5 Early Favorites to Win the Champions League Next Season
Though this season’s incarnation of the European tournament is yet to reach its climax, already attention can begin to drift toward the next campaign where the continent’s select will once again do battle.
Will there be a surprise contender among the finals? Can we expect to see this year’s giants maintain their stride and make another run at the latter stages of the competition? How will this summer’s action affect Europe’s power balance?
All these questions and more will be laid out in the following five slides.
5. Paris Saint-Germain
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Arguably unfortunate not to still be boasting a spot among this year’s semi-finalists, Paris Saint-Germain bowed out of this season’s Champions League at the hands of Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona despite not actually suffering defeat across their two-legged encounter.
Regardless of his club’s exit, Carlo Ancelotti can be mightily encouraged by the way his star-studded side withstood the pressure of their return to Europe’s most high-profile of stages, which gave major reason to believe in their next attempt.
Currently at the head of Ligue 1 and leading the race for the title by a margin of nine points, the French capital club are shoo-ins to qualify for the next tournament and will undoubtedly have even more confidence coursing through their veins the next time around.
Provided the club can keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic in as fine a scoring shape as the Swede has been this season, PSG will once again have one of the world’s strongest scorers leading their line in the next campaign.
What’s more, with the money the club has flaunted in the last two years or so, fans might expect the squad to strengthen again this summer, with more faces of Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi proportions making their way to the Parc des Princes.
4. AC Milan
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Although Juventus currently sit atop Serie A and look set for a second consecutive Scudetto title this season, the Italian top flight would look a lot different were we to go on just the form of the current calendar year.
Based on results earned in 2013, Massimiliano Allegri’s side led Serie A with 32 points racked up since Jan. 6, while current league leaders Juve follow as a close second on 30 points.
With a long and illustrious history at the club, Milan are no strangers to European competition and, should they continue to develop along their recent trajectory, should shoot straight back into even fiercer competition for silverware in coming months.
Perhaps the biggest plus for AC Milan heading into their next bout of Champions League action (provided they go on to qualify) will be Mario Balotelli’s involvement in their efforts.
This season, the Italian’s cup-tied status meant that the former Manchester City forward was unable to have an influence on matters, but that will all change next time around.
Although the Rosoneri were eventually hammered in their Round of 16 second-leg meeting with Barcelona, a 2-0 victory over the Catalan club from the first encounter was a particularly strong display from the Italians, giving plenty of positives to feed off of before the 2013-14 term is underway.
3. Real Madrid
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Having just been announced as the richest club on the planet with an estimated wealth of over $3 billion (via BBC News), it’s nigh impossible for Real Madrid to be considered anything other than among the frontrunners for any Champions League season at the moment.
Led by Ronaldo, the top scorer of this season’s competition, Real have made their way to the semi-finals in style and are just about beating Bayern Munich as the top scoring team still left in the running.
So, with the billions at their disposal, it wouldn’t be absurd to think past some significant squad acquisitions this summer to add to the already thriving roster currently at Jose Mourinho’s disposal.
However, Mourinho may not be the man who’s around to spend that money, as rumours of a managerial exit at the Santiago Bernabeu continue to spiral in recent weeks (via Daily Mail).
Such a change would surely only damage Los Merengues’ chances of further success considering the Portuguese is considered to be one of the best managers in the world, but with a squad like Real’s, there’s even only so much impact Mourinho’s exit can really have.
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Currently at the head of La Liga, Barcelona’s inclusion in next year’s Champions League looks to have been secured for some time, and the 13-point gap between them and Real Madrid is probably the best reaction La Blaugrana could have hoped for after losing the title to Real last season.
With Tito Vilanova back at their helm after a period out through illness, the Catalan giants have endured a far bumpier campaign than might have been preferred in Europe this season but have come through with a semi-final fixture against Bayern Munich to now think about.
Featuring a second-leg turnaround against AC Milan, as well as a tensely fought couple of encounters against Paris Saint-Germain, Barca’s tribulations aren’t set to stop soon.
However, nothing worth having ever came easily, and if the Spaniards are to come out on top against the Bundesliga champions, they’ll have truly earned their spot in the tournament’s final.
Next time around, it looks certain that the club will be heading into Europe as La Liga champions, only cementing their spot as leaders of a growing division despite a number of losses in recent El Clasico matchups.
1. Bayern Munich
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Very recently recorded as the club to have won the Bundesliga at the earliest ever stage of the football season, there’s quite a chance that the current Bayern Munich squad is one of, if not the strongest, ever assembled.
Given the club’s reputation for success in Europe, that’s saying something.
One might think that with Jupp Heynckes retiring at the end of the season, Bayern are losing a masterful tactician, whose exit will only mean the detriment of the club’s chances of baring further fruit.
That being said, Pep Guardiola, the man set to replace the outbound German, has been around the block, so to speak himself, and could make the German giants even bigger than they currently are.
With Guardiola leading them, Bayern Munich have a manager who’s already won the Champions League and is no stranger to stiff competition, thanks to his time with Barcelona.
Having reached at least the semi-finals of the last three Champions League tournaments, the Bavarians will be hoping that fourth time is the charm this year, aiming for a possible fifth next season.