Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. German coach Jurgen Klopp must have felt his day would eventually come in European competition. He lost the 2013 Champions League final with Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich, the 2016 Europa League final against Sevilla, then perhaps most gut wrenching of all, the 2018 Champions League final against Real Madrid.
Nevertheless, 2019 proved to be a magical year for Liverpool and Klopp. The Reds defied expectations when they scraped through the group stage of the competition by the narrowest of margins and went on to conquer Europe in style. Bayern Munich, FC Porto and even the mighty Barcelona were swept aside, with the latter producing one of the most spectacular comebacks in European football history.
Liverpool reached the final and this time there would be no stopping them. Klopp’s team faced one of the surprise packages of the 2018-19 Champions League campaign, fellow English side Tottenham Hotspur, although the Reds were good value for their 2-0 victory in Madrid and deserving champions. Klopp was no longer a bridesmaid waiting patiently for his special moment; he’d finally landed the biggest prize of them all. The question is, can he do it again?
2019-20 Champions League Favourites
As always, as teams begin to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, fans visit their favourite Sportsbook and do their best to predict who will be lifting the trophy in May in an effort to reap some rewards of their own. Let’s take a look at the eight favourites this season and the players that will make them tick.
Once again, the bookies believe this will be the year Pep Guardiola finally elevates his star-studded Manchester City side to Champions League glory. However, they felt the same way last season too, when City dominated their group and thrashed Schalke 04 in the Round of 16. In the end, they fell short of expectations and came unstuck against Tottenham Hotspur at the quarter-final stage.
The back to back Premier League champions will undoubtedly have their eyes on the continental prize again, although it’s hard to shake the sensation they could stutter once more. That said, if ever there was a side that was built to conquer Europe, it’s Manchester City, hence their popularity as favourites amongst the bookmakers.
Key Player – Kevin De Bruyne
Providing he can avoid injury niggles this season, the Belgian playmaker will be the beating heart of Manchester City when they attack. His form individually could make the difference.
When you have arguably the best player in the world amongst your ranks, there’s always hope of winning the Champions League. Nevertheless, even the exceptional Lionel Messi hasn’t inspired Barcelona to continental glory since the 2014-15 campaign, when the Spanish giants beat Juventus 3-1 in the Berlin final.
The arrival of Antoine Griezmann gives Barcelona an embarrassment of riches in attack, providing he can sufficiently gel with those around him, while Frenkie de Jong is a boost in midfield quality. Much will also depend on the fitness of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi this season, having started the 2019-20 LaLiga campaign with injury problems.
Key Player – Antoine Griezmann
While there’s no doubt that Lionel Messi remains the star man at Barça, the difference on the continental stage this season could well be Griezmann.
Having reached two consecutive Champions League finals and won the last one, the Reds will inevitably be carrying the pressure of expectation this season. Compared to previous campaigns, Liverpool haven’t spent as heavily on reinforcements, seemingly indicating that Klopp is more than content with the strength and depth already available to him.
Interestingly, last season Liverpool only progressed from the group stage by virtue of goals scored, ahead of Napoli, who will be their main rivals in Group E this season. However, if they can successfully transplant their Premier League starting form onto the European stage, it’s fair to say that Klopp’s men should comfortably book their passage to the knockout rounds.
Key Player – Virgil van Dijk
He beat Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the UEFA Player of the Season award and is even favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. The Dutch centre-back will again be vital for the Reds.
The difficulty in making predictions about Real Madrid is knowing what version we’ll see this season. After three consecutive Champions League triumphs, they looked unstoppable, although last season was one of great turmoil at the Santiago Bernabéu. Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus, then Zinedine Zidane quit his managerial post and everything went to hell.
Two managers later, Zidane returned to steady the ship once again last season, although it was all too late for Real Madrid to make a serious impact on the Champions League or in LaLiga. After a dismal pre-season, mixed start in LaLiga and a host of injury problems, it could prove difficult for Los Blancos to reach their habitual expectations in the competition, this time.
Key Player – Casemiro
Perhaps one of their most underrated players, certainly compared to the array of star names around him, if Casemiro is in top form, so are Real Madrid.
Draw & Potential Shocks
PSG will have to resist the might of Real Madrid in Group A of the Champions League Draw, while Bayern Munich will face last season’s finalists Tottenham Hotspur in Group B. On paper Man City look to have the easiest path in Group C, while Group D looks like it will be a battle between Juventus and Atletico Madrid. Liverpool and Napoli should progress comfortably from Group E, while Group F could be the deadliest with Barcelona, Dortmund and Inter Milan.
Providing plenty of potential to produce surprise packages, Group G with Zenit, Benfica, Lyon and Leipzig could be one to watch. Meanwhile, in Group H, competition will also be very fierce with Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia and Lille. Both those groups could see some upsets along the way, as teams strive to reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Who Will Win the Champions League?
The eternal question, yet one that we’ll endeavour to answer with an opinion. Despite the huge sums of money changing hands at the biggest clubs in Europe during the summer, it’s hard to shake the sensation that Liverpool could once again reign supreme in the Champions League. Of all the current sides, they are arguably the most settled and what’s more, they have the most recent experience of knowing what it takes to lift the famous trophy.
Having reached the last two finals, losing the first before winning the second, Klopp has the opportunity to build what might potentially be Liverpool’s legacy in the Champions League. The only caveat is a question of priorities, whether or not the Reds place more importance on winning the Premier League, or if they’re genuinely capable of winning both competitions during the same season.
Liverpool came agonisingly close to a remarkable Premier League and Champions League double last season, although this time around, they could take their ambitions a step further by claiming both the domestic and continental crowns.