The group stages of the 2020/21 Champions ended last December, giving way for 16 of the best teams in Europe to fight themselves for a place in the final which will be played in Turkey on May 29.
With the round of 16 already underway and the first leg of four draws already played, it is becoming clearer which teams are likely to make it to next round.
While the jury is still out on European heavyweights and domestic champions like Juventus, Real Madrid and Liverpool, French champions and in-form Manchester City are making a case to be labelled as the favourites for this year’s tournament. Both teams have found their groove and are in the form of their lives after a difficult start to the season in their respective domestic leagues.
However, despite the brilliance of both teams, German champions and current Champions League defending champions Bayern Munich remain the team to beat in this year’s UCL.
The Bavarians set records tumbling on their way to a historic treble last season, which included the Champions League. This season, despite some strange results in the domestic front, Hansi Flick’s side have largely maintained their impressive form and are leaving teams for dead before they even play them.
They have just returned from Qatar, where they picked up their sixth trophy in less than nine months—the Club World Cup—after beating Tigres UANL in the final.
Despite the emergence of real contenders like Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain and a solid Atletico Madrid side, Bayern still looks the most likely to finish the job at Istanbul in May.
What makes them so special?
Here we look at five qualities that make them the team to beat in this year’s Champions League.
Just when everyone thought Lewandowski was having a fluke season last year when he scored goals 55 in 47 matches in all competitions, the Polish striker took his game to another level this year.
The big Pole is a man in form and is playing perhaps his best football this season at the age of 33. The man who broke Messi and Ronaldo’s duopoly of the FIFA the Best Men’s Player of the Year Award has made a mockery of the Bundesliga and Champions League and is breaking and setting records left, right and centre.
That Bayern ae considered the best team in the world is because of the Pole who has scored 25 goals in just 20 Bundesliga matches this term. He currently averages a goal per game and is set to win the European golden as he is six goals ahead of his closest challenger, Andre Silva, who has 18 goals.
His presence in this Bayern Munich team certainly makes them the favourites for this trophy. And alongside evergreen Thomas Muller, Bayern have the best strike partnership in Europe.
Youth and Experience
Hansi Flick has assembled a team that is not just talented but also experienced. The German has built a formidable side full of youth and industry, but also blessed with serial winners and experienced heads.
In players like Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, and Prince Boateng, Bayern Munich has a team that has won over 40 titles between them and played at least 300 careers games apiece.
And in players like Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Alphonso Davies, Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, Bayern Munich boast one of the best crops of Europe’s young talent. Players who can compete favourably against more established names and take to fight to them any day.
When it comes to European games, pedigree and previous history matter a lot. Ask Arsenal, Tottenham and even Manchester City and PSG how they’ve fared in the competition, and you will discover that the Champions League rarely favours ‘smaller’ or less traditional clubs.
Despite dominating in everything on the domestic front, Man City and PSG have failed to make any meaningful impact in the Champions League.
But Bayern Munich belongs to European royalty. Alongside Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool, the Bavarians are among the most successful sides in the competition and will be counting on that pedigree when they play any side.
The Coronavirus has shown up many teams this season and will yet strike many teams. Liverpool and Real Madrid are two teams that have been badly hit by the plague, as injuries due to a tighter a schedule and COVID-19 infections have hampered both of their title defence.
However, Bayern Munich have been doing fairly well and have a squad that is big enough to absorb any big player misses. The Bavarians fielded their second team against Atletico Madrid in the last game of the group stages and still came out with a decent result.
Certainly, with more injuries likely to result from strain and overloaded fixtures as the season progresses, Bayern look like the team most prepared to cope with any form of injury crises.
Form of other Teams
Bayern Munich are not favourites because other teams are poor, they have earned that tag because of how brilliant they have been all year.
The defending champions have lost just three times in 30 games since this season started and have scored 90 times in those 30 matches this term. No other team in Europe’s top five leagues comes close.
However, the form of other heavyweights like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool have made it difficult to see any team challenging the Germans. They remain the only team among the last five winners of the competition that have not been plagued with injuries and inconsistencies in the past year.
On the evidence of the above, it will take a special team to deny the Bavarians a second Champions League title in a row. Yet stranger things have happened in the wonderful world of football!
Story written by Franco Cerillo