The Champions League returns this week with 32 of Europe’s top sides battling it out to get their hands on the famous old trophy.
In reality, not all 32 have a realistic chance of success – few will be making any bets on Moldovan debutants Sheriff Tiraspol making it to the Saint Petersburg final next May – but that doesn’t mean the competition won’t throw up some surprises.
Last season for example, Chelsea emerged as somewhat unexpected winners despite only hiring manager Thomas Tuchel midway through the campaign after something of a struggle domestically.
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Paris Saint Germain, the club Tuchel was sacked from, fell at the semi-final stage despite being the favourites in the eyes of many.
The top teams have all spent time, and a lot of money, strengthening ahead of this year’s competition, however, and we asked our colleagues around Europe how they see the tournament shaping up.

‘Their starting line-up is scary’ – Eurosport Spain’s Felix Martin on PSG’s power

Winner:
PSG seems to be the most powerful team. The reason they are the main favourites this year is obvious. They signed top players this summer and their starting line up is scary, with Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum added to an attack that can make history. Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar are three of the best five players in the world and should lead PSG to their first Champions League title.
Top scorer:
CR7. He's back home! I'm expecting Manchester United to perform well this year in the Champions League. No other striker in Europe has the capacity Cristiano Ronaldo has to be in the right place at the right time, so yes, we're expecting the prime Ronaldo to be back this year.
Best player:
Neymar or Mbappé. Again, PSG are the favourites this year. I guess Mbappé will want to perform before (most likely) leaving PSG, which could make him the MVP of this season. But that Neymar-Messi alliance in PSG's offence is something else. We all remember from their Barcelona days that Neymar can become a very dangerous player while playing alongside Messi.

PSG's deadly attacking trio of Neymar, Mbappe and Messi

Image credit: Getty Images

Surprise package:
Manchester United and Sevilla. Again, we're expecting Manchester United to go very far this year. They built a very strong team this summer with the arrivals of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and, obviously, Cristiano Ronaldo, and this should be a reason for the Red Devils to dream big this year. Sevilla are an underdog year after year in this competition, and they're a very solid team that can compete against every team in Europe, including the big ones. They’re in a winnable group stage, and finishing first could provide a favourable draw in the knockout stage.
Most disappointing team/flop:
Inter and Barcelona. I'm sorry for my Italian friends, but Inter lost their coach and their main star this year. I don't know if they will be able to perform without Romelu Lukaku and Conte, the captain of last year's boat. The reason why I said Barcelona is obvious, they're not as recognisable as other years and their attack is far from being as good as other years with Messi's departure and Luuk de Jong's arrival. They've been showing some doubts at the start of the season, which could lead them to have difficulties in the Champions League.
How your country’s teams will perform:
Atlético, Real Madrid and Sevilla could all make it to the knockout stages as the top teams in their groups, while Barcelona and Villarreal should probably make it to the knockout stages as the second best teams in their groups.

‘It’s difficult to know how Messi and Ronaldo will perform’ – Eurosport France’s Julien Pereira

Winner:
Bayern Munich. They were already the big favourites last season, before being eliminated by PSG. Historically, Bayern have been a winning machine but this time there is a manager (Julian Nagelsmann) whose playing identity is stronger than Flick's. For the moment, it is impossible to speak about PSG (a lot of good individualities but not a team yet) and, given the level of the Premier League contenders this season, the domestic league could burn the energy of the other favourites like Manchester City, Chelsea or even Manchester United.
Top Scorer:
Lewandowski. Is there really a need to explain? He is the top scorer in Europe. And it's difficult to know how Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will perform in their new teams. He is the only safe bet.
Best Player:
Lewandowski again. He is the essential piece in the Bayern machine. He was extraordinary last season, including against PSG. He is the most complete player on the planet.
Surprise package:
What if Ajax can repeat 2019? The Dutch club is in a homogeneous position, with new young players and great talents (Timber, Gravenberch), and experienced players (Tadic, Berghuis, Klaassen, Haller). With this identity, they can once again hope to go far this season.
How your country's teams will perform:
Paris Saint-Germain are aiming for the title and nothing else. Any other result would be a disappointment for the club. For Lille, the French champions, the dynamic seems to have broken down since the departure of Christophe Galtier. Going through the group stage would be enough of an achievement.

‘Haaland is thirsty for more’ - Eurosport Germany’s Marc Hlusiak on Dortmund hitman

Winner:
I agree that PSG are the favourites if you just look at the names. But names alone don't make a good team. If that were the case, PSG and Manchester City would both have won it in the last few years. That's why I am going with Bayern Munich, as they are a real team with lots of players that have been playing together for many years, and the world's best striker up front.
Top Scorer:
CR7 will do it. Manchester United could play a big role this year, and Ronaldo will give them the push they are hoping for.
Best player:
Usually the best players are strikers who score many goals like Mbappé, Benzema, Messi or Ronaldo. But what about the guys stabilising their teams and just getting the job done? This is why we’ll pick N'Golo Kanté and Joshua Kimmich (if that's possible).
Surprise package
Dortmund could surprise a lot of people this year. Their group seems not as difficult as others, and they have this guy named Erling Haaland, who scored 10 goals last year and is thirsty for more! He wants to show the world once again how good he is before he leaves next summer. With his strength and a little luck, Dortmund can make it to the quarters again or even further.
Most disappointing team/flop:
Inter Milan. They lost too many good players and the coach that led them to the Scudetto. That's a lot to take and maybe they won’t even make it to the knockout stages.
How your country's teams will perform:
FC Bayern will win it, Dortmund will make it to the quarters, Leipzig and Wolfsburg will go into the Europa League after the group stage.

Lewandowski is aiming to be the Bayern hero once again

Image credit: Getty Images

'Neymar could be the superhero of the tournament' - Eurosport Italy's Carlofilippo Vardelli

Winner:

As of September 14th there is only one name that occupies this list: PSG. The French giants, after the summer transfer window, are undoubtedly the number one favourites to win the Champions League this year. Behind them, in no particular order, I would put Chelsea, Man City, Bayern and Liverpool.

Top scorer:

Two names above all: Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland. The Pole has to be tipped ahead of everyone else in consideration of the fact that - at least on paper - Bayern Munich seem destined to go further than Borussia Dortmund. On the virtual podium, of course, there is also room for Kylian Mbappé. With Leo Messi in your team you can fly very high.

Best player:

Neymar. Considering PSG are a super favourite, the Brazilian, with Messi at his side, could take on the role of Batman and become the ‘superhero’ of the Champions League. Just behind, I would have Paul Pogba.

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Surprise package:

One of the most intriguing teams is undoubtedly Sporting Lisbon, coached by 36-year-old Ruben Amorim. A young team that plays modern football and that, as seeded, has been included in a tough but not impossible group with Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and Besiktas. We would not be surprised to see the green-and-white Lions in the last 16. Then, just behind, Stefano Pioli's Milan.

Most disappointing team/flop:

On paper, Ronald Koeman's Barcelona are heavily at risk among the big players in Europe. There is an Aguero case that risks turning into a powder keg, there is a club in financial crisis and there are fans who are still trying to overcome the shock of Messi's departure and will not forgive the management. In all of this, Barça is part of a far from easy group with Bayern Munich, Benfica and Dinamo Kiev.

How your country’s teams will perform:

For Simone Inzaghi's Inter, getting out of the group is an obligation. Not even making it to the knockout stage this year would be a real failure. Juve need to improve the performance of the last two seasons culminating with two eliminations at the hands of Lyon and Porto, but it won't be easy. Milan could be the surprise of the entire competition, while we expect the usual race to the last eight from Atalanta (this year, however, the group is really difficult).

'No greater atmosphere than Anfield' - Eurosport UK's Ben Snowball says fan power key for Liverpool

Winner: Liverpool

We all know how the Champions League works by now. Everyone hypes PSG and Manchester City, they blow it, then one of the old guard lifts the trophy. With empty stadiums (hopefully) in the past, this will be the season fans are desperate to make their presence felt and there’s no greater European atmosphere than Anfield in midweek. The competition is woven into Liverpool’s history and, with Jurgen Klopp’s side facing stiff competition for the domestic title, it could be in Europe where they excel.

Top scorer: Robert Lewandowski

PSG, Liverpool and Manchester City will share their goals around; Manchester United will be wary of playing Cristiano Ronaldo in every game; Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund will bow out too early to make Erling Haaland and Karim Benzema serious considerations. Meaning? It's very hard to look beyond Robert Lewandowski. Most players would be happy with eight goals in an entire season – Lewandowski has that in his first five games for Bayern. Romelu Lukaku could run him close.

Best player: Virgil van Dijk

Liverpool missed their defensive leader last season and will benefit enormously from his return. Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota will grab the lion’s share of goals, yet it will all mean nothing if they can’t defend. But with Van Dijk, they can.

Surprise package: Benfica

Benfica are still reeling from the ‘curse’ placed by former boss Bella Guttman, who claimed in 1962 the club would not win a European title for a full century. Eight finals later and he’s still right. But while they won’t win the Champions League this year, they won’t have a better chance to progress from a group containing Bayern and Barcelona. Five wins from five to open the season, the stage is set for them to usurp the Catalans in crisis.

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Most disappointing team/flop: PSG

Yes, they will batter most teams, but you can't seriously expect to win the Champions League if you have three luxury players in attack, none of whom will be particularly willing to help out the midfield and full-backs when they don't have possession. Kylian Mbappe doesn't really want to be there, Neymar left to get out of a shadow that has now followed him to Paris, and Lionel Messi spends most of his time walking around, waiting to deliver that telling explosive sprint. If PSG had N'Golo Kante to protect their defence, it might just work. But they don't. Expect to see an all-time great capitulation when it begins to unravel, just as it did against Manchester City six months ago.

How your country’s teams will perform:

All four will qualify for the knockout stage. Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool should top their respective groups, while Manchester City are a good bet to unpick PSG again and top theirs. After that? Well we’ve already tipped Liverpool to win the whole thing, but all should feature in the quarter-finals.
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