Bold UEFA Champions League predictions: It’s finally the year for Man City, Golden Boot, USMNT star player, more

The European Champions League is back for a competition like no other. The final year of the traditional group stage will see the dramatic six rounds scaled back in less than two months, making way for the World Cup in Qatar in a season that will demand more players than ever before. You can watch all the events live Paramount +.

Throughout the season, this column will be here to walk you through some of the tactical and statistical intricacies of the contenders. But not this week. Instead, we’ll start swinging for the ramparts with everything we can expect to see on the way to Istanbul in May.

1. Winners

The 2022-23 UEFA Champions League shines with the same favorites for this season’s tournament as the previous year. And the previous year. And the previous year. English Leviathan Manchester And the Liverpool Join Bayern Munich in a triple position at the top with the likes of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain behind them. There are few other teams one could throw into the mix, but the candidates who could realistically win this competition are more consistent now than they have been in recent memory, an inescapable fact when European football’s finances are stratified. Extremely.

Among these, select a few Manchester Feels like a natural choice. Yes, they may seem to have their own issues about this competition, but they have also been one of the most consistent clubs in the Champions League. They have reached the quarter-finals in each of the past five years, reached the final in 2021 and are just seconds away from repeating that feat against Real Madrid. Erling Haaland He had an immediate impact, but could make his most significant contributions to the genre like last season’s semi-finalists when he was a radar Riyad Mahrez or Phil Foden Go oblique in front of the goal.

The great team just got better. They must be favourites. These are going to get even bolder, I promise.

2. The dark horse that stunned Europe

Search outside your favorite team before the tournament for a team that might have a chance to win it all, intermilan They appear as an interesting option with one exalted caveat. Their hopes of reaching the playoffs loom with Barcelona and Bayern Munich joining Group C; That is why most bookmakers give them long chances to win the entire competition. But if they’re going to get away, there’s a lot on this team which suggests it could be a surprise or two.

Simon Inzaghi has a stable side whose depth has been enhanced by the additions of Andre Onana, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the returning Romelu Lukaku. In fact, with the exception of the central midfield, Inter may have the ability to withstand injuries in many positions. They have battled a top-tier opponent in Serie A so far this season, but if this becomes just a slightly improved version of the team that tested Liverpool in the knockout stages last season, they could achieve a lot in Europe.

3. The candidate who falls into the group stage

Implied in naming Inter as dark horses is that one of the big names has to fall, but there seems to be something of a conditional answer to that question with Barcelona, ​​who will have to prove quickly that they can combine all their talents into a coherent form. Unit, or even Bayern. The Bundesliga champions have fluctuated in recent weeks. Such is the nature of this intense schedule that the regression in shape is critical. Instead the lights fall off juventus, Head coach Massimiliano Allegri is struggling to inspire plenty of confidence with fans in effectively allocating two games for his team against Benfica They are the ones who will decide their participation in the Champions League after Christmas.

Juventus may not lose in Serie A this season, but they have drawn three times and won twice. Against Fiorentina, they only scored one shot on goal, their expected goal difference (xG) was almost zero right in the middle of the Italy package and with key players like Federico Chiesa and Paul Pogba After coming back from long-term injuries, it’s fair to ask how much they can improve. But they don’t have long to make quick improvements; If the in-form Benfica comes to Turin and wins next week, it could be for Juventus.

4. Logic Challenge Team

You can already see a track Atletico Madrid Champions League campaign before it goes. It’s the same thing ever. Diego Simeone’s team creates the inclement weather for a favorable group, swinging through the winter and showing dwindling strength entering the knockout stages. Then something clicks in the gear Rojiblancos And they reveal the spirit of Gabi, Diego Godin and others for victories they simply shouldn’t balance. It wouldn’t make sense for Real Madrid’s challenging levels last season – how could they be again? – But if you had to pick a semi-finalist who did little to suggest he should be there in the spring, you could do a lot worse than Atletico.

5. Golden Boot Award Winner

The obvious answer here is Haaland, who made the Champions League his personal fiefdom with 23 goals in 19 matches. And all the city is cursed if you do not leave me with no choice but to choose it. What we really look for in a Golden Boot winner is generally a player who can fill their boots against a reasonably suitable opponent in the group stages and then tag along with a few in the playoffs. Karim Benzema’s superb run through the best defenses in Europe is not the norm for amateur scorers.

In fact, if there’s anyone who could rival Haaland for the scoring title, it’s the Frenchman who won the title last time around. Real Madrid may have the only group as attractive as City, and there is no doubt that Carlo Ancelotti’s team is ready to direct chances towards Benzema. On the basis that I expect Haaland and his teammates to compete even later than the defending champion, it is the Norwegian who deserves support.

6. Breakout star who earns a mid-season move

You can do worse with this specific prediction than just search for the brightest stars in the world Red Bull Salzburg. Dominic Szoboszlai, Karim Adeyemi and Haaland lit up the group stage in recent years before earning big financial moves, and there’s no reason to think Noah Okafor or Luka Susic They will not follow in their footsteps. Liverpool are said to be tracking both.

However, the most emphatic tends to wear a Benfica red. Last season it was Darwin Nunez, it could be Enzo Fernandez, He already described the future of Argentina’s midfield at the age of 21. Indeed he can do everything, recovering the ball one minute and taking it on the field the next. He may have only moved to Portugal at the start of this season, but if his stats in any way reflect his talent, it could take months, not years, for the Premier League clubs that have been tracking him to achieve success. He is drowning.

7. Possible USMNT hack

with 10 American actors in the group stage Draw, this year could be a banner for USMNT on the bigger stage. If Giovanni Reina can keep fit, there’s no reason why he can’t ignite the competition Christian Pulisic Tends to live in this tournament.

But in Scotland we find the most interesting player who can wear the stars and stripes in Qatar. Bayern Munich player on loan Malik Tillman He is already making a mark for himself in this competition, having scored the winner against Saint Gilois Federation He then overtook PSV Eindhoven, leading his team with five chances made through the legs. When a string of past players praise not just his talent but his character – ex-Jerse defender Craig Moore has praised his “willingness to get the ball and get things done” – you can feel confident he won’t be overwhelmed by the tests to come against Ajax, Liverpool and Napoli.

8. The result that will shock Europe

Why not return this competition strongly? Dinamo Zagreb He claimed a lot of shockwaves at Maximir Stadium, including Arsenal And Tottenham in recent years, the struggler will be welcomed Chelsea To Croatia in the opening match of this season’s Champions League. Mislav OrsicBruno Petkovic and Josep Dramek All in great condition while Ariane Adami He may feel confident about his ability to play in a competitive midfield without N’Golo Kante. with no thiago Silva in the back also looks like it could be the right moment for a big shock.

9. The best performing Scottish club

It’s not so often to see Celtic and Rangers share the brightest lights in Europe like this (although Scotland’s impressive form of coefficient means it could become more frequent), so let’s give them some space to shine. The former has a superior pedigree recently in Europe and any team that has defeated Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and PSV in recent months should welcome their opponents at Ibrox full of faith. If they can upset Napoli in the second round, chances may suddenly open up for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team.

Celtic no show The same confidence in the European arena, but they chose the perfect moment to return to the group stage, after a stunning defeat to their top rival at the weekend. Where RB Leipzig suffers under Domenico Tedesco and the Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk In an unknown location while playing their home matches in Poland, there appears to be a very real possibility that Ange Postecoglu’s side could indeed reach the Round of 16.

10. Guardiola’s baffling tactical adjustment would be…

… successful. I call it now, a 4-4-2 with Julien Alvarez and Haaland taking the lead which swings in a knife-edge knockout tie for City.