on a deep run or be eliminated in the group stage). A lot will depend on whether Frank Lampard’s side can find the right chemistry in the coming months.
Under first-year manager Andrea Pirlo, Juventus are trying to finally win the Champions League after last season’s sorry showing under coach Maurizio Sarri. Juve may dominate in Italy, but Ronaldo has been unable to push this team past the finish line in UCL play. It’s doubtful they can do it this season.
Don’t expect too much from Barca this season. Messi decided over the summer to stay, but the team lost a bunch of other players, most notably Luis Suarez. Messi remains a great player, but he doesn’t have much of a supporting cast this season.
6. Borussia Dortmund
The German club have one of the most-talented attacking duos in all of Europe with Norway’s Erling Haaland and American Gio Reyna. Add to the mix Jadon Sancho and Borussia are a team that can certainly surprise opponents as the competition progresses.
5. Paris Saint-Germain
Runners up last season, PSG are again poised for a deep run. It could very well be Neymar and Kylian Mbappe’s last chance in a PSG jersey to make something happen. Getting back to the final won’t be easy.
4. Manchester City
Like PSG, Pep Guardiola’s team have been built to win this tournament but failed at every turn. Will this season really be any different? The past says no. It’s up to Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne to come up big this season or expect another disappointment.
3. Real Madrid
The Spanish club is always among the favorites entering the Champions League. It was only a few years ago that Real Madrid dominated this competition. Veterans like Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema have the experience and talent to carry this team out of the group stage and beyond.
The 2019 Champions League winners are a team that should never be underestimated. Despite a recent knee injury to defender Virgil van Dijk that will likely sideline him for much of the fall, the English champions have plenty of great players (like Mo Salah and Sadio Mane to name just two) to get the job done in the group stage with an eye on the final.
1. Bayern Munich
The Bavarian giants could very well repeat after coach Hansi Flick’s team returned from the coronavirus pause in great form. Bayern captured the title after embarking on a record-breaking 23-game winning streak, which only ended last month with a defeat to Hoffenheim. One could argue that Bayern is even stronger this season and that striker Robert Lewandowski remains unstoppable. Only time will tell.