The Champions League is the best soccer league, and the knockout tournaments offer the best quality of play.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the World Cup, the European Championship and the Copa America, but if the best national teams played against the best club teams, the countries would lose. Meanwhile, as a coach, you are constantly watching what is happening in the Champions League. From the tactical approach to the rhythm of the matches, it creates trends.
You can look at Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona in the 1990s to see how they stretched the field to open up teams and used the full-backs almost as wingers. Or to see how the number 6 has evolved into a very important role, with players like Didier Deschamps or Andrea Pirlo being almost more of a passive quarterback than the number 10, or Javier Mascherano coming back into the defense. Then there were teams that played without strikers and used six attacking midfielders instead, like Barcelona with Lionel Messi as the false nine.
– Klinsmann: UCL experience can help USMNT stars
– ESPN FC Daily streaming on ESPN+ (US only)
It’s true that the group stage can get a little boring if the favorites are too strong, but at the end of the competition you really want the best teams to play each other and the current format gives you more of a chance to do that. It also forgives you if you played a bad game, unlike the one I played!
In the days of the old European Cup I was at Inter and we were drawn in the first round by Malmö from Sweden, coached by Roy Hodgson. They won the first leg 1-0 and parked the bus for the draw in Italy. At the time, that would have meant a point from two games and a situation that could have been saved with four games to go. Then we were out of the game.
But even if more games are better, I hope it never gets to the point where there is a European Super League, which means some clubs won’t play in their national leagues. You always want other teams to play in the Champions League and compete with the best. In this context, let’s look at the candidates who won the whole season.
One of my former clubs, Bayern Munich, is a team that will win at the beginning of the qualifiers. It’s probably the biggest club in the world and it wants to be competitive every year. You know your job as a player or coach is to win titles and there is an approach that is repeated every day, whether it is during training, a German Cup game or a Champions League final.
Bayern has set the tone for what other clubs want to achieve, but it’s always difficult to repeat that as a Champions League winner, because naturally the energy for the next year wears off a bit and you wonder, “How can we do that again? Real Madrid is the only team to have retained the trophy in the modern era. That shows the magnitude of the challenge the Hansi Flick men face.
Error. Movie not specified.Bayern Munich has what it takes to win the Champions League again, but it’s not easy to go back. Getty
It helps that they have Robert Lewandowski, who is the best number 9 in the world and a good example of how good you can be over a long period of time if you adapt perfectly to the style of play, if you stay hungry as you did on the first day and have fun.
Whether he’s left- or right-handed, takes penalties or even a free kick, Lewandowski has everything in his repertoire for a complete striker, and you can show any young player who learns the game what he’s capable of. I mentioned Marco van Basten in my last column, and he’s the one that comes to mind when I look at Robert over the years.
Another important player is Thomas Müller, who I got to know more than a decade ago when I was a director at Bayern. What immediately struck me was his intelligence and decisiveness; whatever he does, he does it in the simplest way possible. He is a master at connecting the dots and has that Bayern Munich “quirk” that makes him never satisfied. Even though he scored three goals today, he is already focused on the next game!
I expect Bayern to beat Lazio and Juventus to beat Porto. Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona are 50-50, Liverpool has the advantage against RB Leipzig and Manchester City are clear favorites against Borussia Monchengladbach. The Sevilla-Borussia Dortmund match will be an open one as the German club struggles, while the Atletico Madrid-Chelsea match will be fascinating to watch with the two energetic coaches Diego Simeone and Thomas Tuchel on the sidelines.
Perhaps the most amazing team in the Round of 16 is Atalanta against Real Madrid, because the soccer they play is fun to watch – high energy and pressure – and their understanding of each other is perfect. It’s hard to keep that up all season. So they lose games in Italy that you wouldn’t expect, but they reached the quarter-finals last season, so they have some experience at the highest level.
The key to doing well in the Champions League is finding the right form and rhythm at the right time. Bayern, for example, finished last season with 21 consecutive wins in all competitions, and what you see at this time of year are the top teams trying to find gear mode and come out of the winter cold, making them super dangerous.
Look at Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have had a difficult start to the season. Paris look alike and change managers, while Man City find their form a little earlier, but it’s not always the best either. Bayern themselves have been slow to distance themselves from the rest of the Bundesliga.
Bayern took a while to distance themselves from the rest of the field in Germany, but they are back after winning the Club World Cup and aiming for another Bundesliga title, as well as a repeat of their Champions League success, which will be a must-win match when they resume competition this week.
Frequently asked questions
Who is the best team in the UEFA Champions League?
Real Madrid is by far the most successful team in European Championship history, with a total of 13 wins in the prestigious trophy.
Who won the Champions League with Bayern Munich?
Bayern Munich won the final 1-0 thanks to a goal in the 59th minute from former Paris Saint-Germain player Kingsley Coman, who was later named player of the match.
Who has won 3 Leagues of Champions in a row?
Teams that have won the UEFA Champions League three times in a row, five times in total, are awarded the multiple winner badge. Six teams have earned this privilege: Real Madrid, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Milan, Liverpool and Barcelona.
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