A few years ago it was Monaco, while in 2018-19 Ajax sprung shock after shock in the Champions League. Dan Roberts asks who can do likewise this season…
Ajax were hardly ‘little-known’ when they took last season’s Champions League by storm. But the Dutch club knocking out both Real Madrid and Juventus was still a major surprise. Let’s not forget that they also took two points off Bayern Munich in the group stage. Spurs, who sensationally beat them in the semi-final, ultimately interrupted their run. But will there be a less heralded club that comes through from the group stage this season?
The Champions League is virtually designed in a way that makes it very difficult for the biggest clubs in Europe to miss out on the later rounds of the competition, so the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Barcelona will invariably progress. But there are a few other clubs that may be able to spring a few surprises.
Shakhtar Donetsk have played a steady game in Group C and if they make it through to the round of 16 will be one of the less successful clubs that the big guns will want to avoid. The prospect of an away trip to Ukraine in February will not be high on the wish list of Barcelona or Real Madrid.
The news that Chelsea’s transfer ban has been lifted means that the London club has the best chance of emulating Ajax this season though. They have already looked far better than predicted at the start of the season and can now add some real depth to their squad.
There is the possibility that this season’s ‘Ajax’ may actually end up being Ajax themselves however. Some of the stars of last season are long gone, but the Amsterdam club are looking like they will navigate a tricky group and will want to go one better this year.
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