Five dark horses who could lift the Champions League trophy this season
Written by: Waseem Zaidi
There are a number of teams that can spring up a surprise in the continental tournament and bring an end to the Spanish hegemony.
On occasions, there are teams that shock everyone with their resilience and end up winning the Champions League. The perfect examples of such a feat are 1996-97 winners Borussia Dortmund, 2003-04 winners FC Porto, and 2011-12 winners Chelsea. These teams managed to lift the UCL trophy when hardly anyone gave them a chance and to the shock of many.
Similarly, Liverpool almost went all the way being the dark horses last season, but fell on the last hurdle at the hands of a Real Madrid side who were a class-apart under their former manager, Zinedine Zidane.
After a long wait, Champions League football is about to make a return with an impressive lineup of Round of 16 fixtures. Therefore, we take a look at the top-five clubs who have the potential to be the dark horses of the tournament and lift the 2018-19 Champions League trophy.
5. Bayern Munich
Group E toppers, Bayern Munich are still undefeated in this year's competition. Despite enduring a disappointing domestic campaign, 'the Bavarians' remain a massive threat who can dethrone the Spanish clubs and put an end to their dominance in the UEFA Champions League.
However, they have a tricky tie against Liverpool in the Round of 16. Although, Niko Kovac's men will be the favourites to emerge as victors due to the recent dip in form of the English side. Notably, Bayern will be without the services of Manuel Neuer who will be unavailable for the first leg at least, due to a thumb injury.
Winning the UCL will do their gaffer a world of good, since he's been under immense pressure owing to disappointing and unimpressive performances in the Bundesliga.
4. Manchester United
After enduring a horrible start to the domestic campaign, Manchester United hierarchy decided to sack the former manager, Jose Mourinho and appoint Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the time being. Since then, United are a rejuvenated side and have been undefeated in their first 10 fixtures under the new gaffer. Interestingly, the Red Devils were the first English side to qualify for the knockout phase but failed to top their group.
Manchester United are a different team all-together under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
As a result, they are paired-up against Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16. Moments after the draw, United were given no chances of winning against a PSG side who have obliterated their domestic league competition.
However, with a newfound form and adventurous playing style, coupled with Neymar's absence due to injury, United are favoured by many to not just brush aside PSG but also possibly go to the business end of the competition. Players like Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford will be detrimental to United's chances of winning the UCL after an 11-year gap.
3. Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur will clash against each other in the Round of 16 and either of these two sides can have a long run in the competition. Dortmund have a better chance of going ahead from this fixture. Mainly because of the absence of major team-players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli etc.
The German side lead the domestic league and above all, they are in form to cause an upset to any team in the world right now. Like Roma, in the previous season, they are resilient in their mission.
Players like Marco Reus and Mario Gotze will play a central role in their tie against Spurs. Furthermore, Jadon Sancho would also like to take this opportunity and impress the big European clubs that are vying for his signature.
2. Paris Saint-Germain
The French giants, Paris Saint-Germain have underperformed in the Champions League for a number of seasons now. The owners of the club have put continental success as their top priority. To achieve that, they have invested hefty amounts of money in order to sign players like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe among others. To their disappointment, the best finish by PSG in any UEFA Champions League campaign is still only a quarter-final finish which is a huge blot on their reputation.
Facing Manchester United in the Round of 16 has suddenly become more challenging due to the injury inflicted to Neymar, who will miss both legs due to a metatarsal injury.
The injury that may have vandalised PSG's season
Regardless, PSG are still pegged to be the dark horses of the tournament and have the lineup to overcome any opposition. Thomas Tuchel, the manager of the French outfit, will be banking on a successful UCL campaign in order to secure his future at the club. They will also miss Edinson Cavani, atleast in the first leg.
1. Manchester City
Pep Guardiola's men had a bitter outing in the continental showpiece last season, after getting knocked out by Liverpool in the quarter-final stage despite coming into the fixture as favorites. Cityzens are yet again favouring their chances to finally lift the coveted Champions League trophy and a somewhat easy draw in the Round of 16 will have given them a much-needed boost.
Chelsea lost with a 6-goal margin for the first time ever in Premier League history
Manchester City will travel to Germany to face Schalke 04 for the first leg. Eyes will be on their frontman, Sergio Aguero, who has been in good form in the Premier League. Given that they should easily march into the quarter-finals, it just might make them the dark horses of the tournament and win the one trophy that has eluded them.
City are well-equipped to be the champions considering the depth their squad has. Pep is an experienced manager and will know what steps to take to steer his team over the final hurdle.
Published: Mon Feb 11, 2019 05:15 PM IST