Out with the romanticism. Money does not have a monopoly on happiness, but, in football at least, it has a large part of the shares. There is no other way to explain if not what happened this summer in Europe. At a time marked by the strong post-pandemic economic crisis, it is the clubs financed by petrodollars that have emerged stronger than ever. And it is that once again, at the blow of the checkbook, Manchester City and PSG are more favorites than ever to raise this Champions 2021/22 after both have remained at the doors in the last two years.
With two consolidated projects in their respective leagues and established in Europe, although they lack the Orejona to put the icing on the cake, PSG and City have formed two Machiavellian squads with the same purpose that Sauron shared in the Lord of the Rings trilogy: rule them all. Especially the French team, which with the galactic additions of Messi and Sergio Ramos (plus those of Donnarumma, Achraf and Wijnaldum) has assembled an All Star in Paris in which Neymar and Mbappé were already in the series. City, meanwhile, have signed Grealish, another artist for Guardiola.
Chelsea, which despite having won its second Champions League is also a club forged by Abramovich's millions, is the other great contender. The European champion bloc has been joined by Lukaku, the best player in Serie A last season, and Saúl, an all-field player that Tuchel often takes advantage of.
These three teams plus the always incombustible Bayern are the great threats for the Spanish teams in this new Champions League..
Without Harry Kane, the main great objective for this transfer market, but with Jack Grealish, who cost 120 million euros. Manchester City presents a team very similar to last season, with which they managed to reach the Champions League final. One more step is missing; the definitive step.
Pep Guardiola has not managed to reinforce his lead after the departure of Kun Agüero so everything will be under the responsibility of Gabriel Jesus, Ferran Torres or any other option that the Catalan coach decides as a false nine, be it Foden, De Bruyne or Bernardo.
Although the plan to sign Kane did not work, and neither did the attempt to convince Cristiano Ronaldo to secure the scoring quota that they do not want to miss for the rest of the season, City is still a dominating team in English football that seeks to take another step at the European level.
For this, the recent renewal of Ruben Dias, the presence of Laporte and Stones in the rear, as well as the consolidation of talents such as Foden, suggest that he is still one of the top favorites. The level of De Bruyne, project leader, will be key,
PSG has made the best market in its history and one of the best in the history of football. The arrival of Messi is a final blow to present the candidacy for the Champions League with which Al Khelaifi has been obsessed for ten years and, in addition, he has managed to keep Mbappé, who was one step away from Real Madrid, but will finally continue in the capital French.
The Parisian team no longer have excuses for not winning the highest continental competition. To Messi we must add the additions of Sergio Ramos, Achraf, Donnaruma and Nuno Mendes, forming a dream team and a squad that is trained to be the best in Europe this season. Pochettino has a brilliant cast of players whose season will boil down to what he does in the Champions League. Everything that is not winning the European Cup will be a failure in Paris, since the project was born by and to take over the Orejona and what the team does in France will matter little.
Three league titles in the last five years in Belgium for a Bruges that is back on track and has managed to settle in the group stage of the Champions League. The team led by Philippe Clement is fully recovered from an institutional crisis that did it a lot of damage in the previous decade. Now, with young players who dazzle Europe, he is trying to take a step forward in the maximum continental competition, although the dream of the round of 16 in a group that includes PSG, City and Leipzig, seems chimerical.
Some attacking players such as Noa Lang and the veteran Bas Dost will be the protagonists, in addition to their main star, the good attacking midfielder Vanaken, who will be accompanied in the middle by Balanta, Vormer and the promising De Ketelaere, without a doubt, the best line of the team. Some doubts behind for a competition of such a high level as the Champions League, despite the fact that a veteran is still in the goal: Mignolet.
The Champions League draws do not seem to bring much luck to RB Leipzig. If the East German side crossed last season with PSG and United in the group stage, this time they will again face the Parisians and Guardiola's City. A lot of power will face an entity that finished last season in the Bundesliga in second position, but is in full transition after a very busy summer market at Red Bull Arena.
Bayern snatched up to three pillars of his old project such as Upamecano, Sabitzer and the coach himself, Julian Nagelsmann. His position on the Saxon bench is occupied by Jesse Marsch, who is reunited in East Germany with a former pupil whom he launched to stardom during his time in Salzburg: Szoboszlai. André Silva, second top scorer last season in the Bundesliga, is the benchmark in attack and, behind, both Gvardiol (Zagreb) and Simakan (Strasbourg) will be in charge of filling the gap left by Upamecano. Olmo and Angeliño continue to give Marsch's new Leipzig a Spanish flavor.
Atlético was not very fine in the last Champions League. He met Chelsea, ultimately champions, who were better in a tie that already started uphill when they had to play Atlético in Bucharest at home. The Madrid team will try again. It is the philosophy of the Cholo. Insist as many times as necessary. And this year it will be the same again. There is a squad, with a team full of internationals, and a group already experienced in these matches, although the premise is to go game by game. First pass the group stage and then think about the next rounds.
The Champions League is very special for Atlético, for the players, for the managers and for the fans, but it should be an incentive rather than a great burden on the players. Atlético is not a favorite in the betting and many will no longer take it into account when defining the teams that can choose to lift the title, but that is positive for the Cholo Simeone team. The Argentine coach signed until 2024 and therefore has several attempts to lift the Champions League, and this year he has the first. For the Oblak, Savic, Koke, Correa, Luis Suárez and company it also represents a major challenge. And it is already known that this squad is passionate about challenges.
Milan returns to its home, the Champions League, after seven very long years of waiting. His return makes even the competition itself more beautiful, which once again welcomes one of its undisputed kings, the seven-time champion. The Rossoneri are presented in a very complicated group, in which they aim to be the spoilers: they have little to lose and a very serious team. Maldini and Massara completed the squad with ten signings and a perfect mix of young talent and experience, going from Ibra and Giroud to Brahim, Tonali and Pellegri.
The man from Malaga will have to make Calhanoglu forget (now number 10 is his), while Mike Maignan started his complicated role well, being heir to Donnarumma, whose goodbye continues to hurt. Among the leaders of the Pioli team is undoubtedly Theo Hernández, who since his arrival at San Siro has been simply unstoppable. The Champions League will be the great showcase to show Europe its true value.
After a sad year marked by the feeling of the end of the cycle, Liverpool faces the challenge of once again showing that it is a team capable of once again proclaiming itself champions. The tragic injury of Van Dijk, who was out all season, and the silence in the stands at Anfield, a stadium with a lot of responsibility in the last successes of the reds, seemed to line up to mark the close of a glorious stage. Jürgen Klopp and his team have to prove the opposite this year.
Already at the end of the previous year, they rebelled to the point that they were able to go from nowhere in the Premier to a third place won thanks to 26 points out of the last 30 possible, that is, ten games without reaping a single defeat. . “We are facing something great,” Kloop acknowledged then, and he was not wrong.
Wijnaldum's uncomfortable departure for free this summer, coupled with Firmino's performance slump, weighs down the team's chances a bit above, but Diogo Jota, who is offering fantastic football, and again Mané and Salah are a guarantee. Also, footballers like Harvey Elliott, the last great talent of the factory netThey are having the opportunity to take a step forward, which Kloop is surely grateful for.
If we add to that the return of Van Dijk and the You’ll Never Walk Alone At Anfield, we get a team that can aspire to everything. In the boots of the Dutch giant, and especially in his head, since his leadership is even more important than his football, there is the possibility of returning to give that leap in quality to Liverpool that made him go from candidate to champion.
Porto's endurance ceremony in the last Champions League opened the quarterfinals wide for them. He got there because he ran into Chelsea, later champion. It was a great demonstration of the tactical lean, irreducible character and competitive strength of the Conceiçao team to wage war among the European elite. In a compact and supportive block, very effective in the strategy, the eternal leadership of Pepe, the quality of Corona and Otavio and the definitive explosion of Luis Díaz stand out.
Marega went up but the Spanish Toni Martínez has emerged with force at the beginning of the course. In the goal there was a changing of the guard with the entry of the young Diogo Costa (21 years old) to the detriment of Marchesín. Neither offer enthusiastic reliability, and neither do the sides due to their unevenness. These shortcomings compromise a vigorous and well-rounded team that will eagerly seek the round of 16. Stability is its reason for being.
Ajax start the season with one of the most exciting squads in recent years. Awaiting Onana, sanctioned for doping until November, Ten Hag will have several “blessed problems” when he chooses his eleven for the big nights. What has seemed to make clear this preseason is that only Mazraoui, Timber, Gravenberch, Tadic, Klaassen and Haller are starters. The other five seats can rotate depending on the day, all waiting to see how Berghuis works (until this summer, star of the club's greatest rival, Feyenoord, who they have taken out for only 5.5 million euros), the young Daramy (from Copenhagen for 12 million euros) and promising youngsters like Rensch, Kudus and Danilo.
A long squad that is required to succeed in local competitions despite the embarrassing 0-4 that PSV put him in the Super Cup and that is exciting for the Champions League, where another year the club's efforts will focus again.
Three years after their last appearance in the Champions League, Besiktas returns to the top continental competition as the only representative of Turkish football, diminished in the last decade, at least, in terms of European successes. The Yalcin men are returning as league champions and they have reason to be optimistic. They fell into the simplest group of the draw together with Dortmund, Ajax and Sporting and their return to the Champions League coincides with the return of fans to the stadiums, an extra weapon for a team that, like most of the clubs in their country, he encourages himself from the famous 'Turkish hell' in the big European events to be more competitive.
As for sports, Besiktas has strengthened well in attack with the arrivals of Batshuayi and Ghezzal, both from the Premier. Behind, he will have problems stopping Haland, Tadic and Gonçalves despite the experience of players like the Croatian Vida or the locals Meras and Yilmaz.
Like the other German participants in the Champions League, Borussia Dortmund faces this new season with a new coach. Marco Rose, a former Gladbach player, succeeds Edin Terzic on the bench at a Signal Iduna Park where they intend to finish the group stage in first position. Rose will not alter the philosophy of play based on verticality and fast transitions that characterizes BVB so much and that, too, is tailored to the players it has.
Haaland, top scorer in the last edition of the top continental competition, continues to be Borussia's reference at the top and the great threat to all their opponents. He started the season again plugged in and he intends to continue being decisive in what may be his last season wearing the black-yellow elastic, since in 2022 a clause between 75 and 90 million euros comes into force for the Norwegian star that more than one club will be enchanting to pay. Malen is the replacement for Sancho in a Dortmund in which the Spanish Morey will continue to leave until 2022.
Sporting return to the Champions League with the illusion of the flag after the Lisbon team were proclaimed champions of the Liga NOS after 19 years. And how!. The team led by the young coach Ruben Amorim dominated the championship from start to finish, losing only one game, to Benfica, when they had already been proclaimed champion of Portugal.
Amorim has formed a solid block, which only conceded 20 league goals last season, made up of promising youngsters and veteran players, including two Spaniards, Adán and Pedro Porro, two fundamental pieces in the successes of the Sportinguista team. Along with them, the midfielder Palinha and the right winger Pedro Gonçalves stand out, already fixed in the calls of the Portuguese team. Veterans Coates and former Betis Feddal form a highly experienced and level defensive duo. The late signing of Pablo Sarabia brings even more quality to the team.
It is evident that teams like PSG, with its planetary concentration of Galacticos with Messi at the helm, is the great favorite to win this Champions League. As is the current champion, Tuchel's Chelsea, or that Guardiola's City that has been trying for years and that always ends up staying at the gates. But Madrid have Ancelotti, who has a talisman with this competition.
Like Zidane, the Italian is one of the privileged ones in the select club that has won three Champions League titles as a coach. He won two with Milan and the famous Décima with Madrid. That is just what allows the white fans not to throw in the towel in this new edition of the competition.
Defining “roller coasters” what Inter has experienced in recent months is an understatement. The Nerazzurri have gone from the illusion of winning the scudetto breaking Juve's streak, to fear of the economic crisis in Suning, with unpaid salaries and the fear of being left without a star. The summer began with Conte's sudden goodbye and continued with Achraf and Lukaku's. That of the Belgian was the most painful not only because he had promised to stay, but also because replacing him, on the market, was impossible. Marotta, however, managed to make the team very competitive. First of all, he opted for Simone Inzaghi, who after her great adventure in Lazio is looking for the big leap. With him, the interisti continue to use Conte's 3-5-2 and have started great in Serie A.
The signings, in addition, have already shown that they will make a difference in the first official commitments. Calhanoglu as a free agent was a bargain, Dzeko came almost for free, Dumfries is talked about great and Joaquín Correa completes the lead with speed and quality. In addition, Lautaro Martínez remained, whose goodbye has also been on the table for months. His continuity is a very important emotional blow and the Argentine knows that, now, the weight of the team will be on his shoulders. The almost perfect Inter last year had a huge mole: its failure in the Champions League. Nobody asks Simone Inzaghi to win the Orejona (or the scudetto), but passing the group stage would be a huge signal about the project, which is still alive, and it would also help the entity's coffers a lot. The Nerazzurri will risk their lives on European nights. And the visits in San Siro are always complicated
The Italian De Zerbi has been entrusted with the task of regaining the throne in Ukraine and playing the great Europeans face to face. His thought-provoking philosophy fits with Shakhtar's endless list of Brazilian players. There are 13 in total. Pedrinho and former Barcelona player Marlon landed in this market. Lassina Traoré also arrived, for which they paid Ajax about 40 million.
Shakhtar has never lacked money, almost always destined for the Brazilian player. As he demonstrated against Madrid in the previous edition, winning both games, Shakhtar cannot be underestimated in the offensive aspect. Another very different matter is his defensive response, starting with the goal. Trubin has already replaced veteran Pyatov, who had to assume the starting position in the first part of the season. But the young goalkeeper offers an uneven performance. Its irregularity is a reflection of what this Shakhtar is on a collective level.
The soccer community has looked in awe at Sheriff Tiraspol's historic drive this summer. For the first time he will be in the Champions League after eliminating Albanian Teuta, Armenian Alashkert, Red Star and Dinamo Zagreb. A team without a country, from the unrecognized region of Transnistria, which has been champion up to 19 times in Moldova. It was created by two former members of the KGB and maintains its Soviet symbolism. Hence, the cultural and identity content of the Sheriff is much greater than the interest in football.
Yuryi Vernydub's team is a fierce block, firm and always ready to surprise in counterattack situations. His greatest virtue is his defensive fierceness (in other games in the previous rounds he only conceded two goals). With 17 different nationalities on his staff, a cultural mosaic, the Sheriff will represent all the modest and those forgotten leagues on the European scene. The feat is already accomplished.
Definitely, Barça has taken off the favorite dress. In the immediate objectives of the club is to prioritize the Spanish competition, but that does not take away the greatest dignity when it comes to competing. After five years out the back door of the top European competition after having built expectations that did not match reality, Barça's European discourse begins from humility.
The bar, of course, requires going through the group stage and then trying to advance from tie to tie. In Barcelona it is remembered that a year ago, nobody gave a euro for Chelsea as Champions of the Champions League. Everything is going to be a matter of growth throughout the season.
Without going as a favorite, Barcelona is also aware that it is a rival that nobody will want to face, but the Blaugrana also pray not to meet certain teams at the crossroads. Especially PSG. Undoubtedly, a premature cross against Messi, Neymar and company would be a tough test for Barcelona.
Bayern Munich hit the table for the first time so far this season in the Bundesliga. Julian Nagelsmann's men beat RB Leipzig 4-1 away from home, thus proving that the Bavarians are heading towards what would be their tenth consecutive salad bowl in the highest German competition. They have three victories and a draw for the Munich after four rounds, an income that serves to place them second to a total of two points from Wolfsburg at the top of the table. The victory could not have been more special for Nagelsmann, Upamecano and the newcomer Sabitzer, who returned to what was their home to emerge victorious from Red Bull Arena.
It was a very close match, in which mistakes were paid dearly. The referee signaled a penalty after a hand in the Kampl area and invited Lewandowski to score his sixth goal so far this season. The Pole continues to be inspired, who pulled a Bayern that was not able to take full control of the match in East Germany. Dani Olmo had a golden opportunity to put the tables before the break, but the Spanish international's shot went high.
It was Bayern who came out of the dressing room better and ended up expanding the score two minutes into the second half. Nagelsmann introduced Musiala through the injured Gnabry and the young and highly inspired Bayern pearl scored the second on Davies' pass. The goal was the finishing touch for a Leipzig that threw character and cut differences through André Silva until the VAR annulled the goal for offside. Sané, in full shape after his brilliant performances with the Mannschaft, made the third and sentenced the crash. Laimer cut differences with half an hour to go, but Marsch's men were not able to fight for the game and ended up conceding the fourth, the work of Choupo-Moting.
One place behind Bayern is Borussia Dortmund, eternal rival of the Bavarians in which Erling Haaland continues to be decisive. A double by the Norwegian star was key when it came to taking Leverkusen's three points and proving that Rose's men want to fight for the title at Bayern. He has a total of five goals and four assists in just four games this season. And he remains the main hope for fans at Signal Iduna Park when it comes to snatching the salad bowl from Bayern a decade later.
Benfica is a classic in Europe, whose name appeals to the nostalgia of the highest competition, twice champions in the early sixties. But in his last three appearances he was unable to break through to the last 16 despite facing an accessible first round. His past influence still shows in his competitive pride and he allows himself to look at the present with some optimism. Under the leadership of the illustrious Jorge Jesus, Benfica is an organized team, with different tactical variants and threatening strategy.
Its squad is thickened by footballers of a higher category than what the Portuguese league requires. Grimaldo's talent or Rafa Silva's technical class would have space in teams from another soccer sphere. Above, Seferovic, Carlos Vinicius and Darwin Núñez have been added to Yaremchuk, who delighted in the Euro Cup with Ukraine. On the other side of the field there is where to choose. From the experience of Otamendi and Vertonghen to the energetic irruption of Morato.
In the shadow of Shakhtar the last seasons, Dynamo Kiev won the league title in Ukraine five years later. Without Lucescu it would never have happened. At 76 years old, a living myth of the benches, nothing escapes him and he keeps intact an illusion for football that infects his players. It is the key to this Dinamo, which is true that it loses steam outside its borders.
Without going any further, the last year did not leave a good image in a group stage in which it already coincided with Barcelona and neither in the subsequent Europa League tie against Villarreal. He was beaten in both instances. Lucescu gives value to the Ukrainian player. However, up to nine members of this Dinamo played the European Championship with Shevchenko's team. Dinamo can boast of a good litter of interesting players, but the precedents predict a short run in the Champions League. It would be a shame for Lucescu.
Villarreal CF returns to the Champions League for the fourth time in its history, and it does so thanks to having won the Europa League. The people of Castellón face the competition in which they have experienced both sides of the same coin, reaching the semifinals and experiencing a disastrous participation. And it is that in their first participation in the 05-06 they made history by reaching the semifinals against Arsenal, in a participation that made them known in the world. After the second participation in 08-09, the team reached the last 16 to lose to Arsenal. While the nightmare came in the 11-12 season, in which the yellows lost all the games of the group stage, in which it was called group of death (with Manchester City, Bayer Munich and Naples).
To fall five seasons ago in the qualifying phase with Monaco, which left them at the door of their return. Now they do it via the Europa League, which makes this participation a gift. For Emery's team, this participation comes at the best moment, since it is done with an armed team, with a large staff, and with a team and a technician, who already know what it is to compete against the best. Therefore, this is a test for the Roig project, with the idea of measuring the ability to compete again against the biggest. The yellows return to the Champions League with the idea of being in the Europa League not to pass the group stage, although they do not rule out going as far as possible as they did that first time when no one knew them and they ended up astonishing the world.
The icing on the Old Trafford project. After Varane and Sancho, the presence of Cristiano gives solidity and credibility to the red devils, who want to return to the elite in a big way. You can't remember a more exciting summer at Old Trafford. It all started with the strategic signing of Jadon Sancho, great English talent abroad, who came for 85 million. At 21, he is ready to be decisive with Manchester United. Then Raphael Varane was added, a fundamental stone to solidify the project of the red devils with Maguire in the center of the rear.
And the finishing touch was Cristiano Ronaldo. In a few frenzied hours, Solskjaer's team has achieved a proven scorer, a football legend and, if that were not enough, a piece of the club's history. Cristiano returns to Old Trafford with 36 years but with the guarantee of guaranteed performance. The Portuguese is the end of a dream offensive list where the Norwegian coach will have to juggle to satisfy everyone: Cristiano, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Greenwood, Martial, Cavani, Pogba, Mata or Van de Beek.
Manchester United have been trying for years to regain their image in the Premier League, a competition they have not won since 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson's last year on the bench. Nor have they been powerful in the Champions League, to the point that only in the Europa League have they been able to perform recently: semi-finalists in 2020, finalists in 2021, champions in 2017.
The Red Devils project, with Solskjer on the bench, needs titles. Quality footballers have plenty, now their choral performance needs to be what is expected of a club that has made an excellent summer market and which only lacks the results to end up being fearsome throughout the 2021/22 season .
At Old Trafford they have managed to bring together the past and the future. Between Cristiano, Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho are the three stages but with an added extra: all are lethal in the present.
Atalanta participates for the third time in its history in the Champions League and is no longer frightened by stage. The quarters of 2020 and the eighth of 2021 show that Gasperini's team, which in Serie A is already a certainty, knows how to be great also on European nights and this, perhaps, may be the course of his great leap. Having lost Gollini and Romero is a bearable sacrifice if they are replaced with players of the level of Juan Musso (who cost 20 million) and Merih Demiral, from Juve (which, between loan and purchase option, will cost about 30).
The Dea rejected all the offers for the other stars (Inter wanted Zapata, but could not) and, in addition, it was reinforced with Zappacosta, Lovato and Koopmeiners, which aims to be another jewel in the crown. The bet of 'Gasp' will remain the same: intensity and quality. The arrivals of the wings and the definition of Muriel, author of 45 goals in his first two years as a Nerazzurri, will be his weapons.
In the shadow of Basel for so long, the Young Boys is the current foreman of Swiss football. He already has four league titles in a row after 32 previous drought years. In this beginning of the course he has been able to avoid the pitfall of the previous phase of the Champions League, where he fell on so many occasions. Young Boys retain last season's block, but had to search for a coach following Gerardo Seoane's decision to embark on the Bayer Leverkusen project.
The chosen one was David Wagner, former of Huddersfield and Schalke, who was Klopp's assistant at Borussia Dortmund. That collaboration gives an idea, saving the distances, of how the Young Boys is defined. The game plan, under a stretchy 4-4-2, relies on high pace and transitions with a prominent offensive mindset. It proposes almost a round trip. En la Champions le puede salir caro, así como los equívocos graves que comete en zona defensiva o en alguna salida de balón.
Tras caer en los octavos de final de la pasada edición de la Champions League ante el Borussia Dortmund de Haaland, que hizo una escabechina en Nervión pero que acabó pidiendo la hora en el partido de vuelta, el Sevilla vuelve a tener como objetivo pasar la fase de grupos. La máxima competición continental se toma en el Sánchez Pizjuán como una fuente de ingresos que hay que priorizar. Como siempre, el objetivo del club será superarse, por lo que lo primero es solventar la fase inicial y que luego sea el sorteo el que depare las opciones de los de Lopetegui de hacer un camino más o menos largo en Europa.
Ser el rey de la Europa League le ha servido al Sevilla para ganarse el respeto en el Viejo Continente. En la pasada edición rascó un meritorio empate ante el Chelsea en Stamford Bridge, pero la falta de fondo de armario para las rotaciones hizo que la visita de los ingleses a la capital de Andalucía se solventara con una dolorosa goleada en contra. Este año, el Sevilla tiene más argumentos para poder plantar cara a cualquiera, pero todo queda supeditado al objetivo prioritario de acabar la Liga entre los cuatro primeros. Los de Lopetegui no serán cabeza de serie pero sí que, a buen seguro, serán uno de los equipos del segundo bombo al que la mayoría de participantes querrán evitar a toda costa.
Tras haberse proclamado campeón de forma inesperada de la Ligue 1 en Champions, el Lille ha vuelto esta temporada a la realidad. El proyecto, iniciado por Gerard López y Luis Campos, ha desaparecido prácticamente tras la salida de ambos en enero. En verano, aunque no ha perdido a muchos jugadores de los que salieron campeones en mayo, ha sufrido pérdidas irreparables. Una de ellas es la de Galtier, el hombre milagro en el banquillo, y que fue sustituido por Gourvennec, un entrenador pragmático que, de momento, no ha convencido en sus primeros partidos a pesar de haberle ganado al PSG la Supercopa en agosto. Su última experiencia en Burdeos no invita al optimismo a los aficionados del Lille.
Siendo un equipo joven, de mucha calidad en el medio y en ataque y, con grandes jugadores para lanzar contragolpes, el Lille buscará clasificarse para los octavos en un grupo en el que tiene que superar a dos escollos como son Sevilla y Salzburgo. En cuanto a la plantilla, únicamente las bajas de Maignan (al Milan, suplida por Gbric, del Atlético) y de Soumaré han debilitado a un campeón venido a menos en los últimos partidos. La dupla Fonte-Botman en defensa, inexpugnable la temporada pasada, ya no aporta tanta contundencia y, en el medio, André sigue siendo un oasis en el desierto. No obstante, los norteños se encomiendan al talento de Ikoné, Bamba y Yazici, además de la mordiente de David y un rejuvenecido Yilmaz (36 años) en ataque para intentar, como mínimo, competir con el objetivo de soñar con una hipotética clasificación, algo que se antoja complicado viendo la dificultad del grupo y el favoritismo del Sevilla para ser primero.
Ya no extraña ver al Salzburgo entre los mejores. Los réditos deportivos de un proyecto económico relevante y bien pensado se empiezan a vislumbrar. Lo merece tanto por la inversión en jóvenes talentos como por el estilo futbolístico. Su autoridad resulta intratable en Austria y ahora necesita desafíos mayores. No para de preparar jugadores que
dan el salto a las grandes ligas. Haaland y Minamino primero, después Szoboszlai, y este verano Daka y Mwepu. Pero el Salzburgo permanece por una política de fichajes atractiva, personificada con Piatkowski, Simic y Capaldo, y una personalidad en el campo muy marcada. No importa que se vayan también los entrenadores. Ocurrió con Jesse Marsch, ahora en el club hermano Leipzig. Su sucesor es Matthias Jaissle, el nuevo Nagelsmann. A sus 33 años, defiende la idea que diferencia al Salzburgo. El sentido vertical del juego, la máxima agresividad en la presión y la apuesta por el talento aparecen como principales
La revelación de la temporada pasada en la Bundesliga ha empezado como un tiro a pesar de haber sufrido un cambio esencial en su banquillo. El ex del Barcelona Mark van Bommel heredó el cargo de Oliver Glasner en un Wolfsburgo que terminó el curso pasado en una sensacional cuarta posición y se marchó al reciente parón como líder en solitario de la máxima competición alemana tras tres triunfos de tres. Andará avisado el Sevilla de Lopetegui ante un equipo rocoso e incómodo como es el de Baja Sajonia.
Bajo las órdenes del neerlandés, los lobos quieren aumentar su cuota de posesión y seguir cargando por dos bandas de alto voltaje. Mbabu y Baku por la derecha al igual que Roussillon por la izquierda dotan el juego del Wolfsburgo de esa verticalidad que sabe aprovechar el gigantesco Weghorst arriba. Arnold y Schlager mueven los hilos en el centro del campo y Lacroix lidera una defensa que fue clave para meterse en la élite del continente seis años después. Quedará por ver cómo compaginan tres competiciones la vez.
Si el Chelsea de Thomas Tuchel fue campeón de la Champions la pasada temporada sin un ‘9’ puro, qué no podrá hacer este año con Romelu Lukaku en la plantilla. Los blues afrontan una nueva campaña con el belga como única, y no por ello menos deslumbrante, novedad en el equipo titular, pero lo cierto es que no necesitaban nada más. Si siguen rindiendo a nivel colectivo como lo hicieron en última mitad del curso anterior, es sin duda uno de los cuatro grandes favoritos para volver a levantar el trofeo.
Desde la portería y la defensa de tres, que conforma un bloque inexpugnable y solidario capaz de desesperar rivales, hasta un centro del campo que se ha llevado todos los elogios hasta la fecha. Y arriba, Mount, Pulisic, Havertz, Ziyech, Werner y Lukaku para afilar un equipo que es una roca.
La clave, como en todo equipo de este estilo, estará en la capacidad de Tuchel para mantener a toda la plantilla enchufada de cara a primavera, donde se decidirá si lo suyo fue una flor de unos meses o un proyecto a largo plazo.
La primera Juventus post-Cristiano es una incógnita. Desde la llegada del portugués los bianconeri han empezado a empeorar hasta romper, en mayo, su legendario periplo de nueve scudetti seguidos. En cuatro cursos los de Turín han tenido cuatro entrenadores distintos: después de Sarri y Pirlo, ha vuelto Allegri. Para el italiano, al que echaron en busca de un juego “más europeo”, es una venganza, pero ahora le tocará reconstruir.
Será una temporada de transición y no habrá el agobio de romper el gafe de la Copa de Europa, con el que no pudo ni Ronaldo. El entrenador eligió como su líder a Dybala, hambriento tras una temporada difícil, y apostará mucho por Morata, al que siempre apreció. La llegada de Locatelli es fundamental para la medular, mientras que, para sustituir a CR7, la directiva optó por el regreso de Kean. El joven Kaio Jorge completa la delantera: habrá que intentar entre todos suplir a los 30 goles por temporada que se fueron con Cristiano.
Contra todo pronóstico, el Malmoe ha logrado superar cuatro eliminatorias previas para hasta acceder a la fase de grupos de esta Champions y lo ha hecho tras perder solo uno de sus ocho partidos, el último, en la ronda previa final ante el Ludogorets búlgaro (2-1), en el que hizo valer el 2-0 de la ida. Previamente superó al Riga, al HJK Helsinki y al Rangers de Steven Gerrard. Por eso, a pesar del bajo nivel de su plantilla se le presupone un equipo muy competitivo, aunque no parece que esta competitividad sea suficiente para realizar un buen papel en la máxima competición continental.
La realidad del equipo sueco, vigente campeón de su liga, es que sería un verdadero éxito lograr la tercera plaza del grupo, que ya por sí parece complicado. Cuenta con la ventaja de que está mucho más rodado que sus rivales (ya se ha jugado más de media liga sueca) pero su plantilla apenas tiene experiencia en Europa. Sus jugadores más destacados son el delantero croata Çolak y el hispano-peruano Sergio Peña, ex del Granada.
El bajón de la Premier rusa en los últimos años ha hecho que su ránking UEFA disminuyese y que el campeón ruso perdiera su condición de cabeza de serie en el sorteo de la Champions, algo que dificulta las posibilidades del Zenit de pasar a los octavos de final, a los que no llega desde la temporada 2015/16. El equipo de Semak mantiene el bloque de los últimos años, con el que ha ganado las tres últimas ligas del país. Azmoun y Dzuyba son dos puñales en ataque, de lo mejor del fútbol del este; llevan años jugando juntos y se entienden a la perfección.
Son la principal arma de un equipo en el que les secundan jugadores contrastados en el fútbol ruso, como Mostovoi, Kuzyaev y Erokhin y extranjeros de nivel (Malcom, Barrios, Wendel y Lovren). Con muy pocas posibilidades de superar la fase de grupos (eliminar a Juventus o Chelsea sería una hazaña), el Zenit lo fía todo al tercer puesto, que no debería complicársele, puesto que tiene nivel más que de sobra para superar al Malmoe.