UEFA Champions League: Which Club Is This Year's Sleeper to Win It All?

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UEFA Champions League: Which Club Is This Year's Sleeper to Win It All?
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Juventus - The Italian giants are back

At the turn of every new season, the media pushes the usual suspects as the prime candidates for the UEFA Champions League title. Barcelona, Manchester City and Bayern Munich are always tipped for glory, but what other club might have a chance at the world's most prestigious soccer tournament?

In May 2006, Juventus FC hit at an all-time low.

The Italian giants were at the heart of a massive match-fixing scandal that rocked Italian football and made headlines all over the globe. The Turin outfit were stripped of two Serie A titles and were relegated down to the Serie B for the first time in their 114-year history. ‘I bianconeri’ had truly hit rock bottom.

Six years later, Juve are back on top in Italy, coasting to their record 28th official title (many still count their two stripped titles) in the 2011/12 season. Star players Del Piero, Buffon and Matri led the club as they coasted through the Serie A unbeaten and with the best defensive record in Italy.

But their domestic dominance will not satisfy Juve and their passionate support; they want to reign as kings of Europe once more.

And they are more than capable of it.

Juventus have one of the best defences in world football—debatably even the best. They strolled through last season's Serie A with a monumental goal difference of 48. The outstanding defence of Chiellini, Lichtsteiner, et al. conceded only 20 goals in the league last season and is capable of enduring the attack prowess of any foe.

Another reason to fear Juventus is the midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Pirlo - The Architect

The veteran, deep-lying playmaker brings both class and experience to the Juve outfit, providing a dangerous attack threat from a cautious defensive position. The experienced defensive midfielder led the Italian national team to the finals of EURO 2012 with a series of enchanting performances.

Pirlo is famous for his long passing ability and is a well-known free-kick specialist—with "the architect" in their arsenal, Juventus will be able to carve up defences on the counterattack.

Turin’s finest also have one of the greatest ever as their last line of defence.

Gianluigi Buffon has been one of the exceptional keepers of this century and rivals Casillas for the crown of best in the world. Buffon led Italy to World Cup glory in 2006 and only conceded 16 goals in 35 appearances for Juventus last season; that’s less than a goal every two games.

Chelsea taught us that in order to win the Champions League, you need to be able to grind out wins at intimidating venues away from home, such as Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena.

In the 2011/12 season, Juventus showed that they have no problems away from the Juventus Stadium. Their average goals against in all games last season was a staggeringly low 0.45. They even tore Serie A rivals Fiorentina apart with a 5-0 scoreline in La Viola’s own back yard.

Juventus always have been and always will be the biggest club in Italy and one of the most prestigious clubs in European football. With an impressive 53 official honours to its name, there is a culture of success running through the Turin club.

Juventus expect to and are able to come out on top against any opposition from Cluj to Chelsea—‘Le Zebre’ can never be written off.

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