The Champions League group stages are nearing an end with four rounds of games already beyond us. At this stage of the competition, who seems most likely to lift the most prestigious trophy in club football? Here’s what we think.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2019/20 FAVORITES
We are backing Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain to go all the way this season.
WHAT ABOUT OTHERS?
The Bavarians have won all of their first four matches in their UCL group, including a 7-2 thumping of last season runner-ups Tottenham Hotspur away from home. But it remains to be seen how parting ways with head-coach Niko Kovac midseason affects their campaign.
The record time winners of the competition are struggling to maintain consistency both in Europe and in domestic football. New recruits like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic are yet to settle in.
Barcelona went into the November international break topping the league and their Champions League group. But, the Catalans are struggling to perform cohesively under Ernesto Valverde and seems over-reliant on their Argentine talisman Lionel Messi.
All’s going well for the Bianconeri at the moment but Ronaldo’s off-form and lack of a dynamic number 9 might derail their Champions League ambitions.
Despite starting off with a defeat at Napoli, the defending champions have bounced back convincingly with three follow up wins in the Champions League. However, Jurgen Klopp will have a tough time managing his squad and regarding to bettingsites.ng the Reds are desperate to win the Premier League title for the first time in their history as well as retaining their status as European champions.
Manchester City have been an indomitable force in England in the past two seasons but they have failed to mimic their domestic success in Europe. Pep Guardiola would be setting his sights on lifting the trophy for the first time since his Barcelona days. That said, a shaky start to their title defense in England and their defensive frailties could turn out to be the X factors in their pursuit of Champions League glory.
WHAT MAKES PSG A BETTER CANDIDATE FOR CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SUCCESS?
PSG’s Qatari investors have spared no expenses to drive the club to European success. While the billion euro investment did make the Parisians the unquestionable rulers of French football, they couldn’t get past the quarter-final threshold in the competition of European elites. So, what’s different this time around? What makes us think that Thomas Tuchel could deliver what the likes of Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery and Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t?
A STRONG MIDFIELD
If we analyze PSG’s collapses over the years, it would become evident that they were bullied out of the midfield by their oppositions. In spite of their attacking riches, the Ligue 1 giants lacked the flair required to command the midfield against top oppositions. With the signings of Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera, Tuchel seems to have finally sorted out that problem. Gueye, in particular, has been instrumental in PSG’s high-octane showings in the Champions League including a 3-0 hammering of La Liga giants Real Madrid. The former Everton man averages 3 tackles and 3 interceptions per game in the Champions League and also uses his brilliant link-up play skills to orchestrate attacks. Having a complete midfield package in the form of Gueye allows Herrera, Marquinhos and Veratti to play with less pressure and focus on their respective duties on the pitch.
In modern football, fullbacks occupy a special role in attacking play. So to implement a proper attacking philosophy, you need to get your fullbacks thrust forward during attacks and contribute meaningfully to open up the opposition defense. Both Juan Bernat and Thomas Meunier have been bettering their attacking stats this season compared to the previous campaign. Bernat had 7 goal contributions in 41 appearances in 18/19 whereas he already has 5 assists by his name in 15 appearances this season. Bernat’s Belgian colleague Thomas Meunier has also been heavily involved in PSG’s build-ups in 2019/20 with a remarkable 83.7 touches per game. The Belgian also averages 2.2 key passes per game; a statistic which can only be bettered by Angel Di Maria and Kylian MBappe among his teammates.
AN EXPERIENCED GOALKEEPER
Replacing Kevin Trapp with Real Madrid veteran Keylor Navas in goal are already paying dividends for PSG. Trapp was a very talented goalkeeper but he lacked the big game experience Navas brought with him. The 32-year-old has a 100% save record in the UCL after four group matches and is yet to concede a goal. Navas has won three UCL titles with Madrid and has played more than 90 international matches for Costa Rica. Coping with big match pressure is a necessary prerequisite in making Champions League progress and thanks to Navas, Tuchel now has someone in his dressing room who knows what it takes to go all the way in the tournament.
PLETHORA OF ATTACKING OPTIONS
It’s no secret that the attacking trio of Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian MBappe is PSG’s greatest weapon. But none of these players were on the pitch when PSG dismantled Real Madrid 3-0 at Parc des Princes. The availability of Angel di Maria, Pablo Sarabia, Mauro Icardi and Julian Draxler gives PSG a handful of lethal alternatives in attack.