Though winning your domestic league is always a great honour, winning the Champions League is the one everyone wants to win, for both prestige and let’s face it- money- reasons.
But wanting to win it and actually winning it are two very different things and unless you’re Real Madrid, with an incredible four wins in the last eight editions, no team has found it easy.
Unsurprising given you’re up against Europe’s elite in what is arguably the toughest club competition in the world.
Before we get to our tips, a couple of early observations to be aware of.
Summer transfers could still make a big difference
There are still a few weeks of big transfers ahead of us and a team losing (or gaining) a world-class player will inevitably seriously hinder or help a team’s chances massively of going all the way.
Take the brilliant Kylian Mbappe.
If he stays at PSG, they have a decent chance of having a strong campaign and ironically, they may even be stronger for the loss of Lionel Messi, who never really settled at the club.
But assuming he (Mbappe) goes (and it’s looking likely), the team he signs for, probably Real Madrid but maybe someone like Manchester United, will have seriously boosted their changes overnight.
The same could be said of Harry Kane. If Bayern Munich sign him, their chances in the CL will also increase overnight and their odds will shorten.
But we don’t have a crystal ball telling us who will end up where and besides, this competition is won by the best teams. So no individual, however excellent, will win this single-handedly.
But do keep a keen eye on the transfer market as transfers are still an incredibly important factor.
Favourites almost always win
This is not a tournament for outsiders.
Since 2000, only Porto in 2004 produced a real upset in winning it as huge outsiders and since then, only Chelsea’s win in 2021 (heavily Covid-affected) can be seen as an example of one of the favourites not winning it.
So unlike in other tournaments, it’s probably not worth looking beyond the Top 8 in the betting.
Manchester City- Odds of 2.95
Speaking of favourites, City are extremely justified ones.
The defending champions, they may have lost some important players in Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez but they still have just about the strongest squad in the whole of Europe.
Pep Guardiola is probably the best manager in world football and Erling Halland arguably the best goalscorer in the world. Their 1-0 win in last year’s against Inter Milan final was a subdued, somewhat cagey affair but they got there in the end, and finally got the monkey off their back in terms of winning the CL.
That will give them confidence they can do it all over again but odds of 2.95 are telling you that anyway.
They’ll be able to rotate players, are ruthless at home and incredibly well-drilled.
On the flipside, only Real have won this tournament back-to-back in the competition’s history and it worth remembering that City were pre-tournament favourites in the three or four years before they eventually won it. So, their record in it isn’t as good as it should be,
Verdict: Justified favourites but odds are a bit short.
Arsenal – 15.0
The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG are all teams in transition, either changing managers since last season or making plenty of changes in their playing squad including important senior players. With that, comes time needed to adjust and some levels of uncertainty.
Not so Arsenal. They pushed Manchester City hard in the Premier League and missed a good chance to win the Europa League, crashing out to Sporting Lisbon at the last 16 phase, in a game they should have won in normal time but ended up losing on penalties.
Mikel Arteta has proved to be an extremely capable man manager and tactician, which is no surprise given he learned his trade under Guardiola.
Crucially, the squad looks very strong. They already looked better for the second half of the season last year after signing Leandro Trossard (from Brighton) and Jorginho (Chelsea) in January.
The final piece of the jigsaw came in the form of all-action midfielder Declan Rice, who was expensive enough, but for good reason. Granit Xhaka was the only player of any note to have left so far but then again, Rice is a superior player in that position anyway.
All of which means that their squad is considerably stronger this year than last time out. And in addition to having a fine starting XI, they now also have plenty of high-class options either to make up for injuries, or to come off the bench, particularly in attack.
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing.
Prior to last year, they went through a poor patch for about three or four years and it’s now five seasons since they’ve even been in this competition. Playing in the Europa League those five seasons, they fared well with a runner-up spot (2018-19) and two appearances in the semis, though they didn’t actually win it.
The Champions League is of course a step up from that and that five-year absence from it may prove a challenge given their recent lack of experience in it, especially in the biggest games.
But that’s one of very few negatives regarding them and at big odds of 15.0, you can’t have everything in your favour.
Verdict: They tick plenty of boxes at very attractive odds. and a bit of luck in the draw could see them reach the semi-finals at the very least. After that, they’re just three games away from glory.