The 21st year of the UEFA Champions League could be the best one yet.
The UEFA Champions League is an exciting time for soccer fans around the world for the better part of the year. The 58th year of the tournament and 21st as the UEFA Champions League has the billing to become the best ever.
As the group stage comes to a close, the drama heats up. With teams like FC Barcelona, Manchester United, Malaga and Arsenal already poised for another berth into the round of 16, this year’s Champions League is loaded with talent among the favorites.
The 21st installment of the UEFA Champions League has all the ingredients to become the best ever and here is why.
The lights are shining bright on FC Barcelona.
There hasn’t been a 20-plus-point favorite in the Champions League this century, but FC Barcelona has nearly a 21-point advantage in the Club Coefficients in 2012. Defending champion Chelsea is fifth and nearly 24 points behind.
Barca is a solid team, with four Champions League titles since 1991. Most recently, Barca took the honors in 2010-11, after a 3-1 win over Manchester United.
Through two matches, Barca is undefeated in the group stage, outscoring opponents 5-2. Barcelona is loaded with talent, including superstars Lionel Messi, Christian Tello, Cesc Fabregas and Victor Valdes.
There is little to believe that Barcelona won’t be in the final on May 25, 2013, at Wembley Stadium. But, they were favored last year and Chelsea took the honors.
Cristiano Ronaldo leads a talented group of "underdogs" in this year's Champions League field.
Just because FC Barcelona is the favorite, doesn’t mean that there are any underdogs. No one would be surprised if Chelsea, Manchester United, Bayern Munchen or Real Madrid won the cup.
Chelsea has a win and a draw in group play, outscoring opponents by four goals. Man U is playing great defense and have made an undefeated start. Real Madrid is also undefeated at 2-0.
There are six teams with over 100 points in the Club Coefficients, the lowest total since 2006-07, suggesting that this year’s Champions League field is as wide-open as ever.
There are 16 teams currently with at least three points in group play. With a number of matches left on the slate, there is still some shaking up to be done in the group standings.
Group stage runs all the way through December, which only invites some surprise teams to stake their claims for the knockout stages. Barca may have the advantage in the coefficients, but with this field, there aren’t any underdogs either.
Wayne Rooney is a two-time England Player of the Year and one of the stars of this year's Champions League.
The Champions League pits the best football clubs in the world against each other and also brings the best players in the world to center stage. This season, arguments can be made that these superstars may be the best players in the history of the game.
Headlined by a class with Cristiano Ronaldo, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi, there is abundant talent in this year’s Champions League. These players have already etched their names in football history and may be the most talented group ever.
Shortlist of Accolades
Cristiano Ronaldo: Most goals in a season for Real Madrid and the first top European League player to record 40 goals in two consecutive seasons.
Juan Mata: Chelsea Player of the Year 2012 and UEFA U-21 Championship Golden Player.
Wayne Rooney: Two-time England Player of the Year and Barclays Player of the Year 2009-10
Lionel Messi: FIFA World Player of the Year 2009 and four-time UEFA Champions League top goalscorer
The group stage hasn't been shy in providing quality matches.
The group stage is a glorified elimination stage. The best teams in the Champions League eliminate the ones that barely qualified, but that hasn’t lulled soccer fans. There have been a number of matches in this year’s group stage that have provided excitement, drama and a sign of things to come.
A Small Sample of Exciting Matches so far
AC Milan beat Zenit St. Petersburg, 3-2
Milan got goals from Urby Emanuelson and Stephan El Shaarawy to take a 2-0 lead in the 16th minute. Zenit levelled the match in the 48th, but lost on an own goal in the 75th minute.
Celtic beat Spartak Moskva, 3-2
Spartak Moskva controlled the ball the majority of the match and had a 2-1 lead until an own goal in the 70th minute tied the match. Celtic had never won a Champions League match on the road until a header from Georgios Samaras in the 90th minute ended that streak.
Arsenal beat Montpellier, 2-1
Montpellier started the Champions League match with a goal in the eighth minute. The weapon-heavy Arsenal responded with two goals in three minutes to snag a 2-1 lead. Montpellier put 10 chances on goal to Arsenal’s five, including a heavy push in the second half, but Arsenal held on.
Manchester City draws with Dortmund, 1-1
Manchester City looked like it would fall to 0-2, trailing Dortmund 1-0 in the 89th minute. Mario Balotelli bent a penalty kick in to tie the match and give Man City a much-needed point in group play.
If group play is providing this much drama, the rest of the Champions League will be heart-pounding fun for the next few months.