The draw for this year’s Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Conference League are right around the corner, and anticipation is building for the return of European football. This season will feel unique due to the World Cup, with all six Champions League group games squeezed in before the enforced winter break midway through November. This means games will come thick and fast and teams will likely have to hit the ground running or miss out on a place in the knockout rounds.
Last year saw Real Madrid win a 14th title after beating Liverpool in Paris and after capturing the Super League in European football’s curtain-raiser by overcoming Europa League champions Eintracht Frankfurt, they surely come in as favourites amongst the Champions League betting. However, the competition is known for its unpredictability, and we saw plenty of upsets last season.
From late comebacks to dramatic giant killings, you can’t write anyone off in the Champions League, and with that in mind read on, as we take a look at some outsiders who could win this year’s tournament come the final in Istanbul.
Champions in 2020, Chelsea overcame the odds in both European success stories, beating Bayern Munich in their own backyard in 2012 before winning a second title in Porto against Manchester City. Since then Thomas Tuchel has reached four more finals, winning the Super Cup and Club World Cup but missing out on a domestic double having lost to Liverpool twice on penalties.
The Blues have seen a summer of spurned transfer attempts but still improved their squad by bringing in defensive reinforcements as well as Raheem Sterling to bolster the attack. Should they gather momentum expect them to go further than last season’s quarter final exit, where a Karim Benzema-inspired Madrid fired their way to a memorable comeback. Todd Boehly clearly has big plans for the club and what a way to lay down a marker with some European success.
It’s been a strange year for Spanish football, with uncertainly over Barcelona’s financial situation and the pandemic frustratingly preventing fans from entering stadia in full capacity until halfway through the season. Atlético Madrid came in as La Liga champions but a difficult summer meant Diego Simeone’s side failed to really strengthen, and they crashed out in Europe after a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Manchester City. Although Pep Guardiola’s side got the better of them, Atléti demonstrated how horrible they are to play against, and on another night could have easily taken their opportunities to reach the semi-final. Expect more of the same this year and with João Félix leading the line, we could see them reach their first final for seven years.
While last season represented frustration in Turin, with Juventus dumped out of the Champions League by plucky underdogs Villarreal, the business conducted by Max Allegri and co at the Allianz over the summer has been excellent, both shifting on players and recruiting new ones. While they would have liked to have kept Matthijs de Ligt, who left for German champions Bayern Munich, and Giorgio Chiellini departed for the MLS, ‘The Old Lady’ brought in Paul Pogba from Manchester United, as well as Filip Kostić and Ángel Di María — players with plenty of European experience. The return of Federico Chiesa from injury and Dušan Vlahović returning to goalscoring form means Juve have every chance of going to distance given a nice draw.