The 2021/22 season brings football fans the 67th renewal of the world-famous UEFA Champions League. This tournament is viewed by many as the premier club football competition in the world, and it’s difficult to argue against that stance. The top teams and players go head-to-head from late summer to spring in an attempt to lift the trophy and join the exclusive list of European champions.
Champions League competitions are always competitive, and this one will be no different. Thirty-two of the continent’s best performing clubs will compete in the group stages, which will begin on 14 September, with the final played in St Petersburg, Russia, on 28 May. The decisive game will be watched by a capacity crowd at the Krestovsky Stadium, with the viewing figures bolstered by the millions worldwide watching the action live on TV.
UEFA to show they remain top dog
Following the failed European Super League idea that blighted football earlier this year, the pressure is on UEFA to show what they are made of. The organisers are desperate to prove the Champions League remains the top show in town. To achieve that, the participants, including defending champions Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG and Bayern Munich, must play their best football, giving every match the respect it deserves.
Chelsea start as the defending champions and gained automatic entry to the tournament after lifting the trophy last year. The Blues would have been involved anyway, thanks to their top-four finish in the English Premier League. The top division of football in the UK dominated Europe last season, making up three of the four clubs playing in UEFA’s two competitions, the Champions League and the Europa League.
There was heartache for both the Manchester representatives as Chelsea beat Man City in the final of this competition, and Man Utd fell short in the final of the Europa League, losing on penalties to La Liga representatives Villarreal. Ending as winners of that trophy meant the Spaniards automatically gained entry to this one, despite finishing seventh in their domestic league. That was a bitterly disappointing finish for a team with their lofty ambitions.
One point for football fans to note ahead of this season’s renewal is that the infamous away goal rule has been scrapped, which took effect in the qualifiers for the group stages. It was a long-standing rule that continued to split opinion, but it is now no longer an issue, and it’s likely we have seen the last of teams going on the road and defending or hoping to nick a goal that counts for double.
PSG installed as favourites following Messi’s arrival
Manchester City were betting favourites with all major bookmakers to end their agonising wait to become champions of Europe. The club has thrown millions of pounds at transfers and coaches to reach the summit but has, so far, failed to achieve the board’s goal. The closest they came was last season when losing to fellow English Premier League side
Chelsea in the final. They will take heart from remembering Liverpool were runners up before improving a place and lifting the prize a year later. Can Man City do the same? Only time will tell on that one, but following the £100m arrival of England star Jack Grealish from Aston Villa and locked in talks with Spurs for striker Harry Kane they certainly appear to have a strong chance.
The English champions are no longer at the head of the betting as traders at all major betting apps responded quickly to the signing of Lionel Messi by French giants PSG. The Parisians brought the “Little Wizard” from La Liga and will play him alongside the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. The talent in their Parisian’s squad is frightening, and bookies are eager to keep on the right side of them. PSG are strong favourites to win the Champions League and regain the Ligue 1 title lost last season.
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