Every year, owners from around Europe spend their entire offseason trying to put together the missing pieces of the puzzle.
For many, it’s as easy as one or two pieces. For others, it’s akin to forging a Rembrandt.
Could it be a new coach? New players? New strategies?
These are the questions they constantly ask themselves. They put in hours and hours of dedication, desperately trying to come up with the answers. All of this in hopes of accomplishing that one career-defining goal: a league title.
It’s a goal only a select number of clubs will get to say they’ve accomplished in a given year.
It’s also a goal that grants these clubs into a more elite competition. A competition whose trophy is far more elusive and far more gratifying than any league title could ever be.
That competition is the Champions League.
Originally founded in 1955, the Champions League pits 32 teams from the best leagues around Europe in a battle royal for the title of “Champions of Europe.”
It’s one thing to say you’re the champion of your league. But to say you’re the champion of your entire continent? That’s on a whole other level.
On September 18 and 19, the Champions League began its 57th competition.
Year-in and year-out, the same crop of clubs seem to proceed into the knockout stage of the competition with relative ease. With hardly a scratch on the armor, these clubs treat the group stage more like a warm-up round to weed out the unworthy competitors.
While many of these teams survived the first round of the group stage, two teams were delivered serious wake-up calls.
The first were the defending champions themselves, Chelsea.
After two first half goals from recent acquisition Oscar put Chelsea ahead of Juventus 2-0, the Blues looked ready to set it on cruise control. They seemed poised to put an end to Juventus’ 42-match undefeated streak.
However, tactical errors defensively saw the Blues concede a goal only minutes before halftime. Then after coming out flat for the majority of the second half, Chelsea finally paid the price for their lack of focus.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, Chelsea captain John Terry made a poor decision to attempt an offside trap, setting Quagliarella free for the equalizer.
While a draw is not the end of the world, the Blues dropped two points that they firmly held in their grasp.
Now, Chelsea must play a lot harder if they still hop to come out on top in a group that is shaping up to be tougher than expected.
This week, the Blues face Danish side Nordsjælland.
Regardless of the fact that the Wild Tigers appear to be the weakest club in the group, this is a must-win for Chelsea. Dropping points in consecutive games will deal a huge blow to a Chelsea team that is looking to become the first team since Milan in 1990 to pull off the improbable repeat.
Following this week, the Blues play two against Shakhtar Donetsk, before traveling to Juventus, then returning home to play another against Nordsjælland.
Another English side finds themselves in trouble after the first round of group play as well.
It was a taste of their own medicine, as the Sky Blues sealed last season’s Premier League title in similar fashion.
It was just another disappointment in a season that has seen Manchester City drop points in games they should not.
Now, they face a German side coming off a first-round victory in Borussia Dortmund. Lose this game, and the Sky Blues stand a chance of falling behind by six points to both Dortmund and Real Madrid.
At that point, Manchester City might as well adjust their focus solely on repeating as Premier League champions.
Following this week’s competition, the Sky Blues face off twice with Ajax, then come back home to face Real Madrid, and then travel to face Borussia Dortmund again.
In a group that is considered the toughest group out of them all, Manchester City can’t afford to drop a point the rest of the way if they hope to follow up last season’s triumph with a first-ever Champions League trophy.