Which teams have the best shot at stopping a Real Madrid three-peat?
Real Madrid are the standard for greatness. The two-time defending European champions are looking for a three-peat and are just as primed as last year to win it all. With a healthy mix of superstar-like young talent along with seasoned veterans who are some of the best in the world, Real are clearly the team to beat, but their challengers have become much more formidable this summer with big signings and are looking to crash the party.
It is very early in the UCL campaign, but things are shaping up to be an extremely competitive knockout stage. Four teams pose serious threats against Real in a potential matchup and have the talent and depth to compete. These teams are listed in reverse order of who is most likely to knock out Los Blancos.
Former Real signing James Rodriguez will look to make a difference in Germany (Getty)
The German Giants are clearly one of the top teams in Europe, but are also the most tumultuous. Following a 3-0 loss to PSG, Bayern sacked Carlo Ancelotti and are yet to find a long-term replacement. However, it is very early and Bayern are clearly talented enough to challenge Real. Last season, Real knocked out Bayern in the quarterfinals on a 6-3 aggregate. Bayern will look to avenge their loss and perform better defensively.
Bayern are also in a competitive title race with Dortmund, and already five points behind. But it also seems like Dortmund could put all their eggs in the one basket that is the Bundesliga assuming they are knocked out of their UCL group. A serious Bundesliga title challenger will put Bayern in a tough spot. However, Bayern have enough depth to compete in both competitions with additions such as Tolisso, Rudy, Sule, and James Rodriguez. This could be the first year in quite some time that we see Bayern not win any silverware, but it would be silly to count them out this early.
Arguably the best attacking midfielder in Europe, KDB could be the difference for a UCL title run.
Not only have City looked unstoppable, but they have a lot of help on their side as other English teams continue to perform well in the group stage of the UCL. There is a good chance that all five English teams will make the knockout stage. If we simulate the group stage based on 538 projections, here is what we are seeing:
Group winners: United, PSG, Chelsea, Barcelona, Sevilla, City, Besiktas, Real
Second place: CSKA Moscow, Bayern, Atletico, Juventus, Liverpool, Napoli, Porto, Tottenham
In the round of 16, you cannot match up with teams that were formerly in your group or teams from the same domestic league.
United’s potential matchups are Bayern, Atletico, Juventus, Napoli, Porto
Chelsea’s potential matchups are Moscow, Bayern, Juventus, Napoli, Porto
City’s potential matchups are Moscow, Bayern, Atletico, Juventus, Porto
Liverpool’s potential matchups are PSG, Barcelona, Besiktas, Real
Tottenham’s potential matchups are PSG, Barcelona, Sevilla, Besiktas
United, Chelsea, and City would be favorites over Moscow, Napoli, Porto and are all capable of beating every team they could potentially face. United have a 40% chance of getting a very favorable matchup, Chelsea at 60%, and City at 40%. There’s a good chance that two move on to quarters.
Liverpool and Tottenham would be favorites against Besiktas and Sevilla. Liverpool have a 25% chance of getting a favorable draw while Tottenham have a 50% chance. Good chance one moves on to the quarterfinals.
So we’re seeing a likelihood that THREE(!) English teams make the quarters. My point in demonstrating this is that English teams will have favorable draws in the round of 16 and any one of the five has a potential to make a deep run. City, however, is the best squad of the bunch.
City advanced to the semis last season and made drastic overhauls to their defense and added a lot of depth across their squad. However, City will need to address their LB situation in January as Benjamin Mendy has been ruled out for the entire season with an ACL tear.
Another interesting development to watch will be if they can land Alexis Sanchez who could be on the move in January if he doesn’t sign a contract extension with Arsenal. City and PSG are favorites to land Sanchez if he leaves. With their depth and talent, City are in a position to challenge Real Madrid more than they ever have.
After getting walloped by Real in the Spanish Super Cup, and Gerard Pique voicing some unnerving truths, the Catalans have righted the ship and are playing like the best team in Europe right now. They have not dropped a single point in La Liga and have already put on an impressive UCL performance, beating Juventus 3-0. Despite losing Neymar to PSG and Dembele to injury, the Catalans can do no wrong. Since the Super Cup disaster, they have seven clean sheets in nine matches. And as simple as it sounds, you cannot count out Messi and co.
After spending unruly amounts of money this summer, PSG have started turning heads in regards to their play on the field. PSG have the most dangerous group of attackers in the world and thumped Bayern, 3-0. PSG also have a ridiculously easy domestic league now that Monaco has been stripped of some of their important players and plenty of depth, allowing them to coast through Ligue 1 and focus primarily on the UCL.
Even with a tough group stage draw, nothing is slowing down a front three of Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe, which is only going to get better as they have more time to play together and can finally settle who is taking free kicks and penalties. Though I think Neymar will have something to say about that:
SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) September 30, 2017
PSA: Neymar is really good
Real Madrid are still the favorites, but as they battle back in La Liga, and face injuries to key players, it will be difficult to challenge Barcelona at the top of the league. The club demands silverware in every competition so they will divide their focus in domestic and European competition, which could dash their chances at a three-peat. But as long as Ronaldo keeps scoring goals, they will be the class of Europe and be the team to beat.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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