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Ranking the 8 teams most likely to win the Champions League
With the group stages set to begin, we assess Man City and other serious contenders for the trophy.

8. Atletico Madrid

A rank outsider, but Atletico Madrid have made a habit of overperforming in Europe and springing countless surprises during the Diego Simeone era. They have won the Europe League in 2010, 2012 and 2018, and have been Champions League runners-up in 2014 and 2016 (and 1974 when it was the European Cup). It’s also a little over two years since they triumphed against the odds to win La Liga. So there is no doubt the culture at the club is positive under the former Argentine international, and there are plenty of talented players in their squad, including Jan Oblak, César Azpilicueta, Axel Witsel, Koke and Antoine Griezmann

7. Inter Milan

Last year’s surprise finalists, there likely won’t be too many critics tipping them to repeat the feat. Some people might be expecting Napoli to perform better. Still, it’ll be a big ask to expect the reigning Serie A champions to build on last season’s shock triumph, having lost both head coach Luciano Spalletti and key centre-back Kim Min-jae, who joined Bayern Munich for €50 million in the off-season. This uncertainty has been reflected in their unconvincing start as they sit fifth in the table, with two wins from four, while Inter are top with a 100% record. Some of Simone Inzaghi’s side’s recruitment suggests they could be even better this year, with top players like Benjamin Pavard and Marcus Thuram joining an already strong squad. An emphatic 5-1 win in the Milan derby at the weekend was another reminder of how good they are and how far they can go.

6. Barcelona

Not so long ago, Barcelona would be consistently placing near the top of these types of lists. However, the club’s financial issues have caused a significant drop in performance in recent seasons. For the past two campaigns, they haven’t even made it out of the group stages. The initial failure saw them not reach the knockout stages for the first time since the 2003-04 season. And while Xavi’s team are a work in progress, they will surely perform better this time. There is quality throughout the side, with Jules Koundé, Frenkie de Jong, İlkay Gündoğan, Pedri and Robert Lewandowski among their world-class stars.

5. PSG

For all the millions they have spent, it seems remarkable that PSG are still waiting to win their first Champions League trophy. Every season for a while now, they have been considered among the favourites, and each time, they find new and inventive ways to mess up. This season, however, has seen the most dramatic change for a long time in the French capital. They have waved goodbye to a number of legendary but ageing players — Neymar, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos among them — with new boss Luis Enrique helping to oversee a dramatic squad overhaul. The incoming players are not as high profile but similarly talented — the big-money signings have included Hugo Ekitike (€28.5 million), Manuel Ugarte (€60 million),  Lucas Hernandez (€40 million), Ousmane Dembélé (€50.4 million), Bradley Barcola (€45 million) and Randal Kolo Muani (€95 million), while another one of the world’s top young players Goncalo Ramos has joined on loan from Benfica, with a €65 million option to buy plus €15 million in bonuses. Whether all these exciting new players can gel quickly enough to win a Champions League title in their first season is doubtful, but PSG certainly have a depth of talent that will be the envy of most sides in the competition. 

4. Arsenal

A Premier League winner outside of Man City seems unlikely this year. However, if it is to happen, Arsenal are the best-placed of the other three English sides. Newcastle’s lack of experience in the competition and subsequent low seeding means simply getting out of their group will be a challenge — they have been drawn alongside Dortmund, Milan and PSG. And while Man United’s draw is not as daunting (Copenhagen, Bayern Munich, Galatasaray), Erik ten Hag’s men just look too much of a mess in the Premier League at the moment to be considered legitimate contenders in Europe. On the other hand, Mikel Arteta’s side have started well, with four wins from five and have definitely strengthened their squad with the additions of Declan Rice, David Raya, Kai Havertz and Jurriën Timber. They pushed City very close in the Premier League for much of last season, so there’s no reason why they can’t do so again in Europe this year.

3. Real Madrid

Have started La Liga strongly with five wins from five. There was significant pressure on the shoulders of their most high-profile summer signing Jude Bellingham, who joined for €103 million, with potentially another €30 million in add-ons. However, the England international has not looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, with five goals from five appearances so far. Yet the team is littered with world-class talent throughout. Of course, stars Luka Modric and Toni Kroos looked their age during the 4-0 demolition by Man City last season, but those two veterans appear set to be used more sparingly and often from the bench this season with the younger likes of Bellingham,  Aurélien Tchouaméni,  Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde providing the necessary power and energy in the midfield that they previously lacked at times.

2. Bayern Munich

Harry Kane certainly caused Man City plenty of problems during his time at Spurs. The England star’s and Tottenham’s record against Pep Guardiola’s men were far from spectacular but superior to most — five wins from 14 Premier League encounters, with the 30-year-old striker also registering five goals during that time. He is now at a team much better equipped to challenge City — arguably more so than any other club in Europe. The German side had a pretty underwhelming season by their standards last year, requiring an extraordinary final-day collapse by rivals Dortmund to win their 11th consecutive Bundesliga title. In the Champions League though, they were ultimately well-beaten by Man City 4-1 on aggregate. They will be hoping the additions of Kane and another world-class star, former Napoli defender Kim Min-jae, will put them in a stronger position to challenge and offset the losses of Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez, Ryan Gravenberch and Sadio Mane among others.

1. Man City

As they obviously demonstrated by winning the treble last season, Pep Guardiola’s side are clearly the best team in Europe right now. The departures of talented players like Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Cole Palmer and Aymeric Laporte would leave most teams in deep trouble, but the changes barely seem to have impacted City at all, judging their supremely confident 100% start to the Premier League season. Moreover, the arrivals of Joško Gvardiol, Jérémy Doku, Mateo Kovačić and Matheus Nunes for a combined total of €244 million have arguably left the squad in a stronger position overall. Winning back-to-back trophies in what is essentially a cup competition won’t be easy, but this impossibly composed and skilful group have a habit of repeatedly breaking records and making history.

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