Following a summer filled with major signings and managerial exits, the 2013/14 Champions League has the potential to be one of the most exciting to date.
For as long as I can remember, in the build-up to a season it hasn’t been too difficult to predict which clubs will be competing for Europe’s most prestigious title.
Normally you have a pool of around four or five teams from which to predict the emergence of an all-conquering side. Some seasons you get the odd surprise, like Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the 2003/04 season, but football in general usually reads from a standard script.
This year it seems that particular script has gone walkabouts, and there will be more than just the 'regulars' fighting for the right to be crowed as Europe's best.
So far this summer the managerial merry-go-round has been spinning at an unprecedented speed, with the majority of Europe’s biggest clubs either swapping their gaffers or having to wave a not-so-fond farewell as they hang up their managerial boots for good.
Couple that with teams spending a logic-defying amount of money, and throw in the realisation that emerging young talent seems to be crawling out of the woodwork like ants from a burning tree, and you’re left with an unpredictable cooking pot, and one that is bubbling over with quality.
Here we take a look at a few sides that will be threatening to overthrow Bayern Munich at the summit of European football. If you bear in mind that the transfer window has barely opened, it’s quite an alarming prospect.
So, Sir Alex Ferguson called time on his sterling career. That does not mean by any stretch that United are done and dusted. Still boasting a side full of quality and a manager hand-picked by Sir Alex himself, they will be out to prove that it’s still business as usual.
Big name signings are yet to be made, but you’d be a fool to bet against them securing a game-changer before the end of the window.
Coming off the back of the first treble in German club football history, Bayern have recruited the services of the man who oversaw Barcelona’s total dominance of Europe.
Pep Guardiola has been given a hefty sum with which to make his mark on the side, even though they have arguably the best man-for-man squad anyway. The Germans could enter the new season as favourites to repeat last year’s heroics.
Having constructed a new star-studded squad since their takeover by the Qatar Investment Authority, the French champions are steadily building to what could be a momentous year.
With negotiations in place with sought after striker Edinson Cavani, providing they can keep hold of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they will own a forward line to be envied.
They lack much pedigree in European competitions, but by the time the season kicks off, PSG could have the players to thrive amongst the best.
Juveventus have won the Serie A twice in a row now and although they may not have the financial muscle to compete with some of Europe’s top spenders, they remain a distinct threat.
With the ever-improving maestro Pirlo dictating their midfield and having so far imported Tevez from Manchester City, Juventus could quite easily mount a sustainable challenge this year.
Jurgen Klopp’s young boys set the Champions League alight last year only to fall at the final hurdle to Bayern Munich. After speculation linking him away from Germany, Klopp looks to be staying, which only bodes well.
Despite having lost influential winger Mario Gotze, Dortmund have a recent history of youth excellence that is preceded by none. It will be a massive test for them to repeat last campaign’s form, but with the majority of the squad staying around, it’s not an impossible task.
As always, Los Blancos will certainly be favourites to compete until the latter stages of any competition. Some may have questioned their future credentials with the departure of Jose Mourinho, but his replacement Carlo Ancelotti is more than up to the task of winning trophies.
Having already signed highly rated Isco from Malaga, Madrid seem to be going through their annual stage of pre-season squad evolution. It is imperative that they keep Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet another club under new management, City will be aiming to imprint a solid statement in Europe this year.
With their past ventures in the Champions League leaving much to be desired, Manuel Pelligrini will no doubt be treating the competition as a key component in keeping his board happy.
With the club having forked out large sums for Fernandinho and Spanish winger Jesus Navas, it’s likely they only need a forward to complete their summer spending.
If they can grab one who has a real eye for goals then they may have the tools to do the unthinkable.
Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona side will be under intense scrutiny from the entire football world this year.
Having acquired the sport’s most desirable talent in Neymarm, they will be eager to avenge their humbling to Bayern in last year’s Champions League semi-final.
The Catalans know they have to perform on Europe's biggest stage if they wish to be considered as the best team in the world.
After a couple of seasons of relative turmoil by Chelsea’s standards, The Special One has returned to bring balance to the force.
Jose Mourinho’s arrival should mean two things, large-scale change followed by almost certain glory. If Chelsea can recapture the form that they produced the last time Mourinho was in charge, the rest of Europe will need to be wary.
With almost all of Europe’s top clubs going through transitional periods, and the introduction of a number of mouth-watering talents into the fold, the 2013/14 season is completely open.
Will it be the efficiency of Bayern, the flair of Barcelona, the resurgence of Chelsea or the financial muscle of PSG.
One thing is unequivocally true, this season has the potential to be the best one to date.
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