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Which EPL Side Has Best Shot at Champions League Glory?

Hemant DuaCorrespondent IIAugust 11, 2013

Which EPL Side Has Best Shot at Champions League Glory?

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    You don't need a pundit to tell you the significance of the UEFA Champions League in global football. Even the layman knows it is the the ultimate prize on the European club circuit, and winning the competition grants your club the status of undisputed kings of a continent crazy about the beautiful game.

    Being a part of what is arguably the most decorated domestic league in the world, as well as possessing massive individual fanbases, it comes as no surprise that English clubs carry an immense weight of expectation when we speak of the Champions League.

    Chelsea were the last English side to triumph in the competition, back in 2011-12, with Didier Drogba and Petr Cech delivering memorable performances as the Blues lifted the cup in Munich.

    Last season was obviously a forgettable one from an English perspective, as none of the nation's four representatives made it past the round of 16. Meanwhile, sides from Germany and Spain fared well in the Champions League.

    Although the final was staged at Wembley, both teams contesting it were from the Bundesliga, an organization fast emerging as a major threat to the Premier League in terms of popularity and the quality on show.

    The group stages of the 2013-14 edition of the UEFA Champions League will soon be upon us, and the English lot must be keen to improve on their showings, if not go all the way in the competition.

    Here, I assess the chances of each of the four Premier League clubs competing for top honors in Europe's most prestigious club tournament.

Manchester United

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    Stage reached in 2012-13: Round of 16

    Best finish: Winners in 2007-08, 1998-99, 1967-68

    Seeding: Pot 1

    The Red Devils haven't had the best of preseasons this time, but when it comes to matches that matter, United are generally up for the occasion. The difference this time is that a familiar face will be missing from the touchline.

    David Moyes has ahead of him the unenviable task of replacing departed general Sir Alex Ferguson at United.

    Nevertheless, Manchester United have been a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League for a long time now. The last time they won the competition was in 2008, and they've even been runners-up two times since. Last season's exit at the hands of Real Madrid was unfortunate, given that a dubious decision by the referee turned the two-legged tie on its head.

    The United squad remains very strong, but the inability to make a big-name signing could go on to cost them dearly. Also, they may end up losing a key man in Wayne Rooney, according to Steve Brenner of The Guardian, to rivals Chelsea.

    Being in the seeding pot 1, they will be able to avoid most of their biggest European rivals in the group stage. If the likes of Robin van Persie, Michael Carrick, Rafael and David de Gea can sustain their performance levels from last year, United should not have much difficulty in topping their group.

    To make further advancements in the tournament, however, they will need an X-factor in midfield or out wide—a player like Shinji Kagawa or Wilfried Zaha is going to have to step up and deliver.

    Moreover, United will find it difficult to replace Rooney, should he in fact head out. If they keep him, they will be equipped to have a decent shot at Champions League glory. If not, it's going to be an uphill task.

Manchester City

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    Stage reached in 2012-13: Group stage

    Best finish: Group stage in 2012-13, 2011-12

    Seeding: Pot 2 or 3 (TBD)

    Manuel Pellegrini and his new club had contrasting fortunes in last season's Champions League. While the Chilean gaffer's Malaga were just inches away from booking a semi-final berth, Man City, for a second season running, bowed out of the competition early, finishing at the bottom of group D.

    What holds City in good stead is that they have bought, and bought well. Jesus Navas will help City exploit wide spaces, Fernandinho should slot in perfectly next to Yaya Toure in the Citizens' engine room, and Stevan Jovetic would complement David Silva very well. Alvaro Negredo, meanwhile, adds depth to the forward line.

    Even as City may have overspent on this lot, every one of the aforementioned signings has Champions League experience. 

    Manchester City are solid in every department and possess the requisite depth to succeed on multiple fronts. Led by talismanic skipper Vincent Kompany, they boast the Premier League's most miserly defense. With the fresh faces added in attack to go with Silva and Sergio Aguero, the Sky Blues should be exciting offensively.

    With a better man-manager and tactician in charge of them for the new season, they look certain to improve on last season's showings. 

    Having never ventured beyond the group stage, though, it would be too much to expect City to go the distance and hoist the cup in May 2014. A march to the quarterfinals seems plausible, but that will depend largely on the stature of the teams they are pitted against on the way.

Chelsea

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    Stage reached in 2012-13: Group stage

    Best: Winners in 2011-12

    Seeding: Pot 1

    Chelsea's exit in the group stage last term was premature, as they have made the knockout phase of the Champions League in every other season of the Roman Abramovich era.

    With Jose Mourinho now at the helm, Chelsea fans would like to believe that the West Londoners can emulate the great triumph of 2012. Not only do they now have a world-class manager in place, but Mourinho is also someone who knows the club inside out. With that in perspective, the Premier League and Champions League must be the club's priorities this coming season. 

    The Blues find themselves in the seeding pot 1 again, so they can expect to get a favorable group-stage draw.

    As I see it, Chelsea have a solid squad on paper, second only to Man City among the English clubs. Having made a couple of prudent signings already, they have enviable depth in defense and midfield.

    The likes of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole have won it all in the past, and their experience will carry some real weight.

    One would have to back the diminutive-yet-explosive duo of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard to continue being the most important figures in attack.

    If there's one thing that could hold them back, it would be the dearth of quality options at center-forward. Romelu Lukaku is destined for big things, but he's too young to be playing every CL game. Meanwhile, Demba Ba and Fernando Torres are not exactly reliable. I believe Chelsea's fortunes in Europe depend on whether or not they can prize away primary target Wayne Rooney from Man United.

    If they get him, I'd have no hesitation in declaring Chelsea England's best hope of UEFA Champions League glory. If they don't, it's unlikely they'll have enough in the tank to emerge with the trophy.

Arsenal

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    Stage reached in 2012-13: Round of 16

    Best finish: Final, 2005-06

    Seeding: Yet to qualify for group stage

    UEFA Champions League glory appears to be a long shot for Arsenal. This is largely because what looked set to be a promising summer transfer window has so far been one in which the Gunners have failed to land top targets, the most notable of those being Gonzalo Higuain. As things stand presently, forward Yaya Sanogo remains Arsenal's sole summer recruit.

    Arsene Wenger's troops have spent the last few seasons doing just about enough to secure Champions League football. In the previous edition of Europe's elite club competition, they were once again condemned to a round-of-16 exit. The last time they marched as far as a semi-final was in 2008-09, where a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired United overcame them to move to the final.

    Courtesy of a fourth-place finish in the Premier League table, Arsenal now must face Fenerbahce in a two-legged qualifier to gain entry to the CL group stages.

    Their hopes of a good run in the Champions League will depend largely on the form of Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott. The former's vision and ability to orchestrate play make him the Gunners' go-to guy, while the latter has now become the team's most likely source of goals.

    Of course, for the European dream to be realized, Laurent Koscielny, Lukas Podolski and Jack Wilshere, other important members of the current Arsenal setup, will need to have outstanding seasons.

    A major transfer market coup like Luis Suarez would significantly improve Arsenal's chances of going all the way. If they don't make further additions, though, it is very hard to envision them making it any further than they did last year.

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