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Liverpool and the 20 Possible Champions League Qualifiers to Watch Next Season

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2014

Liverpool and the 20 Possible Champions League Qualifiers to Watch Next Season

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    The UEFA Champions League is quickly coming to a close for the 2013-14 season, with the two finalists set to be decided in the next 48 hours.

    However, we can already look ahead to next term and see some extremely interesting sides preparing—or still hoping—to take part in 2014-15.

    Liverpool are comfortably the biggest returning name, having guaranteed themselves passage to the group stage by way of their Premier League finish, but a number of other clubs bear watching who could surprise a few people with their performances next term.

Liverpool

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Already assured.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Brendan Rodgers has his side playing fast, attack-minded football with a number of quality final-third talents capable of scoring and creating goals.

    Luis Suarez is one of the world's top players and will be determined to prove it on the big stage next term, while Steven Gerrard has hit top form recently, complementing the youngsters in the squad. A summer of spending and excitement awaits, ahead of their return to the European stage.

Feyenoord

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Assured of a qualification play-off spot.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: A fantastic run of form in 2014 has seen Feyenoord end the Eredivisie season strongly and finish in second place to return to the Champions League.

    Key players such as Jordy Clasie and Graziano Pelle have been in great form, and an attack-minded set-up has plenty of youth and pace about it. Tonny Vilhena and Stefan de Vrij are further examples of the quality youngsters still coming through. Reaching the group stages would be a good start.

Lille

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: One more win guarantees a play-off place.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Lille are the only side to have remotely kept pace with Monaco and PSG in Ligue 1, in part due to their excellent defensive record. LOSC have also been extremely strong at home, losing just twice all season.

    Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama remains a big player, with Simon Kjaer and Salomon Kalou important presences at either end of the field.

Bayer Leverkusen

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Knocked out in round of 16

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: In a three-way battle for a play-off place.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Following a significant downturn in form after the winter break, B04 replaced their manager, and under Sascha Lewandowski, they have rediscovered their hard-to-beat talents.

    An awful lot of talented individuals remain at their disposal, including Heung-Min Son, Lars Bender and Stefan Kiessling. If they keep the squad together, the knockout stages might again be within their reach.

Wolfsburg

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    Martin Meissner

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Second favourites in the three-way Bundesliga battle.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Wolfsburg have a good home record domestically this season, something they will hope can be sustained into next term both domestically and in Europe.

    Croatian attacking duo Ivan Perisic and Ivica Olic have been their main source of goals this term, both with plenty of experience, while Luiz Gustavo gives them international quality protection in front of the defence. They may be looking to spend, though—especially if stars Ricardo Rodriguez or Kevin de Bruyne are lured away for big money.

Borussia Moenchengladbach

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    Martin Meissner

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Outsiders but still possible.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: 'Gladbach have a talented collection of young players including the likes of Granit Xhaka and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, along with experience from Juan Arango and the potent front line of Raffael and Max Kruse.

    It's a well-oiled system, with Yann Sommer on the way to replace ter Stegen in summer, and further exciting arrivals could be sought if the goalkeeper leaves for big money. Even reaching the group stages would be pushing it, but BMG are good enough to provide tough opposition if they do.

Athletic Bilbao

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    Alvaro Barrientos

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Four points from the last three games needed.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Bilbao are one of the big success stories in La Liga this season, with a number of players all pitching in to a high level.

    Aritz Aduriz is the main goal threat—replacing the veteran will be important—but the likes of Ibai, Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta all provide great quality from the second line of attack. The fiercely partisan home crowd, a strong new stadium identity and the togetherness shown by the Basque nationals-only team all make them terrifically tough to defeat.

Celtic

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Group stage, bottom

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Already assured of a qualifiers spot.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Celtic have such little competition domestically—they're clear by almost 30 points this year—that their players live, die and are judged by their Champions League progress.

    After the highs of two seasons ago, this year was a big disappointment. Celtic will be determined to put that right next time around.

Lokomotiv Moscow

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    Epsilon/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: With three games left, they could yet win the league (automatic group stage), finish runners-up (play-offs) or end third (no Champions League). Seven points guarantees second minimum.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Lokomotiv have an exceptional defensive record, conceding just five goals at home all season.

    Central defensive pairing Jan Durica and Vedran Corluka are the bedrock from which the success of the team springs.

Zenit St Petersburg

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    Epsilon/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Knocked out in round of 16

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Favourites, leading the Russian Premier League by a single point with three to play.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Zenit have by far the most experience out of all the competing Russian sides in closing out the title and in being competitive in the Champions League. Manager Andre Villas-Boas also has a bit to prove after being sacked from his last two jobs.

    Hulk, Danny and Rondon provide firepower, while Axel Witsel and Viktor Faizulin give balance and strength in midfield.

Sporting Lisbon

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    Armando Franca

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Group stage qualification already assured.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Sporting's re-emergence has seen them finish second in the Primeira Liga this season, having only ended seventh a year ago.

    Fredy Montero and Islam Slimani represent their main attacking threats, with the side often looking to play direct to the Algerian. A number of young talents remain on big clubs' transfer radars, none more so than William Carvalho perhaps, but if they can hold on to them for next season, they could fare better than all three Portuguese teams from this campaign, none of whom made the knockouts.

Porto

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    Francisco Seco

    2013-14 Champions League: Third in the group stage

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Will feature in the play-offs.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Porto narrowly missed out on a runner-up spot in Group G, mainly on account of no team in the inconsistent group being able to sort out their home form (winners Atletico Madrid aside).

    They struggled to create chances to score goals, but should they remedy that over the summer, their experienced players could be capable of seeing them win against equal-level opposition. Keeping hold of Jackson Martinez, Fernando and Alex Sandro will be priority No. 1 to progress in Europe.

Club Brugge

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Top of the domestic play-offs with four games to go. A good chance of at least making the qualifiers.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: With super-talents such as Maxim Lestienne and the experience of Timmy Simons, Club Brugge combine excellent athleticism and solid organisation to arrive at the kind of results-based systems other clubs dread.

    Belgium has been a talent farm in recent years, and now it seems their clubs are ready to take full advantage of this fact, producing their own and giving plenty of chances at high levels to raw but exciting youngsters.

Anderlecht

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    Thanassis Stavrakis

    2013-14 Champions League: Bottom of Group C

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: At least a play-off place should be within their grasp.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Anderlecht made the move to a more talented, youthful squad last season and have already shown steady progress throughout the 2013-14 campaign, indicating great things could be on the horizon.

    Players such as Andy Najar, Dennis Praet and Frank Acheampong will only get better with age, and Najar in particular looks set to complete his breakout campaign with an excellent performance at the World Cup this summer and a good run in the Champions League next season.

     

    Thanks to B/R staffer Gianni Verschueren for Belgian league teams

Sparta Prague

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    Lefteris Pitarakis

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Qualification play-off spot all but assured.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Sparta missed out this year on the Champions League but are close to winning the Czech top flight undefeated for the whole season.

    A strong defensive record domestically and free-scoring duo David Lafata and Josef Husbauer are their big strengths to play to, though more additions will be required to have a big impact on the Champions League next season. Performing better than Czech side Plzen will be the aim—they'll just need to win a game and not concede 17 in six games for that.

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk

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    Sergei Kozin

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Four points from last three games to guarantee qualification play-off place at worst.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: They manage to procure goals from a range of players throughout the team, ensuring the final third threat is constant and not limited to one player.

    Dnipro have plenty of pace in wide areas, especially with Yevhen Konoplyanka, and have the financial power to spend when they want to compete with Champions League sides.

Olympiacos

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    Michel Euler

    2013-14 Champions League: Knocked out in round of 16

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Group stage already assured.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Olympiacos have a strong core of home-based players who have roared to another league title this term.

    Kostas Manolas is a more-than-capable young defender who showed he can cope with the rigours of Champions League football, and they will believe another knockout stage run is within reach for next term.

PAOK

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    2013-14 Champions League: Not involved

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: They have six games to finish top of the mini play-off league but did finish second in the regular season. Winners Olympiacos are not involved in the play-off league.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: A clutch of key players performing to their top level have taken PAOK to second in the Super League. Sotiris Ninis, Maarten Martins and Bribas Natcho bring invention, if also inconsistency, to the final third, while Dimitrios Salpingidis and Hedwiges Maduro bring international experience, too.

    Losing loan winger Miroslav Stoch will be a big blow they need to overcome, however. Making the group stages would be an achievement for PAOK, but they could trouble a team or two along the way, even if the knockouts are out of reach.

Steaua Bucharest

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    Vadim Ghirda

    2013-14 Champions League: Bottom of Group E

    Chances of reaching 14-15 Champions League: Seven points from last five games guarantees a play-off place.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Steaua let themselves down somewhat in this season's campaign, drawing three games when a little more positivity and directness could have brought a win or two.

    They have enough experience on this stage to push further next season, expanding their continental campaign beyond Christmas—even if it is in the Europa League at that point.

Fenerbahce

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    Uncredited

    2013-14 Champions League: Knocked out in qualifying

    Chances of reaching 2014-15 Champions League: Group stage assured after winning Super Lig.

    Reasons to think they could succeed: Back in the big time, Fenerbahce's squad has plenty of talent which can shine in the Champions League.

    Galatasaray made the knockouts this season and Fener have proven to have a more stable, capable and offensively talented team this season. Add a few more players and the knockouts will be within reach for Fenerbahce, too.

     

     

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