There is something about the Champions League. Its theme music and logo; the way the stadium seems to light up and take on a mystical aura. This is the trophy everyone wants. However, there still are teams more likely to actually win it.
One of my earliest sporting memories is sitting in my living room as a young child in Nigeria, and seeing Ajax lift the Champions League trophy.
Years later, Ajax is finally being taken seriously. Once again, they give out an energy of being able to reach the final stages, lead by the absolute fire of captain Dušan Tadić.
Despite my relationship with club football now being in the unpleasant: “it’s complicated” stage, the Champions League has always remained magical. Very few things are more joyful to me than sitting down on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, ready to watch the game unfold.
This season is set to be another treat for football fans around the world. With each year that passes, we are seeing the decrease in the gap between major players and outsiders. No longer do we have the usual suspects with their semi-final tickets booked before a ball is even kicked.
Once you reach the knockouts, there are no easy games. The so-called “smaller”, low key teams are fearless, ready to go to war with the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona or PSG.
Any major sides that see Shakhtar Donetsk or Red Star Belgrade on their fixture list, know that getting a good away result will be a grind.
So, what about the favorites?
All eyes are set on Liverpool. The defending champions are a project that seems to thrive from strength of the uber-cool and enthusiastic Jürgen Klopp, whose magnetic personality is echoed in the way his teams plays football.
With the entire Anfield on their side, Liverpool have an upper hand at a venue that is going to be a problem for any opponent. In the two-legged conundrum that makes this competition so enticing; heading into the cauldron that is Anfield, is never easy. The Scouse football, mixed with the home atmosphere is a potent mix.
Down south, Cristiano Ronaldo has promised to bring the coveted title to Turin. This is why he left the bright lights of Real Madrid, and joined Juventus to much fanfare. It is something the Italian giant has been searching for, ever since Gianluca Vialli led Juve towards triumphs in the late nineties.
You can hate him for his arrogant, self-serving nature. However, his passion cannot be denied and he is not the kind of man you want to bet against in a crucial game.
Further west, Barcelona are still hurting from that shocker last season. Ernesto Valverde managed to keep his job despite being a target of the Blaugrana ire. Fans still want him gone, while many questions arise with the start of the new season.
Is Griezmann enough to push them over the line? Can the excitement of Ansu Fati elevate Barça? And finally, just how much magic and witchcraft does Lionel Messi have in his bag of tricks?
Messi has made his intentions of winning the competition again very obvious. He was so close to another title last season. Meaning that if his supporting cast are able to raise their games, Barcelona could be too hot to handle.
Pep Guardiola will never be fully separated from Barça. Many believe he revolutionized football in commanding the most one-sided team in a Champions League final.
However, since we are no longer in the year 2011, what about his current and incredibly talented Manchester City?
The quality players are there, and so is the desire; but the question is, can Pep get his tactics right when it really matters. With each season, he fails to go all the way. Constantly disputed, the pressure on Guardiola grows, alongside the narrative of being unable to win the biggest trophy without Messi, despite City performing well so far in the Premier League.
Then there is PSG. A club I didn’t want to mention, and a team who I feel are destined to lose. However, you cannot deny their ridiculous talent. Currently the world’s most gifted central midfielder Marco Verratti is an ace in the sleeve of any coach, with Mbappe still in time to realize his full potential.
Of course, we have to point out Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. It is worth mentioning the full name of this Brazilian superstar who seems to favor the Hollywood lifestyle over strutting his stuff on the green and white pastures.
Known for his dribbles as much as his flops, can Neymar be fit for a full season? So far, he hasn’t given himself fully to PSG. If he actually was fit, the Parisians would have a very different proposition, tremendously increasing their chances of moving towards the final stages.
The best part is that things are only getting started. There are many characters in this story, major derbies, and surely plenty of drama ahead. Fans are preparing in hopes their team won’t be the one to get shockingly dumped out during the group stage.
But this is the Champions League, and the moment the referee marks the start, anything can happen, and we will keep our eyes on the stadiums around Europe as the new season unfolds.
Written by: H.H.
Edited by: J.L.