This year’s UEFA Champion’s League looks set to be one of the most exciting yet. The pretenders are slowly being filtered out, and rising to the top is a crop of Europe’s elite.
Superpowers and star-studded squads such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona look set to lock horns as they attempt to claim Europe’s biggest prize, while English megabucks Chelsea is likely to join them.
Olympiakos looks likely to be the only “weak” team left after the round-of-16 is finished, after their shocking (or maybe not so shocking) victory over Manchester United. Even if they seal progression, the Greek side are unlikely to trouble any of this collection of Europe’s most deadly teams.
But laying in wait are three teams who, although not traditional European giants, could spring a surprise or two as they look to show they can duke it out with Europe’s big boys.
One of those teams is Paris Saint-Germain; the French club has fought (or bought) their path to European recognition, and with a squad packed full of world-class players, they are a force to be reckoned with.
After finishing first in Group C, the French outfit was drawn against Bayer Leverkusen – not an easy task.
Leverkusen were sitting in second place in the Bundesliga (a hard run of fixtures has seen them drop to fourth) when the draw was made and looked set to push PSG for a birth in the quarter-finals.
PSG dispelled the myth that this would be a close-run tie quickly. An Ibrahimovic-inspired performance saw Leverkusen thrashed 4-0 in their own backyard, no mean feat.
The scoreline said more about PSG than it did about their opponents – they aren’t just a flat-track bully, they have the firepower to threaten any defence that is put in front of them.
Paris Saint-Germain’s star-studded squad looks like they will finally challenge for a place in Europe’s elite, and with the prolific and absurdly-talented Zlatan Ibrahimovic spearheading them, they could make things quite interesting.
But Ibra isn’t the only one attempting to spearhead his team to glory – Diego Costa’s Atlético Madrid are also looking to threaten the giants and win silverware.
Atlético have been matching Barca and Madrid stride for stride in La Liga this season – they are currently second, one point up on Barca – and have carried their incredible performances into European competition.
Los Colchoneros topped a deceptively tough Group G (containing the likes of FC Porto and Zenit Saint Petersburg) by progressing undefeated.
Like PSG, their offence, inspired by a talented powerhouse striker, is often unplayable.
Diego Costa and Co. faced a difficult AC Milan in the round-of-16, but a late away goal from Costa and a 4-1 romp in the return leg showed Atlético’s, and specifically Costa’s (he has an incredible seven goals in only five UCL matches), prowess in front of goal is not to be frowned at.
If Atlético’s domestic season wasn’t impressive enough, they’ve certainly given Europe much to think about – they are genuine contenders for this Champion’s League trophy.
Speaking of contenders, Borussia Dortmund knows what it’s like to fight for the title of Europe’s best.
Der BVB finished as runners up to Bayern Munich last year, but aren’t widely regarded as being in Europe’s top bracket of clubs – but despite that, the world certainly knows what Jürgen Klopp’s men are capable of.
Dortmund, currently second in the Bundesliga, have a team oozing with world-class talent. Up front they boast the likes of Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski (although not for long) and other emerging talents such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – a collection of attacking talents that frighten even the bravest defenders.
In midfield they have the impressive İlkay Gündoğan and at the back they have the imperious Mats Hummels. Make no mistake, Dortmund may not be a Real Madrid or a Barcelona, but they are a genuine world-class team.
The Germans came out of this year’s group of death (containing Arsenal, Marseille and Napoli) and have since then defeated Zenit 4-2 in Russia. Although their progress is not guarenteed, four away goals and the overall quality of their team will more than likely see them through to the quarter-finals.
Like PSG and Atlético, Dortmund have what it takes to go all the way in this competition.
The reputations of these three clubs may not be a match for Europe’s traditional giants, but all three have been growing rapidly and aren’t looking back.
While Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid are undoubtedly the favourites for this year’s Champion’s League trophy, it would be of grave danger for any of their opponents to write off this trio of underdogs.
The Champion’s League, as showcased so many times, is no stranger to the concept of expecting the unexpected.