The Premier League is back and the race for the top four is on. Chelsea, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain are three of the strongest teams in Europe with a lot to prove this season. Who will come out on top?
The psg vs man city 2nd leg is a matchup that will decide the Champions League title. Chelsea, Man City or PSG will win. Plus, form teams, breakout players are also in this game.
The UEFA Champions League, the world’s most significant and high-quality continental club tournament, starts group-stage play on Tuesday after weeks of qualifying and months of gnashing teeth about potential format revisions.
This monster of a tournament nearly sneaked up on us, coming in on the heels of a very significant international break, so let’s lay the groundwork for everything you need to know before the action kicks off on Tuesday in Bern and Seville.
Jump to: Likely champions | Best form teams | Worst form teams | Biggest wildcards | Hipster picks | Best groups | Up-and-coming stars
Champions are more probable.
There will be many twists and turns along the road, but we already know who the greatest clubs on the planet are. Here are the three teams I believe are most likely to win the title in May, based on a variety of criteria including last year’s success, current play, and sheer squad strength. There are no surprises here.
Chelsea is number one. Chelsea won the Champions League last season despite having no go-to centre-forward with Thomas Tuchel just taking over in February. They now have Romelu Lukaku and Tuchel for the whole season. They haven’t been flawless in the early going this season, but there isn’t a single flaw in this group.
2. Paris Saint-Germain is a French football club. For obvious Lionel Messi-related reasons, he is the betting favorite. In the winter, PSG signed Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Sergio Ramos — perhaps the greatest transfer window acquisitions ever — and rejected down a hefty offer from Real Madrid for Kylian Mbappe. They’re on their most extensive Champions League tour yet.
Manchester City is ranked third. City, who had been the best team in Europe for the majority of the last year, let the Champions League title slip through their fingers with a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea, and while they added Jack Grealish in the offseason, they were unable to sign Harry Kane and ended up doing nothing to address their shaky forward depth. It would certainly come as no surprise if they won this event, but they may not be the most probable squad this time.
After scoring twice on his comeback to Man United, Don Hutchison assesses Cristiano Ronaldo’s effect.
Recent form at its best
The top six betting favorites, which include the three clubs mentioned above, as well as Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Manchester United, have all started the season well. But there are four more clubs who have had a strong start in August and will enter the Champions League with confidence and form.
1. AC Milan (Italy). Milan had a hectic summer, with a lot of players coming in and out, but the camaraderie has been fantastic thus far. They’ve thrashed Sampdoria, Cagliari, and Lazio 7-1, and new signing Olivier Giroud has already scored two goals and created six opportunities, giving the Rossoneri plenty of confidence.
Wolfsburg is ranked second. We spend most of our Bundesliga time talking about Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig, but Wolfsburg confidently held on to a Champions League spot for the majority of last season, retained virtually every key player in the offseason (though manager Oliver Glasner was sold to Eintracht Frankfurt), and have started league play with a perfect 12 points from four games, including a 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich.
Benfica is number three. After a dismal third-place finish in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, the two-time European champions brought in Ukrainian goalkeeper Roman Yaremchuk, as well as a new group of midfielders, and have already made an impact. They qualified for the group stage despite a strong battle from a scorching-hot PSV Eindhoven, and they’ve won all 15 points in their opening five domestic league matches. There isn’t much more to ask for.
Sevilla is number four. Sevilla looked great in its opening three La Liga matches, generating a league-best +1.7 xG differential per match and collecting seven of nine points, despite their weekend meeting against Barcelona being postponed (and it’s difficult to claim a club is in good form when they haven’t played in two weeks). They’re also in a competitive Champions League group that includes Wolfsburg, Lille, and RB Salzburg.
Chelsea won the Champions League last season and will be a contender again in 2021-22. Getty Images/UEFA/Anadolu Agency/Alexander Hassenstein
Recent form is at an all-time low.
1. Juventus (Italy). Despite the fact that they have gone out in the round of 16 for two years in a row, saw their long Serie A title streak end last season, and basically traded Cristiano Ronaldo for Moise Kean this offseason, Caesars Sportsbook gave the Bianconeri decent +1000 odds of reaching the final, eighth-best overall.
They rehired Massimiliano Allegri, a long-time success, as manager, but had just one point after three games in the domestic season. And you can’t blame it on poor luck: their total xG difference is now -0.93.
RB Leipzig is in second place. After losing Julian Nagelsmann to Bayern Munich, manager Jesse Marsch was promoted from RB Salzburg, and the team’s massive amount of turnover — Nagelsmann, Dayot Upamecano, and Marcel Sabitzer to Bayern, Ibrahima Konate to Liverpool, and a slew of important new pieces coming in — has resulted in a jumbled start. Leipzig thrashed Stuttgart on Aug. 20, but has since lost three league games, including a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Nagelsmann’s Bayern Munich. They’ll find themselves at some point, but in a Group A that includes both Manchester City and PSG, there’s no time to spare.
3. The city of Lille. Last year’s shock Ligue 1 champions were doomed for a difficult season. Mike Maignan, the goalkeeper, moved to Milan, and Boubakary Soumare, the midfielder, went to Leicester City, and the club couldn’t afford to replace them. They won the Trophee des Champions in August, but they’ve only won one of their first five league games and are coming off a 2-1 defeat to Lorient. Last season, they only conceded more than two goals in two of their last 20 league games, but they’ve already done it three times this season.
Villarreal is number four. Unai Emery’s side has kept opponents to two goals in three matches, one of a few clubs who went into the LaLiga season expecting to take advantage of Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s limited expenditure. That’s fantastic! Less impressive: two goals in three games. They’re off to a slow start after two nil-nil draws and a 2-2 tie with Atletico Madrid, and opponents are taking much more shots than they are (with relatively equal shot quality averages). Their UEFA Super Cup tie with Chelsea (which they lost in a penalty shootout) demonstrates that they can compete with the big guys, but you still have to score goals every now and again.
Wild cards have the most impact
We have a good idea of who the favorites are. Let’s move on to three teams who have shown to be a bit more tough to predict. They have the money and the talent to be competitors, but there are still some unanswered questions.
Manchester United is number one. United added Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo up forward, as well as Raphael Varane in the defense, to last year’s Champions League failure and Europa League finalist. They’ve had a strong start to the Premier League season and may boast the most valued offensive talent outside of Paris… yet they’re still depending on Scott McTominay and Fred to get the ball to said attacking talent. In this transfer season, they contributed nothing to a weak midfield, and it’s still uncertain if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the tactical nous to win not just Group F, but also four elimination rounds in the winter and spring.
Liverpool’s Champions League group, which also contains Atletico Madrid, Porto, and Milan, is examined by Steve Nicol.
Real Madrid is ranked second in the world. They still rely on a number of players (mainly midfielders) who are in their late 30s. They lost two of their starting centre-backs (Varane and Ramos) and only have one to replace them (David Alaba). Real Madrid and whomever Real Madrid is facing this season are the only two clubs in LaLiga capable of scoring. Still, with Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior in attack, and Eduardo Camavinga just recruited to their aging midfield, they have the raw ability to defeat any club in this area. It’s strange to think of the 13-time European champion as an all-or-nothing wildcard, but that’s exactly what we’re talking about.
3. The city of Liverpool. The injury bug hasn’t stopped biting. It has already gone after striker Roberto Firmino (nagging hamstring injury) and, as of Sunday, rising winger Harvey Elliott after feasting on almost every centre-back on the squad last season (dislocated ankle). The Reds already lacked the general depth that Manchester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United have assembled, and they can’t afford to lose as many players to injury. Despite this, they have 10 points after four Premier League games, their +2.2 per match xG differential is second in the league only to City, and they have mostly eliminated their transition-defense problems from last season. Jurgen Klopp’s team has a strong resemblance to Liverpool’s. You know, the Champions League champions for 2019? That Liverpool, right?
Long pictures that I like the most
Even if or when we receive the results we anticipate, there are twists and turns along the way: Real Madrid almost failing to progress in 2020-21, Lyon and RB Leipzig reaching the semis in 2019-20, and so on.
Now is the time to fantasize about chaos, so here are three teams who (a) have +5000 or worse betting odds to reach the finals, according to Caesars, and (b) have just enough high-end skill to make a deep run.
1. Ajax (+6600 for a final berth). PSV were the top club in the Eredivisie early in the season, but they couldn’t go past Benfica in the Champions League group round. But that’s OK since Ajax, the ancient heavyweight, has been looking terrific as well. They’ve outscored league opponents 13-1, striker Sebastien Haller has already scored four goals in the league, and FiveThirtyEight’s club ratings give them an 11 percent probability of reaching the finals, the same as Real Madrid and one percentage point higher than Manchester United.
2. Sporting CP (phone number +800). The defending Portuguese champions couldn’t avoid being bitten by the transfer bug — fullback Nuno Mendes was loaned to PSG on a loan-to-buy deal on Aug. 31 — but they still return the majority of last year’s championship squad, and almost no team in this tournament has a better understanding of who they are and how they win than Ruben Amorim’s. At one end, they’ll defend ferociously, while at the other, they’ll create just enough high-quality opportunities (typically through set pieces). They aren’t the most skilled squad on the field or in Group C, but they will be difficult to beat.
FC Salzburg (+10000) is the third team. Both of Red Bull’s best teams will always be in transition, trying to win with the present crop of incredibly exciting, youthful talent before it departs and has to be replaced. RB Leipzig might definitely rediscover its form and mount a dark-horse challenge, but let us dream larger.
Salzburg lost Jesse Marsch to Leipzig, forward Patson Daka to Leicester City, and midfielder Enock Mwepu to Brighton, but replaced them with Matthias Jaissle as manager and 19-year-old German striker Karim Adeyemi as the primary scorer, and everything has gone well since then. They’ve won their first seven Austrian Bundesliga games by a total score of 19-4, and they’ll want to knock Sevilla, Wolfsburg, and Lille out of the group. They were a difficult out last year (until the last 10 minutes of a game), and they’ll be challenging again this year.
1. The A group (Manchester City, PSG, RB Leipzig, Club Brugge). Previous year, PSG’s Ligue 1 loss to Lille produced one of the most lethal death groups you’ll ever see, putting the last two Champions League runners-up against each other and, in the case of RBL, a 2020 semifinals as well. RBL’s current shaky record may help to ensure there aren’t any big shocks, but the group’s depth has produced a fascinating scenario: there’s a 5% possibility Messi, Mbappe, and Neymar are guiding the club… to a Europa League championship in May, according to FiveThirtyEight’s current odds.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, and others to discuss the most recent news and debate the most important stories. ESPN+ has a live stream available (U.S. only).
2. G Group (Sevilla, Wolfsburg, Lille, Salzburg). Rarely do you come across a group of people that are so equally matched. With only a couple of huge performances, any of these four clubs might win the group, and FiveThirtyEight only gives group favorite Sevilla a 66 percent probability of progressing to the knockout stages.
3. The C-Group (Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting CP, Besiktas). Sporting has one of the strongest identities on the pitch, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund have fantastically volatile potential, and Besiktas has one of the most amazing “Oh hey, THAT person!” squads you’ll ever see, as we’ll explain below. Pjanic Miralem! Michy Batshuayi, Michy Batshuayi, Michy Batshuayi Larin, Cyle! From this group, a very powerful and intriguing squad will be headed to the Europa League knockout stages.
Players that have become your new favorites
The knockout stages, as well as headline early matchups like Man City vs. PSG and Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona, will provide plenty of chances to discuss the tournament’s finest players, including Messis and Mbappes, Robert Lewandowskis, and Kevin De Bruynes. But one of the more enjoyable aspects of the group stage is feasting your eyes on two distinct groups of players: young second-tier players who will soon command large transfer fees from bigger clubs, and veterans who have landed on those second-tier squads and found a way to keep playing in big, relevant matches.
Here are ten of them, all of whom are on long-shot teams with chances of +7500 or worse to reach the final.
1. RB Salzburg’s Karim Adeyemi. He’s a feature player who’s entertaining, youthful, and quick. And he’s already shown that he’s capable of doing things like this for his country.
Karim Adeyemi, a 19-year-old German international, had a fantastic debut.
@DFB Team | #WCQ pic.twitter.com/mEfKZlyU69 @DFB Team | #WCQ pic.twitter.com/mEfKZlyU69
— European Qualifiers (@EURO2020) August 8, 2021
His (admittedly crowdsourced) worth at Transfermarkt quadrupled in three months, from $11 million to $22 million. It’s possible that it’ll double again if a few major matchups come up.
2. Sporting CP’s Pedro Goncalves. Sporting’s winning formula is to defend ferociously and hope for a spectacular performance from Pote. Goncalves scored 23 goals and created 51 opportunities in what was nominally a midfield position (!!) to help them win the league last year. He’s already scored three and nine goals in four league games this season.
Shakhtar Donetsk’s Tete. Tete, who is still just 21, scored in Shakhtar’s win against Real Madrid last year thanks to a fantastic setup from full-back Viktor Kornienko, and he’s one of the game’s most intriguing chaos agents. He’ll take long shots and make risky/bold/silly passes, and just enough of them will pay off, so keep an eye on him.
Tete is one of Shakhtar Donetsk’s outstanding players, and the team may create problems in Group D with Real Madrid and Inter Milan. Getty Images/Stanislav Vedmidl/DeFodi/Stanislav Vedmidl/DeFodi/Stanislav Vedmidl/
4. Besiktas’ Alex Teixeira. Teixeira was a beneficiary/victim of the Chinese Super League’s short spending spree, almost joining Liverpool in 2016, but instead spent his peak years at Jiangsu FC. He was fantastic at Shakhtar, averaging 12 goals and 44 chances created a season over five seasons, and he has 11 career Champions League goals to his credit. He’s now 31, and he’s partnered former Chelsea midfielder Batshuayi in Besiktas’ unexpectedly high-ceiling assault.
Club Brugge’s Charles De Ketelaere is ranked fifth. The lanky 20-year-old is a one-of-a-kind 6-foot-4 wide forward who can play both wings. He scored twice in the Champions League last season, both in victories against Zenit, and he has three goals and two assists in league action thus far this season.
Dynamo Kyiv’s Viktor Tsygankov is number six. Tsygankov is capable of playing in both center and wide positions and has scored at least 15 goals in all competitions for Dynamo over the last four seasons. And he’s just 23 years old! The Ukrainian champions are expected to finish last in Group E, but they have just enough potential to upset Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and/or Benfica.
7. Besiktas’ Atiba Hutchinson. He’s still alive and well, and he’s still clicking! Hutchinson made his national team debut nearly 19 years ago, and he’s still making 40-plus midfield appearances for Besiktas at the age of 38. For the first time in four years, he’s back in the Champions League.
FC Sheriff’s Adama Traore is ranked eighth. Not the great Wolves winger, but the somewhat older Malian winger who arrived in Tiraspol in February and has already made an impact, scoring four goals and providing two assists in eight qualifying matches to reach the group stage. Sheriff scored twice in their 3-0 victory against Dinamo Zagreb in mid-August, and he’ll almost certainly be the cause for any points earned in group play.
9. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Artem Dzyuba. He’s 33, he’s scored nine Champions League goals in his career, plus another eight in the Europa League (not to mention 30 for his country), and he may possibly be getting better? Last season, he scored 22 goals in Zenit’s domestic championship drive, his highest since 2015-16.
Jordan Pefok, Young Boys (#10) The United States of America! The United States of America! The United States of America!
Chelsea, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain will win the Champions League Final. Plus form teams, breakout players, and more! Reference: psg vs manchester city.
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