6 Things to Expect from the 2013-14 Champions League Season
Arjen Robben’s thrilling winner brought the curtain down on a pulsating Champions League final and drew to a close a thoroughly engrossing tournament.
From the dramas of the group stage, the returning greats, the glory of Celtic Park and the shocking results of the semifinals, it has been a competition laced with intrigue and excitement.
Next season’s campaign will have an awful lot to live up to. Looking forward, here are some of the things you can expect from the 2013-14 Champions League.
A Renewed English Effort
Surely, things can’t be this appalling again. The 2012-13 Champions League campaign was a genuine low point for English teams, accounting for their worst collective outing in Europe’s premier club competition in 17 years.
Chelsea and Manchester City were both drawn in tricky groups, and while the Blues redeemed themselves with an exhilarating run to claim the Europa League crown, the Citizens disappointed with some limp, naïve displays.
Arsenal and Manchester United advanced to the knockout rounds but failed to progress further as hoped. Both received unenviable draws in Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, respectively, but while the Gunners were outdone by their own incompetence and the Red Devils—partly at least—by the referee’s incompetence, neither side will be proud of their European campaigns.
But new seasons bring fresh optimism, and as last season’s four prepare for renewed efforts, an improvement can be expected.
Chelsea will surely improve under the near-inevitable stewardship of Jose Mourinho, while Manchester City would be devilishly unlucky to receive as tough a group stage draw as they've had in the last two seasons.
The competition will surely be a major test for incoming United boss David Moyes, but he will likely have the backing and the squad to take his new club into the latter stages.
As for Arsenal, they may not have been the neutrals' choice to take the final top-four spot, but Gunners fans will be hoping that a slightly less chaotic summer may result in improved form in Europe’s top club competition.
A New-Look Borussia Dortmund
It must have been particularly galling for Dortmund fans to witness the squad’s final assembly to salute the travelling support after Saturday’s Champions League final defeat. The lineup—and the applause—felt not so much like an extended show of gratitude, but a long, lingering farewell.
This talented young side surely won’t be held together for much longer.
As Wembley’s clash demonstrated, these boys are more than ready to fly the nest and seek their futures beyond the parochial confines of Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
The wheels have already begun to fall off as the club’s rise to the top gently comes to a halt.
Mario Gotze has already agreed a £31.5 million move to Bayern Munich. Judging by the fall out of Wembley’s final, Robert Lewandowski will soon be joining him.
According to TribalFootball.com, classy defender Mats Hummels has been attracting attention from various Spanish giants. Ilkay Gundogan shows the maturity as well as the effortless poise to play almost anywhere while CaughtOffside.com reported in March that Marco Reus might be a pertinent addition to Chelsea's glitzy squad.
While the exodus and inevitable scattering across Europe will surely be fascinating to watch, the club’s recruitment choices moving forward will be just as engrossing.
Recent departures of Nuri Sahin and Lucas Barrios were offset by bold decision-making by Klopp, but it will be a major task to replace the current crop.
Pep at Every Turn
While next year’s Champions League will doubtlessly throw up numerous fascinating subplots and subtle narratives, few stories will dominate quite like Pep Guardiola’s return to European management at continental champions Bayern Munich.
After a sabbatical year spent re-energising himself over in New York City, the doyen of Catalonia is back in action and takes over the dominant force of German and European football.
The world of the sport has changed dramatically since Guardiola called time on his spell at Barca. The team he built has become decidedly ragged over the last 12 months, and with their demolition at the hands of Bayern, the complexion of the sport and the dynamic of an era changed beyond recognition.
Guardiola’s every move will be scrutinised this season, and while each mark of success will boost his reputation, any sign of failure or complacency will find manager and team firmly under the microscope.
Taking over the European champions, Guardiola arguably has everything to lose. Expect any notion of proximity between manager and former club to be met with a cacophony of journalistic clamour.
Breathless Expectation in Catalonia
Over at Guardiola’s former club Barcelona, the acquisition of Neymar has once again made expectations skyrocket.
While the Brazilian starlet’s arrival won’t erase the nightmarish memories of the Catalonians’ flaying at the hands of Bayern, his move will go some way to raising morale and injecting a sense of superiority and dominance back into the Spanish heavyweights.
The proposition of Brazil’s star, Neymar, playing alongside Argentina’s iconic forward, Leo Messi, is tantalising. While not everyone is totally optimistic about the potential pairing, they will be expected to once more make Barcelona’s forward line the most exciting in world football.
However, deficiencies remain—not least in defence, where a thin squad has been exposed in recent times.
Neymar might not be the optimal solution to all of Barca’s problems and any evident, early failings may provoke panic and further fragility in the Tito Vilanova regime.
A 1st-Time Winner?
First-time winners of Europe’s premier club competition have been few and far between in recent seasons. Before Chelsea’s maiden triumph last term, you have to return to Dortmund’s own victory in 1997 to find a new name etched onto the famous old trophy.
However, the colours of European football are gently changing and numerous clubs could emerge as significant contenders next season.
The most prominent are Paris Saint-Germain, who are beginning to be considered a genuine powerhouse after the significant investment that has taken place in recent years. Quarterfinal defeat against Barca this term was a step in the right direction and there is no reason why a few more key signings this summer couldn’t take the French champions into yet another stratosphere.
Investment at Zenit Saint Petersburg continues and the Russian giants should be more competitive next season.
And what of Ukrainian champions Shakhtar? Qualified from Group E at the expense of Chelsea before going down away in Dortmund in the Round of 16, the Donetsk-based side will surely be targeting at least a quarterfinal berth in 2014.
If they can hold on to the likes of Fernandinho and Douglas Costa as well as add to their ranks, there is no reason why they couldn’t advance even further next season.
While the procession of the great and the good is always a highlight of every Champions League campaign, almost equally enthralling is the presence of new blood in the competition.
The exotic champions or under-prepared minnows who come for the daytrips and the chance to spoil the big boys’ party.
Last year, Nordsjaelland were Group E’s whipping boys, taking pastings from Chelsea and Juventus before lolloping home to Farum.
Before that, the likes of Otelul Galati, Zilina and Artmedia had all enjoyed brief forays into Europe’s premier competition—proving that Michel Platini still cares—before riding off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.
Due to inconsistent campaigns from the likes of Braga and Sporting Lisbon, tiny Pacos de Ferreira snuck into third place in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, which was enough to seal a spot in next year’s playoff round.
A terrific achievement for a small club, the fans of which will be praying that their side can advance to the lucrative group stage come next autumn.