Power Ranking the Top 10 Champions League Favorites for 2012
The 2012-13 Champions League could be the most exciting yet.
Why? There is no favorite. I know, that goes against this entire article, but after underdogs Chelsea went against all odds to beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich to be crowned champions of Europe, it's become apparent that there really isn't a favorite to do the same in 2013.
Nonetheless, I'll attempt to rank the 10 favorites to be lifting the Champions League trophy at Wembley next May, and will address the questions facing each team.
Keep in mind that the margins between each spot are very narrow, so, for example, the team ranked fourth isn't miles ahead of the team ranked sixth.
10. Paris Saint-Germain
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In my book, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan were competing for a place in this list, and ultimately it was PSG who edged it out.
Paris Saint-Germain have already signed Milan's best defender in Thiago Silva, and look set to sign their star forward, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. AC Milan will struggle to find replacements for those two players, and on the other hand, PSG will thrive with the two world-class additions.
Now that they're competing with Europe's elite, Carlo Ancelotti and PSG have to prove that they're the real deal.
9. Borussia Dortmund
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After winning successive Bundesliga titles, Borussia Dortmund still haven't threatened on the European front.
After they struggled in a tough group consisting of Arsenal, Marseille, and Olympiakos last season, Dortmund didn't play like German champions. Jurgen Klopp now has to build on his domestic success, and show that his side can compete with European giants and go head to head against the continent's strongest teams.
Borussia Dortmund has already shown strides in the transfer window, signing attacking midfielder Marco Reus as a replacement for Shinji Kagawa. Now that the team is more experienced in the Champions League after playing in the competition last season, can they make a push for the title?
8. Bayern Munich
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Surprised to see the 2012 runners up so low on this list?
Bayern Munich had an incredible run to the final last season which saw them thrash FC Basel, comfortably beat Marseille, and just edge past Real Madrid—but they ultimately couldn't finish the job, losing the final on their own turf to underdogs Chelsea.
Without the incentive of playing the final on home soil, I don't see Bayern Munich getting very far in this season's Champions League. Their star players have underperformed recently, with Arjen Robben proving himself as the least clutch player in the world, Franck Ribery as inconsistent as ever and even Mario Gomez having a horrible game in the final.
Although previous form doesn't matter much with a fresh season just around the corner, Bayern Munich could have trouble repeating their run to the final in 2013.
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Although they've never won the whole thing, Arsenal are always in contention for the Champions League title.
Year after year they qualify for the competition, and year after year they go on respectable runs before bowing out early in the knockout rounds. Besides making it to the final in 2006, Arsenal never really convince anyone that they can go all the way, and in recent years, the Gunners have failed to make a strong push in the Champions League to show that they're genuine contenders for Europe's top prize.
This season has to be the one where things change for Arsene Wenger's side.
One of the reasons I've put them above the likes of Bayern Munich and Chelsea on this list is because of the rumours emerging that Arsenal will keep van Persie for the 2012-13 campaign, facing the risk of him leaving for free next summer, but also with the chance that they can convince him to stay with the club if they enjoy success this season.
Assuming this risk is taken, Arsenal will have one of the deadliest strike forces in Europe with van Persie joined with Podolski and Giroud. It could be the year where the Gunners finally make their impression on Europe's elite.
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Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League through ugly, defensive football, as well as a bit of luck.
Actually, it was a lot of luck. And if it appeared that the Blues decided to take this route again in the 2012-13 season, I would rank them lower; however, that's not the case.
Judging by Chelsea's signings so far this summer, it looks like Roman Abramovic and his henchmen are building on the club's European title win by buying exciting, attacking players. Eden Hazard and Marko Marin will give Chelsea more flair and creativity when attacking, and the summer so far is definitely a sign of a change in playing style for the London outfit.
If the new signings gel well with the current squad and prove that they aren't more big money flops bought by the Blues, Roberto Di Matteo (or whoever is the manager in a few months) and his side could have a chance at retaining the crown.
5. Manchester City
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On paper, Manchester City could be serious contenders for the Champions League next season.
But trophies aren't won on paper. If they were, it would have been an El Classico final this past season. More importantly for City, if trophies were won on paper, then they would have gotten through their group consisting of Napoli, Bayern Munich and Villarreal.
In the Champions League, experience counts just as much as star-studded names on the teamsheet. Manchester City don't have much experience playing together as a team on the European front—similar to Borussia Dortmund. Roberto Mancini's side must prove that they can be a European powerhouse, as well as a domestic one.
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Juventus are back.
The Turin outfit brought back the glory days in their 2011-12 campaign, winning the Scudetto while going undefeated for the entire Serie A season. It was a remarkable year for Juventus, but seeing that they've swiftly returned to the Champions League, Antonio Conte must build on his success and look to threaten in Europe.
It may seem like a high ranking, but I see Juventus making an impression on Europe's elite in their first year back in the competition.
Practically half of the Juventus squad consists of players that come back fresh from an excellent Euro 2012 campaign with Italy that saw the Azzuri reach the final against all odds. Georgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzalgi and Claudio Marchisio all had good tournaments with Italy, while Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon were particularly brilliant.
They've got the experience and professionalism, and if the squad that swept Serie A in 2011-12 shows up in the 2012-13 Champions League, "The Old Lady" can definitely make a push in this year's tournament.
3. Manchester United
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In my opinion, Manchester United's recent European disaster was a rare and unprecedented off season.
Failing in one of the seemingly easiest groups in the tournament before failing once again in a competition made for Europe's smaller powerhouses, Manchester United's 2011-12 European campaign will be one to forget for the club's supporters.
Sir Alex Ferguson has moved on, already addressing the weaknesses in his squad already this summer by strengthening their midfield with the signings of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell. So despite their shortcomings in Europe this past season, Manchester United will still be one of the Champions League favorites, as always.
Manchester United's biggest motive in 2012-13 will be to show that their previous trophyless season was only a blip in the club's illustrious recent history. With many talking about a power shift in Manchester, Sir Alex will be looking to silence those doubters and restore the glory to Old Trafford.
2. Real Madrid
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The 2011-12 season was the first taste Real Madrid got of, for once, not being second best.
For the past few seasons, Real Madrid have been up there with the best clubs in the world, but because of arch-rivals Barcelona's incredible success in these seasons, Madrid have always found themselves second best.
This season, things were different—Real Madrid set Spain alight in their 2011-12 campaign, winning La Liga with a record 100 points. They lost out in the semifinals of the Champions League to Bayern Munich on penalties, but in my mind, had Jose Mourinho's side gotten to the final, they would have beaten Chelsea to be crowned European champions.
That didn't happen, though, and Real Madrid now have to focus on showing that they're not just the second best in Europe. For now though, they are.
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Barcelona are currently the team with the most questions to answer.
For most teams, winning the Copa del Rey, getting to the Champions League semifinal, and finishing second in La Liga isn't such a bad season. For a club of Barcelona's standards, though, it means some serious questions are asked about the team.
With Pep Guardiola gone after four years of unbelievable success, Tito Vilanova now takes over with massive shoes to fill. Barcelona will still be favorites to be crowned European champions, but if they do anything but that in 2012-13, they certainly won't be favorites anymore.
This season is crucial for Barcelona, as it will decide whether or not the dynasty of the last four years continues or fizzles.