The 2021/22 edition of the Champions League is set to get underway, following one of the craziest summer transfer windows in a long time.
Chelsea, the holders, have further strengthened with the arrivals of Romelu Lukaku and Saul Niguez; Paris Saint-Germain have added Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes to the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe; and Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho have joined Manchester United.
Here, we look at the top 10 clubs that will be competing in the 2021/22 Champions League group stage.
Tuchel: ‘Champions League win feels a long time ago’
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is focused on maintaining the momentum from last season’s Champions League triumph into this year’s campaign – starting with their group stage opener against Zenit.
Pep Guardiola is on the hunt for his third Champions League trophy, 11 years after last securing Europe’s biggest prize. Manchester City are hungry for revenge after losing in last season’s final to Chelsea, and in the summer they added more playmaking in the form of the 117 million euro arrival of Jack Grealish. The reigning Premier League champions were unable to sign Harry Kane, though, so Ferran Torres is likely to get a lot of game time as a false nine.
The winners of the summer transfer window are now the outright favourites to go and lift their first Champions League, having reached the final and semi-final in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons respectively. PSG were able to keep hold of Mbappe in the summer and will be able to pair him with Messi and Neymar in attack, but Mauricio Pochettino must find a system that includes all of his star players and functions well. If he can do that, it’s surely PSG’s trophy to lose.
Atletico Madrid received widespread praise for their transfer business this summer, notably bringing in Rodrigo de Paul, Matheus Cunha and Antoine Griezmann, and there is optimism at the club that they can repeat their feats from 2014 and 2016, when they reached the Champions League final. After winning the LaLiga Santander title last season, Atletico and Diego Simeone will have their eyes on Champions League glory this time around.
After a season in which the Liverpool players seemed to be dropping like flies, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson all suffering long-term injuries, Jurgen Klopp’s side seem to be back at full strength. The nasty-looking injury to prodigious midfielder Harvey Elliott is a shame, particularly after he started the season so well, but Thiago Alcantara will now be looking to show that he can be a regular in Liverpool’s starting line-up.
The most successful club in the Champions League will be keen to reassert themselves at the pinnacle of European football, with Carlo Ancelotti back as head coach. David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga have been signed this summer, but Ancelotti will be keen to get some players back to their best, such as Eden Hazard, Isco and Marco Asensio. In the early part of this season, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior have been Los Blancos’ standout players.
Hansi Flick left his role as head coach in the summer and he was replaced by Julian Nagelsmann, as Bayern Munich paid a reported 25 million euros to RB Leipzig to secure his services. They also went to Leipzig to bring in Upamecano and Sabitzer, following the departures of David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez. Bayern remain a very strong team, with the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski all at the top of their game.
This summer saw Barcelona’s worrisome financial situation come back to bite them, as they had to let Messi leave before Griezmann was sent out on loan to Atletico. Memphis Depay came in on a free and has looked good in the early weeks of the season, while youngsters Yusuf Demir, Nico Gonzalez and Gavi are ready to make an impact for Ronald Koeman’s side.
Having brought in Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho this summer, Manchester United not only have hopes of winning the Premier League title but they want to go further in the Champions League, following their group-stage exit last season. Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes have begun the season in fine form and they will no doubt play a pivotal role in the Red Devils’ chances of progressing far in the competition.
The reigning Champions League champions are one of the favourites to retain the trophy, following the arrival of Lukaku, who cost 115 million euros. Saul has joined on loan to further bolster Thomas Tuchel’s options, too. Their push for the Premier League title could have an impact on their Champions League campaign down the road, but the Blues look very strong this season.
Keeping hold of Erling Haaland was Borussia Dortmund’s primary objective this summer, following the big-money sale of Jadon Sancho to Manchester United. Donyell Malen has been signed to lighten some of the load on Haaland’s shoulders, while in midfield Jude Bellingham is ready to become the next star of European football. Dortmund remain leaky at the back, but they should create a lot of chances through the likes of Marco Reus, Julian Brandt, Gio Reyna and Thorgan Hazard.