REUTERS/Hannah McKayFollowing an eventful international break, normal services resumed over the weekend, as we saw the return of domestic club football. Now, as new week begins, the footballing world will finally get to embrace the two biggest club competitions on the planet.
Tuesday, September 17, finally marks the beginning of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League, and it will be closely followed with the opening of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League on Thursday, Sept 19.
As the biggest European juggernauts prepare for yet another year of world-class football, let us take a look at the teams and players expected to make the biggest of impacts this season:
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Player to watch out for: Joao Felix
The grandest stage of European football is where the brightest talents in the world shine, and we expect no starlet to shine brighter than Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix this season.
Les Rojiblancos shelled out a mammoth €126m transfer fee to sign the in-demand forward from Benfica, and the 19-year-old has seamlessly slotted in as the replacement for the departed Antoine Griezmann. In fact, his impact in the Spanish capital until now goes far beyond the one goal and one assist he has bagged in four La Liga appearances.
Irrespective of their La Liga record, Atletico have consistently surpassed expectations in Europe in the past few years, and Felix’s youth, surrounded by an experienced attack and midfield, is sure to work wonders for Diego Simeone’s machine this season.
Team to watch out for: Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund were one of the biggest winners of the 2019 summer transfer window, as they acquired the services of Julian Brandt, Thorgan Hazard, and Mats Hummels, amongst others.
With this impressive squad, which possesses specialists in all positions, BVB are capable of shocking one and all, and going far in the tournament under the tutelage of experienced tactician Lucien Favre.
Last season, the Bundesliga giants crashed out from the Round of 16 post a 4-0 aggregate hammering by eventual finalists Tottenham. With a renewed vigour to prove a point, the Yellow Submarine will definitely enter this term’s competition with the mission of reestablishing old swagger.
While on the subject of winners in the transfer market, nobody — simply nobody — does better business than the long-reigning kings of Italy. Not only did Juventus sign the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot on free transfers this summer, but they also managed to blow the biggest clubs on the continent out of the water in the race to sign Matthijs De Ligt from Ajax.
While their backline has been reinforced with new arrivals, their midfield department is so strong, that new boss Maurizio Sarri was left with no choice but to leave German powerhouse Emre Can out of this season’s Champions League squad!
Lastly, and most importantly, the factor that pulls all odds in favour of the Old Lady is the 34-year-old man that was brought in with the sole purpose of bringing the European title to Turin: Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese sensation’s hunger and fitness levels remain the same as ever. And with Sarri building an already-talented attack around the “strongest player in the world,” no team may succeed in stopping the mightly Juventus from winning the biggest prize this season.
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE
Player to watch out for: Bruno Fernandes
Sporting Lisbon playmaker Bruno Fernandes was among the headlines throughout the 2019 summer transfer window. Owing to his terrific performances last season, the Portuguese international was heavily linked with transfers to the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. However, no move materialised, and that shall prove to be a big boon for Sporting in their upcoming European campaign.
The 25-year-old has started the 2019-20 season in a splendid manner, having already bagged 2 goals and 4 assists in 4 league appearances thus far. If he manages to keep this form up throughout the term, Fernandes will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in the Europa League, while consistently aiding his side to the furthest stages of the competition.
Team to watch out for: Wolves
With Europe largely unaware of an English club named after an animal, Wolves are certainly at the cusp of taking the continent by storm and making a name for themselves.
Giant-killers of the 2018-19 Premier League season, this Nuno Espirito Santo-led side managed to go unbeaten against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United last season – drawing with each team in one leg, and beating them in the other.
Now, despite being aware of the perils of far-away Europa trips and its effects on smaller squads, Wolves are intent on leaving their mark on the competition. They have already started their UEL campaign in style, having beaten Armenian outfit Pyunik 8-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round, and Serie A club Torino 5-3 (agg.) during the playoffs.
Placed alongside Besiktas, Slovan Bratislava and Braga in the group stages, it will be interesting to see how their journey unfolds in the coming months.
Despite the strong presence of Manchester United, Porto, Roma, and Sevilla in this year’s edition of the tournament, we believe the top prize will be bagged by last season’s finalists, Arsenal.
Having strengthened their attack with Pepe, midfield with Dani Ceballos, and defence with David Luiz, the Gunners boast of a heavily reinforced squad this term.
To add to the improvement, manager Unai Emery’s experience in Europa League finals — he won three UEL finals in three successive seasons with Sevilla — gives his team the vital edge over its competitors.
After stumbling at the final hurdle of the competition against their inter-city rivals last year, the Spanish gaffer will be hell-bent on restoring his tarnished finals’ record, and his men eager to bring European glory to the Emirates this time around.