It appears odd to suggest that a competition with the magnitude of the Champions League is as good as over before it's even begun, but that appears to be the case this season.

In Barcelona, the world could well be looking at the greatest club side ever assembled, with a core at the Nou Camp stemming from player's who have, in the main, graduated through their own Academy ranks.

Sprinkle in some superstar signings, namely David Villa last summer and Alexis Sanchez this, and it's tough to see flaws in the La Liga champions' armory.

The bookmakers certainly agree, making the Spanish giants 2/1 favorites ahead of domestic rivals Real Madrid (5/1) and Manchester duo United (13/2) and City (10/1).

Whilst Madrid are perennial underachievers in the competition in modern times, the same could not be said of United, who under Sir Alex Ferguson have reached three finals in the last five years.

Despite claiming victory over Chelsea in Moscow back in 2007/08, the Red Devils have since come unstuck against Pep Guardiola's side twice, in Rome in 2009 and at Wembley last summer.

United have looked to re-build following the defeat, with Ferguson entrusting the future of the club in the rising youth element at Old Trafford, with Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck featuring heavily at the start of the current campaign.

Additional young English signings Chris Smalling (January '10) and Phil Jones have joined the academy graduates in gaining first team minutes this term, whilst Spanish stopper David de Gea and winger Ashley Young were also drafted in to strengthen the squad.

'Veterans' Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have been forced to watch on from the sidelines as the youngsters impress for United in their absence, helping Ferguson's side to a perfect Barclays Premier League start of four wins in four games.

And, whilst Barca endured a tricky 2-2 draw against Real Sociedad last weekend, they are still head-and-shoulders above everyone at the very top table.


 

Why? Summer transfers gives you a clear indication. Jones and De Gea are promising young talents who could become stars for both club and country in the future, whilst Young is a player of undoubted talent who has made a fantastic start to the season, although Aston Villa fans would often question his ability to produce on a regular basis.

In Catalonia, Barca brought Cesc Fabregas back to the club, the former Arsenal captain and a Spanish international, whilst Alexis Sanchez was also drafted in from Udinese a season after impressing at the 2010 World Cup with Chile.

20-year-old Thiago Alcantara, who recently earned full international recognition with Spain, has also graduated into the club's first team.

Whilst United's necessity for a keeper partly dictated their business in the transfer window, you'd be a brave man to suggest that the better moves took place in England rather than Spain.

Both sides have strengthened, but Barca's dominance in the final back in May meant United had to do more, and Ferguson has failed to sign players who are proven at the very highest level and capable of dethroning a great side that contains the likes of Xavi, Anders Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Undoubtedly the best in the Barclays Premier League this season, United's domestic brilliance will only serve as a mask for their in-ability to deliver against the very (very) best in Europe.

There is no shame in coming second, unless your Manchester United, and unless the cheque book comes out again in January for world-class players who aren't cup-tied, the Red Devils will be staring down the barrel of another gallant losers medal.

Topics:
Football
UEFA Champions League
Manchester United