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Title: Who will win UEFA Champions League 2013-14?
Tags: Match Point
Blog Entry: Who will win UEFA Champions League 2013-14? By  Behram Qazi   Published: December 27, 2013 Football lovers will have to wait till February for the knockouts to begin. PHOTO: REUTERS The UEFA Champions League is certainly European Club Football’s biggest and most anticipated spectacle. It is followed the world over as fans watch the top teams from the best leagues in the world – from La Liga of Spain to England’s Barclays Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga among many – battle it out to achieve ultimate glory. The  2013-14 editions  have been no different as all  four teams from both England  and Germany have made it to the knockout stages while three out of the original four Spanish teams have qualified as well. One team each from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France has made it past the group stage which completes the line-up for this year’s  Round of Sixteen . However, football lovers will have to wait till  February  for the knockouts to begin. Till then, we shall take a deeper look at all the contenders for the crown. Chelsea Source: UEFA Jose Mourinho’s boys look threatening but lack consistency as they lost  both their games against Basel in the Group Stages. Their form has been up and down in the Premier League as well. However, after  impressive wins against Schalke , at home and away, the Londoners are expected to make it to the quarter-final stage at least. It will certainly not be an easy road though, as they face Galatasaray next, which will be a tricky tie, mostly focusing on Didier Drogba’s return to Stamford Bridge. Key Player:  Eden Hazard Photo: Reuters Real Madrid Source: UEFA The Galacticos might be having a hard time playing catch-up with rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the La Liga but they have been on song in the Champions League so far, as they stand unbeaten. Five wins and a draw in a tough group which consisted of Galatasaray and Juventus, speaks volume. With Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo currently experiencing the form of his life, a semi-final berth is the minimum expectation from Madrid, who are  among the favourites  to lift the cup. Key Player:  Cristiano Ronaldo Photo: Reuters Manchester United Source: UEFA The Red Devils have had a horrible season so far with respect to the standard they set themselves in the good old days of the Ferguson regime. David Moyes will be looking to silence the critics with a  successful Champions League campaign  – one in which United hasn’t seen defeat yet.  United is confident  against a relatively weak upcoming opponent, Olympiakos, especially after  thrashing Bayer Leverkusen , home and away, in the Group Stages. However, to go further than the quarter-final stage could prove to be a mammoth task for the  2008 title holders . Key Player:  Wayne Rooney Photo: Reuters Bayern Munich Source: UEFA The Bavarians have so far  dominated the 2013-14 season  and could well become the first team ever to successfully defend the Champion’s League crown. Munich seems to have all bases covered, having the best players in every position and a successful manager in Pep Guardiola. However,  a shock defeat  at the Allianz Arena in their last group game against Manchester City has sparked some doubts with regard to their title defence. Certain favourites like Bayern will first have to  overcome the skilful Arsenal  in the Round of Sixteen to progress further. Key Player:  Philipp Lahm Photo: Reuters Borussia Dortmund Source: UEFA Last year’s finalists, Dortmund have  done well in the Champions League this season , despite undergoing a troubled run in Bundesliga. They were a part of the group of death, comprising of Arsenal, Napoli and Marseille, which they eventually conquered, thanks to a  crucial goal by Kevin Grosskreutz in the 87 th  minute  in a do-or-die clash against Marseille. Jurgen Klopp is focused to replicate last year’s success and restore Dortmund’s reputation as one of Europe’s top clubs. Expect almost anything from the men in black and yellow. Key Player:  Robert Lewandowski Photo: Reuters Barcelona Source: UEFA Despite finishing at the top of their group and riding high in the La Liga, the Catalans have been a touch disappointing. Having a world class squad and the  world’s best player in Lionel Messi , much more is expected from Barcelona, who have shown signs of complacency as they lost to Ajax  and shared points against Milan. However, with Neymar slowly finding his feet at the club, Barcelona still stand among the favourites to win the title. It won’t be a walk in the park though, as they face a star-studded Manchester City squad in the Round of Sixteen. Key Player:  Lionel Messi Photo: Reuters Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Source: UEFA Current French champions,  PSG have had a decent run this year , winning  four of six  group games. They have a number of match winners on their side, which include Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Thiago Silva, who can single-handedly make a difference on any given day. However, PSG are newly appointed as the big boys of Europe, and hence, lack the Champions League knockout experience. Realistically, it’s hard to see PSG going further than the quarter-finals. Key Player:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic Photo: Reuters Atletico Madrid Source: UEFA Dubbed as the  surprise package of this year’s Champions League , Atletico Madrid are out to prove that they belong to Europe’s elite. Diego Simeone has worked wonders at the club, competing toe-to-toe with Barcelona in the La Liga and finishing at the top of the group in the Champions League. Unbeaten so far, Atleti will face their toughest test yet, against seven-time Champions AC Milan in the next round. If they can pass this test, a semi-final spot could be likely for the Red and Whites. Key Player:  Diego Costa Photo: Reuters Galatasaray Source: UEFA The Turkish Giants surprised everyone as they  beat Juventus  in their last group game – a victory that confirmed their qualification in the next round. Galatasaray will be looking to recreate last year’s success and beat Chelsea on their way to a second consecutive Champions League quarter-final appearance. Even though Chelsea is more likely to go through, Galatasaray is known for pulling off big upsets and has two f ormer Champions League winners in its squad – Didier Drogba  and Wesley Sneijder Key Player:  Wesley Sneijder Photo: Reuters Olympiakos Source: UEFA The Greek super-weights ousted Benfica in order to reach the knockout stages – a place well-earned. They have been competitive and look to  add to Manchester United’s misery  this year by overthrowing them in the Round of Sixteen. However, chances of their progress look very slim. Key Player:  Kostas Mitroglou Photo: Reuters Manchester City Source: UEFA After a tough couple of seasons in the Champions League, Manchester City finally seems to have risen to the occasion. Winning five out of six group games, including a memorable away-win against current title holders Bayern Munich,  City pose a serious threat to Barcelona , their opponents this February, in arguably the most exciting Round of Sixteen fixture. Slowly finding consistency in the Premier League too, Pellegrini’s superstars could make it to the final four, or further, if they can overcome four-time Champions League winners Barcelona. Key Player:  Sergio Aguero Photo: Reuters AC Milan Source: UEFA The Rossoneri are having a terrible season in Series ‘A’ but are the only Italian side remaining in the Champions League. However, their tournament stats have not been as bad,  losing on only one occasion  and earning valuable points in a draw against Barca. Milan will bank on their history, experience and strength at the San Siro, and look forward to a  tough challenge against Atletico Madrid . Chances of making it further than the quarter-finals though, look very bleak. Key Player:  Robinho Photo: Reuters Zenit Saint Petersburg Source: UEFA Russian heavyweights Zenit are extremely lucky to have made it past the group stage as they were only able to secure one victory in six games. They find themselves in the last sixteen courtesy of Atletico’s dominance and Porto’s incompetence in their group. The blue-whites are  set to face Dortmund in February  and will have to play their best football if they want to stand a chance in the contest. Key Player:  Hulk Photo: Reuters Schalke 04 Source: UEFA The German underdogs have not been very impressive this year, having a  lean run in the Bundesliga  and narrowly making it to the Champions League knockouts. Winning three out of six group games, Schalke will really have to step up their game and forget the drubbing they received at the hands of Chelsea, if they want to pose a  formidable challenge to Spanish Titans Real Madrid . Key Player:  Kevin-Prince Boateng Photo: Reuters Arsenal Source: UEFA After a Phenomenal start to the 2013-14 season, the Gunners have had a slip in form,  losing crucial League games  against Manchester United and Manchester City. A loss to Napoli in their last group game deprived them of topping the group of death, which has resulted in two  very tough games against defending champions Bayern Munich . The task is not unachievable but the North Londoners will most definitely have to regain their touch and confidence if they wish to proceed further in the knockouts. If they are able to triumph over Bayern, they will be solid contenders for the title. Key Player:  Mesut Ozil Photo: Reuters Bayer Leverkusen Source: UEFA A young team full of talent and potential, Bayer Leverkusen are just beginning to make a name for themselves in Europe. Still alive in the race for the Bundesliga, Leverkusen faces PSG in the Round of Sixteen which will prove to be a very stern test for them. Their  heavy losses to an out-of-form Manchester United  in the group stages clearly indicate inexperience and there is a long way to go for them in order to become top European contenders. Anything beyond the Round of Sixteen will be a bonus for Sami Hyypia’s young men. Key Player:  Stefan Kiessling