FC Barcelona: 6 Teams Who Could Beat Them to Champions League Glory This Season
Barcelona have been widely-heralded as the finest football team on the planet over the past three or four years, augmenting their plaudits with a trophy haul comparable to any of history's best sides.
After winning the UEFA Champions League in three of the last seven seasons—2006, 2009 and 2011—they were somewhat surprisingly beaten last season by a resolute and overly defensive-minded Chelsea side who went on to lift the trophy.
Under the guidance of Tito Vilanova this season, following Pep Guardiola's departure, FC Barcelona will be once more looking to establish themselves as the continent's best side by winning the Champions League once more.
Others, though, continue to also mark them out as one of the best teams—and raise their game accordingly in trying to beat them.
Here are six clubs that could win the Champions League ahead of Barça this season.
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We'll start with the holders and the side who knocked out Barcelona last season: Chelsea.
The English side are far-removed early on this season from the team who sat 10 men behind the ball in the semifinals.
Out went Didier Drogba, Raul Meireles and several other out-of-favour senior players.Taking their places are the younger, more creative and technical Oscar, Eden Hazard and the like, while Fernando Torres has finally been installed as the first choice striker.
The Blues are atop of the Premier League at present and have taken four points from their group games in the Champions League.
Question marks remain about the solidity of the defence and whether Roberto di Matteo can sustain success in his first full season, but they will certainly be more exciting to watch defend their title this term than they were in winning it last.
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Last year's beaten finalists Bayern Munich have strengthened over the summer, bringing in winger Xherdan Shaqiri and forward Mario Mandzukic amongst others. Bayern have started the season bang in-form, winning all seven matches domestically and one of their two in Europe.
Bayern have a big-club mentality, an expectation of winning trophies and will be severely hurting after last season finishing as runners-up all over instead of winning the treble: German Cup, Bundesliga and Champions League.
Despite a shocking defeat to BATE Borisov, Bayern should qualify with relative ease in their group and should certainly not be discounted in the knock-out stages as they seek a first European Cup title since 2001.
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One of the clubs who will be desperate to beat Barcelona if they run across their path en-route to the final is Manchester United.
The English club have been beaten in the final of the Champions League twice by the Catalan outfit in the past few years, losing 2-0 in Rome in 2009 and 3-1 at Wembley two years later.
United have a very straightforward group stage to navigate, where they have already taken six points from two games.
Cluj, Braga and Galatasary will pose no real danger to Manchester United, who are always a force over two legs in Europe.
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Malaga might be a bit of a surprise name but they are perhaps the third best side in Spain right now.
They are also going swimmingly well in their Champions League group stage and have a very real chance of doing well in the knock-out stages.
Much might be dependent on keeping hold of their key players over the winter transfer window, or even adding to their ranks, but the rivalry for Spanish sides coming up against the big clubs shouldn't be overlooked by outsiders—or, of course, by Barcelona.
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Likely the only possible threat from Italy, Juventus strolled to the Serie A title last season and early on this campaign look like a major challenger for victory again.
In the group stages they'll have to pick up somewhat to improve on their two draws thus far, but have more than a strong enough squad to get through to the knock-outs.
Once there, it would still admittedly be a shock for them to really challenge for the trophy, but with AC Milan the only Italian side to win the Champions League since the mid-1990s, Juve will really want to make their mark on the competition.
Juventus are outsiders, but potentially have the weaponry to challenge Barcelona should they come up against them.
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And, of course, Real Madrid.
Perhaps the closest team in terms of quality and depth anywhere in Europe at the moment to Barcelona, and of course certainly they are the team with the most rivalry with them.
Probably most football fans were expecting and wanting to see a Real vs. Barça final last year before both were dumped out of the Champions League at the semifinal stage; perhaps this time around we'll see it.
Any two-legged battle in the knock-outs before that would be a titanic tussle, as evidenced by the 2-2 draw this weekend in La Liga.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are arguably favourites No.1 and 2 to win the Champions League—anybody else who lifts the trophy will likely have had to beat at least one of these great sides en-route.