UEFA Champions League- A Guide to This Season


Eden Aulov

“AND IT’S A HAT TRICK FROM NKUNKU!!!” The cries of Leipzig fans filled the stadium as the scoreboard above Ederson, the Manchester City goalie, changed to 5-3. In the Champions League, anything is possible- in a split second, everything can change. 

The last season of the UEFA Champions League Tournament was filled with memorable upsets, incredible moments, and mind-blowing matches. Fans alike remember the pure shock; pure agony on Marc-André ter Stegen’s face as an eighth ball sailed past him into the awaiting net, which had enveloped the shots Bayern had so carefully prepared more times than a reeling Lionel Messi had ever seen. This infamous match, Barcelona vs. Bayern on August 14th, 2020, was only one of the mind-boggling matches the UEFA 2019-2020 season had to offer- and this year brought even more promise.

A key point in the previous season was that pertaining to Covid-19 restrictions, clubs found themselves playing surrounded by thousands of empty seats. Silence in the enormous space remained only broken by sporadic yells from players communicating on the pitch. Up until the semi-finals and finals, fans had to be content with wearing their merchandise and cheering from the sidelines of their own homes instead of the fields. This year, however, fans are once again gracing the players with their presences, bringing the old, full, feeling back to soccer. 

So what actually is the Champions League? Every year, the Union European Football Association hosts various clubs who have qualified for this tournament in a previously agreed upon location for the final. This year, it is being hosted in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The top clubs from the main league in various countries such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, England, etc. compete for the title of the UCL European Champions. The tournament begins in late June with a preliminary round, followed by three qualifying and a play-off round, all occurring over two legs (meaning two matches played between the same clubs and the score is aggregated). The six teams which emerge out of this join 26 automatically qualified teams in advance. These thirty-two teams are sorted into eight groups of four who play each other twice each and determine the winners of each group by the cumulated scores. The top two of each group progress to the knockout phase which ends in a final in late May or early June.

This year is interesting, however. Because of this tournament occurring in a post-covid wave era, most clubs are attempting to get out of their financial depressions as a result of the difficulties that hit along with the virus. Because of this, many clubs have completely changed their normal lineup and players, causing this year to be a shot in the dark as to who the predicted winner would be. For example, notable players Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Sergio Ramos were required to leave their resident clubs and joined Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain in their own respects. All three were staples of their previous clubs and all three abandonments were a shock to the soccer world. Additionally, Gianluigi Donarumma also became a notable part of PSG, bringing a serious contender factor to the star-scattered team. A lot of changes were made this year, making it extremely interesting to have watched the matches of the past week play out.

Although Real Madrid is leading the tourney with the most UCL titles and Chelsea remain the reigning champions, neither are expected to win this year. In fact, both lost with a single goal difference to their own respective competitors. PSG, Manchester City, and Liverpool remain favorites to become the champions. Let’s take a look at this week’s match day 2 of 6 in the group stage: 16 matches occured over the course of Tuesday, September 28th and Wednesday, September 29th. Most notable were the matches between Real Madrid and Sheriff, Dortmund and Sporting, PSG and Manchester City, Porto and Liverpool, Bayern and Dynamo Kyiv, Juventus and Chelsea, Beneficia and Barcelona, and Manchester United and Villareal. In the Dortmund and Bayern matches, both were expected winners. Despite the holes in the Dortmund defense, the German side managed to pull through with a deserved victory of 1-0 over their Portuguese opponents while Bayern expectedly slammed Dynamo Kyiv with a dynamic win of 5-0 over the Ukranians. However, other matches ended unexpectedly with surprising losses. Real Madrid and Barcelona both lost out to, dare I say, pitiful teams. It is safe to say that Spanish soccer is no longer what it used to be. With the loss of important players and blow after blow of financial difficulties, these once proud clubs sent their fans home with yet another disgraceful loss against unknown teams. 

The wins, however, were notable for various reasons. To begin, the Juventus-Chelsea match ended with a 1-0 win over the reigning champions by the struggling Italians. Juve, who had to shape up to even qualify this UCL season, shockingly displayed advanced offensive and defensive work, highly over the skill level a noticeably scattered Chelsea portrayed. Being a Juventus fan myself, it was thrilling to watch Federico Chiesa portray his talent over a frustrated Romero Lukaku and Kai Havertz, so I look forward to watching their journey hopefully continue longer through this tourney. Another interesting win was Paris Saint-German’s important victory over Manchester City.  Not only are these two clubs two of the favorites, but newest addition Lionel Messi scored a brilliant goal with the assist of Kylian Mbappe. This win could show that PSG indeed do have the advantage over the other teams considering their “dream team” status. After splurging on notable, talented players, PSG managed to put together a team riddled with stars, causing them to be the obvious favorites for this tournament. However, the same happened with France in the Euros, and their star-status was sorely overshadowed by the fact that they simply were not playing as a team. PSG’s journey will be closely watched, and they may have a clear shot at winning if they congregate better together than others may believe them capable of doing. 

To continue, Liverpool closed off their game with a cool 5-1 win over Porto, bringing a serious contender factor to the already-successful Premier League run so far this season. Having many of their players back from their injuries, Liverpool holds a notable status as possible winners of the UCL, having done so six times already. The last contender in plenty of people’s opinions is Manchester United, who pulled off an extremely close victory over Villareal, winning 2-1 with a last minute goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. Having watched the game, I think Manchester United and Villareal were actually mostly evenly matched, which is saying something considering Villareal is last in their group. While there is no denying the absolute mastery of a legend like Ronaldo, I do not think he alone will be able to bring them to victory. While they may get far if they step it up, I believe the clubs previously mentioned will be more likely to be carrying the trophy home. 

In a UEFA tournament, the only given factor you know is only the unknown. In a split second, Kai Havertz can score against Manchester City, Bayern can net four more goals, and Kylian Mbappe can end France’s reign in the Euros. No matter the stats or odds, the winner remains to be seen, and all soccer fans will be eagerly awaiting the sound of the UEFA anthem to bring magic to their screens and passion to the soccer world once again.