Smiles better: Bayern's Arjen Robben with last season's trophy, but can the Bavarians make history by retaining it next year?
Another campaign of compelling UEFA Champions League football has just drawn to a close following Bayern Munich’s 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night, and now it is time to start turning our attentions towards next season’s competition.
Most of the Continent’s top leagues have now all been concluded, with the exception of Spain’s La Liga, and with it the finalisation of the participants for the 2013/14 edition of Europe’s premier club competition.
And so before everyone departs for the beaches and a well-earned rest before we all get going once again in August, here is a brief look at those teams who will be lining up to take part in next season’s European Cup and how they may fare on the rocky road to the Estadio da Luz…
All smiles: but what chance Moyes guiding United to glory in Europe in his first season in charge at Old Trafford?
Entrants: Manchester United (C), Manchester City, Chelsea
Of the trio of Premier League teams guaranteed automatic entry into next season’s Champions League, all of them will be under new management in the upcoming campaign, which adds an intriguing element of uncertainty to proceedings.
How will new United boss David Moyes cope in his debut season in Europe’s premier club competition? Can incoming City head coach Manuel Pellegrini reprise his eye-catching achievements in Europe with both Villarreal and Malaga? And, of course, what chance Jose Mourinho, who is expected to shortly be confirmed as the new Chelsea manager according to the Guardian, finally managing to steer the west Londoners to European Cup glory?
Some alluring sub plots, to say the very least, and you would not bet against at least one of these new trainers capping off their first campaigns in their new roles with an appearance in the Portuguese capital next May.
However, the question remains: which one of the three ….?
Plenty to smile about: but can Guardiola steer Bayern to back-to-back Champions League wins for the first time in the modern era of the competition next year?
Entrants: Bayern Munich (C), Borussia Dortmund
Qualifier: Bayer Leverkusen
The new superpowers of the club game in Europe following last season’s all-German Champions League final at Wembley, the very first time in the 57-year history of the competition that two Bundesliga sides had met in the European Cup final.
Now, though, the burning question on everyone’s lips must be: can Bayern become the first team since AC Milan in 1990 to retain Europe’s premier club competition in Lisbon on May 24 2014?
The Bavarian giants, of course, will be coached by former FC Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola in next season’s competition, a man who knows a thing or two about how to successfully navigate his way to Champions League glory, having won it as both a player and a manager.
Meanwhile, attention will also be on Jurgen Klopp and Co to see what effect exactly the loss of star performers such as playmaker Mario Goetze, and according to the player's agent possibly also striker Robert Lewandowski, may have on Dortmund’s chances of going one better next year.
All eyes on Barca: the Catalans will be hoping that Neymar can inspire them all the way to Lisbon next May
Entrants: FC Barcelona (C), Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid
Qualifier: Valencia or Real Sociedad
Again, as in many of the corresponding major European leagues next season, managerial changes could well have quite an impact on one of La Liga’s Champions League entrants, in this case at the Santiago Bernabeu where Jose Mourinho will bring down the curtain on his turbulent three-year spell in the Spanish capital on Saturday.
The identity of the “Special One’s” successor in Madrid is still not known yet, although it seems certain to be Paris Saint-Germain boss Carlo Ancelotti, say the BBC. And if that were the case, then the prospect of los Blancos finally getting their hands on the much-coveted La Decima will greatly increase given the experienced Italian’s impressive European Cup record as both player and manager.
Meanwhile, Madrid’s arch-rivals from Catalonia will be able to unleash the quite terrifying prospect of both Neymar and Lionel Messi in tandem on the Continent as of the next campaign, and that attacking duo should make Barca the automatic pre-competition favourites I imagine.
However, do not write off the chances of Diego Simeone’s Atleti from causing a surprise either, even without deadly striker Radamel Falcao in their ranks, as you can bet your bottom dollar that the capital club will once again replace one world-class front man with another equally potent forward threat at the Vicente Calderon.
Eyes on the prize: could Benitez follow up Europa League victory last season with a Champions League triumph next year as he also did with different clubs in 2004-05?
Entrants: Juventus (C), Napoli, AC Milan
You would be a brave man to predict next season’s Champions League winners coming from Serie A, however, at the same time this could be the league that ends up producing a few of the following campaign’s dark horses.
In particular, Antonio Conte’s Juve will be much stronger for their experiences in last season’s competition when many experts predicted them to be the surprise package, before they ran into the unstoppable force from Munich that is.
However, with the addition of a few well-chosen signings, especially in attack, then do not put it past the “Old Lady of Italian Football” making it all the way to their first European Cup final appearance since 2003 next May.
Equally, if Napoli can somehow manage to keep hold of their crown jewels this summer, and in particular striker Edinson Cavani, then under the expert European guidance of new manager Rafa Benitez it would be foolish to write off the Southern Italians’ chances.
And as for Milan, well one suspects that unless the Rossoneri can add some serious quality to their ranks in the summer transfer window, then it may well be a case once again of group stage qualification, but no further, for the seven-time champions.
Keep on smiling: but where will Ancelotti be smiling next season, Paris or Madrid?
Entrants: Paris Saint-Germain (C), Marseille
Again, it looks like being a case of managerial upheaval at one of the Continent’s “Big Boys,” with the future of Carlo Ancelotti at the Parc des Princes still very much open to debate, according to the BBC.
And if, as seems likely, the popular Italian does after all decide to swap the French for the Spanish capital this summer, then who PSG bring in to replace him could have a large bearing on just how competitive the Parisians will be in next season’s Champions League.
One thing that is for sure, however, is whoever is the new man at the helm in Paris will be handed yet another multimillion-pound transfer war chest in which to help propel the big-spending Ligue 1 champions one step further than they reached in last campaign’s competition, when they were extremely unfortunate to be knocked out by Barcelona at the quarter-finals stage.
As for Elie Baup and Marseille, well simply getting out of the group phase and into the knockout rounds would be deemed a success for the only French club to have ever won the European Cup, exactly 20 years ago this month.