It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six months since Real Madrid were eyeing the UEFA Champions League semi-finals and a match-up with the EPL’s Manchester City. At the time an 11th Champions League title seemed to be within reach, but far from a sure thing. Now, of course, we know how that all turned out—a narrow 1-0 aggregate win over Man City and a thrilling penalty shootout triumph over Atlético Madrid in the final. But as big of a thrill as this was for Real Madrid supporters all over the world, attention is already turning toward the 2016-17 UCL, and the usual suspects will once again be vying for the title.
At Betfair’s Champions League tips page, Real Madrid is noted alongside Barcelona, Bayern Munich as one of the outright favorites, with Atlético and a few Premier League contenders mentioned as well. It’s still very early right now—just a few weeks into the qualifying rounds—but let’s take a quick peek at how these contenders have fared so far.
Real Madrid has been fine, but not spectacular, in the early matches of the Champions League. As indicated by Mirror’s post-match write-up, an opening 2-1 win over Sporting Lisbon was probably a little bit closer than it ought to have been, although Madrid avoided the worst possible start to the event. A 2-2 draw against Dortmund in week two wasn’t ideal either, but in fairness the match was played in Germany. Madrid turned in its most impressive performance last week with a 5-1 takedown of Legia Warsaw at the Bernabéu, and sits even with Dortmund at the top of Group F.
Barcelona has certainly been the most dominant side thus far. A 7-0 win over Celtic, 2-1 victory at Borussia Monchengladbach, and a resounding 4-0 win over Manchester City have Luis Enrique’s club decisively atop Group C. This looks like a team hungry to erase last season’s disappointing finish.
Bayern drew the toughest group of any top contender, being matched up against Atlético Madrid during this early stage. The German club lost its week two match in Madrid, but has otherwise taken care of business, dispatching FC Rostov 5-0 and PSV Eindhoven 4-1. That’s been good for second in Group D so far, and it looks to be a foregone conclusion that Bayern and Atlético will be the two teams to advance, in one order or another.
1-0 triumphs at PSV Eindhoven and FC Rostov were fairly typical of the notoriously stingy Atlético Madrid, but it was the week two win over Bayern Munich that turned a few heads early on. Goal’s recap called the 1-0 victory a “defensive masterclass” by Atlético, and indeed, even though it’s still early it’s hard to imagine too many teams finding the back of the net against this club. If anything, Real’s crosstown rivals have improved on the defensive side of the ball, which is a frightening prospect for the other competitors.
Most don’t view Leicester City as a true contender despite last year’s stunning Premier League win, but the darling underdogs of 2015/16 are off to a stellar start in UCL play. Though the team is admittedly playing in a relatively weak Group G, Leicester has three wins in as many matches, with a 1-0 victory over Porto in particular showing some resilience.
Tottenham also probably has an inflated place in the UCL after an unusually successful EPL campaign a season ago. And unlike Leicester, they haven’t looked especially strong thus far. An opening loss to Monaco in London set the tone for the top of Group E, though a 1-0 win at CSKA Moscow was fairly impressive and week three’s 0-0 draw at Bayer Leverkusen was respectable given the travel. Tottenham may well still advance, but Monaco is looking the best in the group.
It seems as if someone makes this argument each and every year, but there are some who believe this Arsenal club is one that can finally compete with the heavyweights of Europe. Tied atop the Premier League and hoping for consistency, the Gunners are off to a relatively strong start in UCL play. An opening draw at PSG earned them a point in the toughest group match of their schedule, and relatively easy wins over FC Basel and Ludogorets followed in London, as expected. Arsenal looks to be in good position to come out on top of Group A.
Despite strong play Premier League, Man City has been a mess in the Champions League. The aforementioned thrashing in Barcelona was an embarrassment for Pep Guardiola, and week two’s draw with Celtic was less than ideal as well. The club took care of business at home with a 4-0 week one win over Monchengladbach, and will next take on Celtic and Barca in Manchester, so they could yet turn things around, and are still likely to advance. But the status of Man City as a contender has taken a hit.