The UEFA Champions League is one of the most keenly-contested tournaments in European football. Pundits and supporters alike look at the recent form of the top clubs, as well as the tactics the managers employ, when attempting to predict who will make the final in Cardiff in June. However, despite football being a team game, it can be individual players that lead clubs to European glory.
State of the art
The top players are fairly evenly distributed around Europe’s biggest clubs. Money talks, and gifted players often heed its call. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to suggest five-time winners Barcelona and current holders Real Madrid dominate the Champions League partly due to their extremely deep pockets; they’re able to sign the best players in the world, offering them not only huge salaries, but state-of-the-art facilities and, of course, the chance to play the beautiful game at the highest level.
The Spanish giants are not alone however. Other European giants, like Bayern Munich and Juventus, have their share of top players, as do Arsenal and Manchester City in the Premier League.
As 888sport has previously pointed out, Real Madrid have a battle on their hands holding on to their title, but that won’t be because of a lack of talent. It’s easy to take the footballing genius of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale for granted, but any team that underestimates does so at its own peril.
Remember, it was Ronaldo that won Los Blancos the Champions League in 2016, scoring the deciding penalty in the shootout against local rivals against Atlético Madrid, and whatever happens this season, the newly-crowned Ballon d’Or winner will be looking to add to his medal collection.
At Manchester City, Raheem Sterling struggled last season, but started this term in fine form under the tutelage of two-times Champions League-winning manager Pep Guardiola. If the 22-year-old England international can rediscover that form following a spate of injuries, his speed and skill could help Manchester City progress deep into the competition.
While he’s been around for a while, Arsenal’s Theo Walcott has enjoyed a prolific start to the Champions League campaign, scoring three goals four appearances.
Barcelona remains favourites to win this season’s Champions League, and the main reason for that is the form and sheer quality of their players. Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar remain possibly the most fearsome attacking trio Europe has ever seen, while the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano have stacks of Champions League-winning experience.
Douglas Costa and Renato Sanchez are two exciting players that will be hungry to prove themselves at Bayern Munich, with the latter only having arrived at the club in July. Manager Carlo Ancelotti, who has won the Champions League three times, will be looking to get more out of them on the pitch as the competition progresses into the knockout stages.
Over at Juventus, all eyes will be on summer signings Gonzalo Higuaín, Miralem Pjanic and Dani Alves as the club looks to compensate for the loss of Paul Pogba to Manchester United.
One thing’s for certain; whoever wins the Champions League, we’re sure to see plenty of top performances from some of the world’s best players between now and June.