The Uefa Champions League sorely misses AC Milan and Manchester United. Both clubs endured a miserable season last term, finishing eighth and seventh in Serie A and Premier League ensuring they miss out on European football altogether.
And despite the competition still providing huge amounts of entertainment, that two of the world’s biggest superpowers are absent gives it a rather alien feel this year.
Milan and Manchester has lost its fear-factor and the days where they would be automatic title challengers are now firmly in the past. The Italian giants are rebuilding steadily enough under the stewardship of Filippo Inzaghi, but toiled horrendously under both Massimiliano Allegri and Clarence Seedorf.
Big money has been spent shrewdly, with the likes of Fernando Torres, Jeremy Menez, Alex and Diego Lopez all impressing in their time at the San Siro so far. United dismissed David Moyes after the Scot endured a difficult spell as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor, and have been inconsistent under Louis van Gaal so far.
After snaring Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Daley Blind and Ander Herrera in the summer many expect them to secure qualification this time around, but the jury is still out on defensive duo Luke Shaw and Marcus Rojo who have struggled at times this season.
Europe’s best competitions should have Europe’s best teams, and if United and Milan were in this year’s showpiece they could fare well despite the miseries of the last 12 months.
Real Madrid are the favourites to retain their Champions League crown with Cristiano Ronaldo typically brilliant, whilst Bayern Munich’s demolition job of Serie A side Roma shows they have the firepower to regain the trophy they lost last year.
Barcelona are ticking along nicely under Luis Enrique and still have Luis Suarez to come, whilst Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are unstoppable in the Premier League and emphatically defeated Maribor 6-0 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening.
United and Milan’s inclusion would automatically propel them into the thoughts of many, and would be amongst the favourites on sheer past prestige alone.
Inzaghi and Van Gaal are charged with ensuring their time without Champions League football is just for one year, but their rivals have spent big and will provide genuine competition.
Both clubs showed they possess no qualms about wielding the managerial axe, though they may be allowed the time to rebuild an empire that Moyes, Allegri and Seedorf were not. The Champions League is a glorious tournament and its history plays a key part in that. The sooner Milan and United are back competing in it the better.