Champions League soccer kicked off this week with shocking upsets and high-flying goals.
Though the tournament is only beginning, UCL fans learned some important lessons about the competition’s most-anticipated contenders.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the first week of action in the UEFA Champions League.
It’s still too early in the tournament to make any real predictions.
Remember last year’s group stage when Real Madrid lost 2-1 to Moldovan side Sheriff? Everybody was freaking out, saying this was the end of Madrid and possibly the beginning of a new sheriff in town. A year later, Madrid are UCL champions, and Sheriff is back where they belong – the Europa League. The point is this – group stage games often mean more for small teams than big teams. A big team losing to a small team in the group stages is more of a show of mental fitness and is not always a true measure of quality. Chelsea and Liverpool suffered similar losses this week (admittedly, Napoli is much better than Sheriff). Let’s not completely count them out yet.
Liverpool and Chelsea aren’t ready.
That being said, Liverpool and Chelsea are clearly in poor form right now, both domestically and in European competition. Chelsea has been undergoing major changes all year long, so maybe their current instability shouldn’t be that surprising. Klopp’s men have completely fallen apart without Sadio Mane, so much so that their defense doesn’t even try anymore. If Liverpool and Chelsea don’t improve, they won’t survive their easily winnable groups. However, with so much support behind these two huge franchises, it’s difficult to believe that both Premier League clubs will continue to be this bad.
Manchester City and Tottenham are the best Premier League teams.
Though Manchester United and Arsenal fans will disagree, Manchester City and Tottenham look like the best English teams in the Champions and Premier Leagues. Man City’s attack has become unstoppable with Erling Haaland, who opened his City UCL account with a brace during their 4-0 beatdown of a severely-underperforming Sevilla side. Meanwhile, in north London, Antonio Conte (who has outlasted rival Thomas Tuchel) has his Hotspurs on fire, with Brazilian Richarlison scoring a late brace against a 10-men Marseille squad. Tottenham under Conte is stable, explosive, and powerful – expect these two Premier League clubs to go the furthest.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are living up to expectations.
LaLiga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona began their UCL campaigns the way they always expect to – with easy victories over smaller teams.
Madrid, the reigning UCL champs, thrashed Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic 3-0, losing probable Ballon d’Or winner Benzema to a muscle injury in the process. That led to a surprise appearance from the once-great Eden Hazard, who put on one hell of a show. This just proves that Los Blancos are deep, stacked, and ready to make another championship run.
Over in Catalonia, Robert Lewandowski is proving himself an ageless goal machine. While young guns like Haaland and Mbappe found braces, Lewy bagged himself a hat-trick, becoming the first ever player to score three Champions League hatties with three different teams. Between Dembele, de Jong, Raphinha, Lewandoski, Fati, and Torres, Barcelona’s attack is unstoppable. The only question is this – can their defense stop Bayern? That question will be answered in next week’s highly-anticipated clash that will see Lewy return to his old team for revenge.
Napoli is this year’s dark horse.
Napoli, currently sitting second in the Serie A table, is undoubtedly this year’s dark horse after how they totally dismantled The Reds. The Italians have an incredible young Messi look-a-like in Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, a Georgian winger who Napoli got from Dinamo Batumi for $10 million. Between him, Diego Simeone’s son, and the rest of Luciano Spalletti’s squad, Napoli has a real shot to compete in the UEFA Champions League final.
What did you learn from the first week of UCL action? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Pexels/Maku0131n/Napoli/DM