Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
After what seemed liked an endless period of qualification fixtures, the draw for the Champions League group stages was finally made at the end of August. The distraction of an international break followed, but next week we’re thrown right into the thick of the Champions League action as the group stages begin. This is where the journey to the Wanda Metropolitano begins as 64 teams battle it out to secure passage to Madrid next June.
Will Real Madrid bounce back following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to claim an unthinkable fourth consecutive Champions League crown, or will their cross-city rivals mount a resurgence as they look to lift the trophy on home turf? Or, for the first time since 2013, will a non-Spanish team finally get their hands on the most prized possession in club football? Bayern Munich were the last team outside of Spain to lift the trophy above their heads, but the likes of Juventus and Manchester City will both be on the hunt for glory.
Champions League 2018/19 Winner Prediction – Barcelona
On the one hand, we’re predicting that the Spanish dominance in Europe could continue for at least another season. Real Madrid may have lost their star man, but Barca are still firmly holding on to the player who has defied all footballing logic for well over a decade now. Lionel Messi may be 31 years of age now, but his abilities don’t seem to be dampening with age.
Messi scored 45 goals in all competitions last season, meaning he has now scored at least 40 goals in a ridiculous nine seasons in a row. His goalscoring talents span the Champions League as well, with his six goals last season making it 11 campaigns on the trot that he’s scored at least five goals in the competition. We may only be three gameweeks into Barcelona’s new campaign, but they have netted a huge 12 goals already and have seen Messi find the net four times. Last season’s signings Ousmane Dembele and Phillipe Coutinho have three between them as well, and there is a real buzz around the Barcelona camp this term.
As far as the Champions League goes, last season was somewhat of a let down for the Catalan giants. They were eliminated by an incredible Roma fightback in the quarter finals as their defence collapsed, but despite their failings in the continental realm they still managed to lift the La Liga trophy. Now, they see both Dembele and Coutinho making solid improvements to add to the lethal attacking force of Messi and Luis Suarez. Young centre back Clement Lenglet has come in to bolster the back line, while both Arthur and Arturo Vidal strengthen the central midfield berth after Andres Iniesta’s departure. Despite the midfield legend leaving, this is a very strong Barcelona squad indeed.
Their Champions League pedigree is unquestionable as well. They haven’t failed to reach the quarter finals since the 2006-07 campaign and have won the competition three times in the period of dominance since then. Barca have lost just six matches in the competition in the last four years and haven’t lost at the Camp Nou since a semi-final loss to Bayern Munich in 2013.
The continued dominance of Lionel Messi, the rise of Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, and their impressive European credentials all add up to a very promising chance of them reclaiming their Champions League glory. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from the Real Madrid equation is a huge boost too, so we think they look good value at 6/1 this season.
Read More: Champions League Group B Analysis
Champions League 2018/19 Winner Prediction – Bayern Munich
On the other hand, we could possibly see the Spanish grip on the prestigious trophy slip next June, and if anyone is to take the crown from them it’s looking likely that it will fall into German hands.
Bayern Munich are consistently underrated in the Champions League, and it’s baffling to be honest. The German giants have spent much of their European game time in the latter stages of the competition, and the last couple of seasons could have been very different were it not for serial winners Real Madrid. They have been eliminated by eventual winners Real Madrid in each of the last two seasons, and each of the last five seasons have seen them knocked out by Spanish opposition.
Despite this, they have made it to the quarter final stage in every seasons since the 2010-11 campaign and were the last non-Spanish side to lift the trophy when they beat Borussia Dortmund in May 2013. Their domestic dominance could play a part too – They have won the Bundesliga by at least a ten point margin in every one of the last six seasons and held a 21 point lead at the end of last term. This means that rotation in domestic matches is a valid option, keeping their stars’ legs fresh for the gruelling fixtures in the later stages of the Champions League.
The inexperience of manager Niko Kovac is a worry for some, but given his style of management that shouldn’t be much of a problem. Kovac took the previously relegation threatened Eintracht Frankfurt to challenging for European qualification last season, and his focus on defensive stability should work very well with Bayern’s squad. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, and David Alaba are some of the best defenders on the planet, and working under a defensively minded coach could make them almost impenetrable.
The rest of the squad are so well established that they won’t need that much management. Robert Lewandowski remains one of the best strikers in the world, and after his 41 goal haul last season he has now scored at least 40 competitive goals in each of the last three seasons. He already has six goals in just four appearances this season as well. His record translates well into European competition too, with 44 European goals in his last six seasons and at least five goals in all of those campaigns. Add the likes of Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Thiago, Leon Goretzka, and Kingsley Coman to that and you have a squad capable of clashing heads with the best of them.
Once again, Real Madrid’s likely decline without the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo could be a crucial factor in Bayern Munich’s season. They have proven to be their nemesis over the last couple of seasons, and without Real Madrid dominating proceedings we could well have seen the Bundesliga giants lift the trophy. Bayern have kept their squad very much established this season, and with Lewandowski leading the line and such a formidable back line in place we think they’re excellent value to win the competition at 10/1.
Why Not Real Madrid?
Real Madrid have won an unthinkable three consecutive Champions League crowns and have lifted the trophy in four of the last five seasons, but we’re expecting the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to hit them incredibly hard on the continental stage. It seems odd to place so much emphasis on just one player, but Ronaldo’s contribution to their success is unprecedented.
The Portuguese talisman scored a huge 450 goals in 438 appearances for Real Madrid, and while his rival Lionel Messi often dominated the La Liga scoring charts, Ronaldo found his place among the Champions League greats. He scored 105 goals in 101 European appearances for Real Madrid and is the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League with 120 goals – Some 20 goals more than Messi.
It gets even more astounding too. He has been top scorer in the competition for six consecutive seasons now and holds the record for most goals in a single Champions League season. He scored 17 in 2013/14, and also holds the record for 2nd and 3rd most goals in a single season with 16 in 2015/16 and 15 last term. He is the only player to score three hat-tricks in a single Champions League season and holds the record for most goals in the knockout phase with 60.
They’re far from the only records that he holds, but just from that glimpse into his achievements it’s clear that he’ll be a huge loss to the Spanish giants. Gareth Bale and Isco will try to step into his boots, but the chances are that both of them will find those boots far, far too big for them. Ronaldo is simply irreplaceable, and has dragged them through tough games more times than we can count. His last ditch penalty in that controversial clash with Juventus is just the most recent example, with him stepping up to the spot as chaos surrounded him and the weight of the Bernabeu weighed heavily on his shoulders. He emphatically smashed that penalty into the top corner to stop a one-sided game going into extra time. That came after he’d scored a brace in the first leg of that fixture, and his three goals in two games against PSG led them to a 5-2 aggregate win in the fixture preceding that.
Those instances are just from the most recent knockout stage of the Champions League, and that is why it seems very unlikely that anybody can take his place and lead Real Madrid to glory once again.
Of course, they do still have a more than formidable squad with plenty of Champions League winning experience, and Brazilian wonderkid Vinicius Junior has arrived this summer. However, key figures such as Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, and Karim Benzema are entering the latter stages of their careers now. Ramos and Modric are capable of playing at a slower tempo and still excelling, but Marcelo is 30 years old now and his explosive attacks down the left could start to become a little less frequent soon, while Vinicius Junior is likely to take a few seasons before we start to realise his full potential.
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