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UEFA Champions League: 3 contenders and 3 letdowns for 2022-23

Here are the 3 main title contenders and the 3 bigs that will disappoint this 2022-23 Champions League edition.

Liverpool FC v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final 2021/22 Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Champions League is back. With the group stage draw taking place last Thursday, the tournament is officialy set to begin. And this year, the group stage will move as fast as ever with the World Cup’s imminent start just under three months away. The CL usually starts mid-September, ending at the start of December. This year it begins on September 6, but will conclude a full month before it usually does, on November 2, to give way to the main soccer event this year has planned.

As Champions League always does (this year being no exception), at least one or two groups are overcrowded with big-name teams, and since only two out of the four qualify for the knockout phase, it will inevitably leave at least a couple of bigger clubs’ fans in utter disappointment, as elimination is never an acceptable fate for these historically successful franchises. And then you have the clubs that are legit title contenders and will go all the way.

So, without further ado, here is our breakdown of the title-contending bigs and the bigs that will disappoint.

Top 3 Champions League title contenders (in no particular order)

1. Manchester City

There’s just no club like Man City. Despite letting go of key pieces such as Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko, they’ve managed to conserve most of their key core players in De Bruyne, Gündoğan, Rodri, Silva, Walker, and keeper Ederson, and remain the team to beat in England. Not to mention, they’ve been crowned Premier League champs 4 out of the past 5 seasons.

Pep’s only flaw with this club: not winning the Champions League. That being said, it’s never been about talent. It seems like only a matter of time before they achieve this last remaining piece of silverware left to add to their trophy case with Guardiola. And with this year’s addition of Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, they’ve added one of the most elite goalscorers in the world, and potentially the missing ingredient to winning it all.

2. Real Madrid

There’s no way you don’t include the Merengues in this list. Yeah, they’ve got the players in Courtois, Alaba, Modric, Benzema, etc. Yeah, they have a relatively simple group where they should win all 6 matches. Yeah, they have a mastermind like Ancelotti at the helm. But forget all of that. Not only are they the defending champs, but these players have figured out a way to win this tournament 5 out of the last 9 years! Can you grasp the level of difficulty and toughness it takes to win half the titles in a decade competing with the toughest clubs in the world? There’s just nothing like it. They’ve literally cracked the Champions League code and can undoubtedly be expected to do it again this year.

3. Paris Saint-Germain

Another club that have never lifted this trophy. But there’s a first time for everything, right? They drew Juventus in their group who I don’t expect to be much of a challenge, considering the retooling/rebuilding process they’re going through. Their league is one of the lesser challenging, and they have one of the top juggernaut offenses in soccer history with Messi, Mbappé, and Neymar, not to mention the leadership of Sergio Ramos, who has won this cup multiple times. FYI, they haven’t scored less than 5 goals in each of their first three league matches this season.

Bigs who won’t make it past Group Stage (in no particular order)

1. Inter Milan

They’re part of this year’s edition of the group of death, along with Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Viktoria Plzeň. It’s not that they don’t have the talent necessary with Lautaro, Lukaku, Brozović, and those bad boys. In fact, in pretty much any other group, they’d be favorites to move on. But in this case, there’s just no way they’re finishing higher than Bayern; and in terms of Barca, the addition of Lewandowski just gives this club too much of another offensive dimension, in the end being too much for the Serie A side. Inter are simply the odd man out.

2. Juventus

Massimiliano Allegri’s side is a bit of a coin toss this season. He has the capable players in Di María and Vlahović up front, Locatelli and Cuadrado in the middle, with Bonucci and Sandro in the back. They have the talent combined with experience, and the fact Serie A is so inconsistent at times makes them legitimate contenders in the domestic league. However, the Champions League is a whole other story, and the fact they’re competing with Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica, makes them reek of disappointment. Benfica somehow find a way to get past group stage consistently, and were involved in last year’s group where Barca were eliminated. La Vecchia Signora are strong candidates to be left behind in this one.

3. Ajax

The biggest club in Dutch soccer will succumb in an obvious manner to Liverpool and should hit a wall when facing Napoli. Despite Ajax being crowned Eredivisie champs for the past 4 consecutive seasons, Napoli have now won 24 matches both of the past two seasons, and last year were tied for the 2nd overall best defense, just a goal behind the best one. Not only that, but they were legitimate Serie A title contenders, finishing 3rd in the league table. Considering the vast difference in Italian competition (despite its inconsistencies) compared to the Dutch, Napoli should have the upper hand allowing them to come in second, leaving Ajax licking their wounds, headed for the Europa League knockout stage.