Competition Heating Up in UEFA Champions League

From a global perspective, there is no title in sports more coveted than that of the Champions League. Currently, pool play is drawing to a close and a hierarchy can already be seen between the teams. Without question, Real Madrid is a fierce competitor yet again, after winning “La Decima,” their tenth Champions League title, last year against cross-town rival Atletico Madrid. Bayern Munich, like usual, has constructed a solid team with a lethal attack and will be contending for the top honor. Chelsea, who is putting together an impressive season in the English Premier League (EPL), is likely to continue their dominance. If we assume those three teams can make it out of group play and into the semifinals, then the fourth spot seems to be up for grabs. If I had to bet which team would join Real Madrid, Bayern and Chelsea in the semis, I would have to go with Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund. 

The first heavy-hitter in the competition are “los blancos”, otherwise known as Real Madrid. With the biggest income of any football team out there, Madrid is known for collecting a plethora of superstars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez. Real Madrid captured last year’s trophy in dramatic fashion against Atletico Madrid with fiery defender and second captain Sergio Ramos netting a header in the 92nd minute, pushing the game into extra time where Real was able to take the victory. This year Real’s team went through some dramatic changes, including the departure of veteran Xabi Alonso to Bayern Munich. He was replaced by Toni Kroos, who came fresh off a World Cup victory with Germany. Madrid also snatched up Keylor Navas and James Rodriguez to strengthen their defense and offense, respectively. Cristiano Ronaldo, the fabulous Portuguese front-man, is on course to win his third FIFA Balon de Oro, as he’s been spectacular so far this year, averaging around 2.1 goals a game. In the competition thus far, Madrid has secured a spot to advance to the next knockout round with easy victories against other teams in their pool.

Bayern Munich, as always, looks promising. While their defense and passing game is strong as usual, they have been able to add to their offense, creating a goal-scoring machine comprised of Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Franck Ribery. Bayern is no stranger to the tournament. Last season they reached the semis before being defeated by Real Madrid and the year before they won the entire tournament. Bayern has continued to have an impressive start to the season in Bundesliga and Champions League play, highlighted by their 7-1 thrashing of primary Group E rival, Roma. Like Madrid, Bayern has already won the group statistically and is through to the next round, but they just received some terrible news this week. Midfielder Phillip Lahm, the club’s captain and arguably its best player, fractured his ankle during training and will miss at least three months.

Chelsea will also be a major contender for the championship. Though they haven’t clinched a spot in the next round of the Champion’s League, Jose Mourinho’s boys have built a solid season so far in the English Premier League, clinging to the first spot without losing a game. Chelsea bolstered their lineup this past summer, recruiting the top young keeper in professional football, Thibault Courtois and two former La Liga players, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas. Chelsea FC has also found recent success in the Champions League, winning the title in the 2011-2012 season. Chelsea was very successful in their pool play, crushing Slovenian club NK Maribor 6-0. And who wouldn’t love to see a final filled with animosity between Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho, with whom Ronaldo had an infamous falling out when Mourinho coached Real Madrid?

The last team to advance to the round of four is much more ambiguous, as it seems to me that Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and PSG all have an equal chance of making it. Although Borussia Dortmund is having a poor Bundesliga season, they have been very successful in Champions League play thus far. PSG has become a much stronger team in recent years, with key players like Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani. However, they might suffer without the talent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is suffering from a foot injury. Atletico Madrid, who almost won the Champions League last year and topped Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga, is going through some changes but will always continue to be an extremely difficult team to play against. While many reserve a spot for Barcelona in the top four, they have continued to slip from their once-great status. While their offense is always impressive, they have failed to construct a solid defense that can keep up with talented opposing strikers.

The Champions League is gearing up to be one of the world’s largest and most exciting sporting events of the year. With last year’s champion, Real Madrid, in fantastic form, several contenders will have to summon their greatest strength to capture the title. Nothing in soccer can be certain though, except maybe the fact that Ronaldo will be sporting hair gel while playing. PSG, Atletico and Borussia Dortmund definitely appear to be possible threats to Real Madrid, but there are plenty of other teams that can challenge them as well. Clubs like Arsenal, FC Shalke and FC Shakhtar Donetsk might have something to say before all is said and done.