Champions League 2012: Barcelona, Juventus and Top Contenders for European Crown
The 2012-13 Champions League should be one of the most exciting European competitions in years because there are so many quality clubs with a chance to win the title, but none of them are far ahead of their competitors.
The competition is wide open this season, which should make for a great knockout stage, which begins with the Round of 16 in February of next year.
With two-thirds of the group stage complete, let's look at the top five contenders to win this year's European crown.
The Italian side is very strong defensively, and with world-class pass master Andrea Pirlo beautifully controlling possession in the midfield, Juventus will be an incredibly difficult team to defeat in the Champions League.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is capable of keeping a clean sheet against the top attacking squads, and has several fantastic defenders in front of him, including center-back Giorgio Chiellini.
One weakness that Juventus has is the lack of a top striker who can dominate with goal scoring and size, but Sebastian Giovinco is certainly capable of providing the team with an important goal.
As the best defensive team in the competition, Juventus could be the first team from Serie A to make the semifinal of the Champions League since Inter Milan in 2010, who won the competition.
Barcelona has too much talent to not be considered as a top contender in the Champions League. They have the most impressive group of midfielders and the world's best player in Lionel Messi.
Center-back Gerard Pique's return to fitness will be a huge boost to Tito Vilanova's back four, which has played well despite several injuries to important players.
With great experience and quality at almost every position, no one would be surprised if Barcelona won its third Champions League title since 2009, but it does have some weaknesses that the best teams could take advantage of.
3) Real Madrid
Any club with a player of Cristiano Ronaldo's caliber is going to make a deep Champions League run, and luckily for Madrid, they have more talent than any club in this competition.
An improved defense and the reliable goalkeeping of Iker Casillas has made Madrid one of the toughest teams to beat.
Manager Jose Mourinho has difficult choices to make each week when choosing his starting XI because of the amount of quality players available to him, but he will find the combinations that give his club the best chance to win.
Madrid doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, and as long as Ronaldo and other top players such as midfielder Mesut Özil play well, Los Blancos could win their first Champions League title in a decade.
2) Bayern Munich
The addition of world-class goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was enough to help Bayern Munich get back to the Champions League final last season, but to avoid a third runner-up finish since 2010, the German club needs its best players to perform when it matters most.
The key for Munich is having its two best players, wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, playing at a high level against the best teams.
When these two players are using their pace, playmaking and scoring abilities to help the team, Munich is almost impossible to beat.
With more depth than it had last year, Munich will get back to the Champions League final if all of its top players do not suffer injuries.
1) Borussia Dortmund
Dortmund has become a major European power this season, and its impressive play in Group D against Real Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City has proven that it is arguably the favorite to win the Champions League.
The addition of star striker Marco Reus has given Dortmund a match-winner who can dominate any defense. An impressive group of midfielders, including young star Mario Götze, has helped make the Dortmund attack very difficult to defend.
Dortmund's defense features a solid combination of strength and pace, and it has had consistent goalkeeping as well.
The German club is the most well-rounded squad in the competition, and the only concern is its lack of experience. Very few of these players have much Champions League experience beyond the group stage.
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