Sportsmail reporters Q&A: Champions League return

Who will win the Champions League? Which Premier League club will go the furthest? And who are the underdogs that could stun the world? Sportsmail’s reporters have their say ahead of European football’s big return

  • The Champions League returns this week with the group stage matches 
  • Holders Bayern Munich stand as favourites to retain their crown once more 
  • Manchester United face the toughest group out of the English clubs 
  • Sportsmail reporters give their verdicts on how the competition will unfold 

Football may still be navigating troubled seas right now amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, but Champions League action is finally back and ready to hit TV screens.

A fresh instalment of the competition sees Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United tackle Europe’s elite in a bid to put English football back on top.

With group stage action now about to recommence, Sportsmail reporters deliver their verdicts on how football’s flagship tournament could unfold this season…

Who will win the Champions League? 

Bayern Munich (again).

How far will each of the English clubs get? 

Man City to go the furthest… with their strong squad, know-how and steady improvement in the competition. They ought to navigate the group phase without too much trouble and secure top seeding in the knock-out phase without too many yellow cards stacked up. 

Man United have the toughest draw, in with Leipzig and PSG and might be destined for the Europa League. 

Chelsea’s group has the potential to be a tight squeeze. Expect Liverpool to progress into the knock-out rounds although the loss of Virgil van Dijk is damaging.

A tough group could see Old Gunnar Solskjaer’s side make an early exit this year

Which player are you most excited to watch?

Always exciting to see Lionel Messi in competition. Still, no-one better to watch.

Who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star?

Will be interesting to see if Ansu Fati is ready to make an impact on this stage with Barcelona. Also lots of excitement about Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga, who made his debut for France at 17. More goals expected from Mason Greenwood.

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Rennes might be a team to keep an eye on. Made a strong start to the new season in France, with Camavinga in their ranks, and in a group with Chelsea, Sevilla and Krasnodar (another debutant) which might give them hope of progress.

Which big club could face a group stage exit?

Manchester United face the toughest group fixture with PSG & Leipzig who were far too strong for Spurs last season. Leipzig are progressive and doing well in the Bundesliga despite selling Timo Werner.

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

There’s nothing very smooth about starting behind closed doors. Who knows what will happen in the months ahead regarding travel, quarantine, infections rates and supporters inside stadiums. Let’s hope the football is good enough to carry the event.

Sami Mokbel

Who will win the Champions League?

Paris Saint Germain. 

How far will each of the English clubs get?

Liverpool – quarter final

City – semi final

United – last 16

Chelsea – quarter final

Which player are you most excited to watch and who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star?

Jude Bellingham – has taken to first team football like a duck to water by all accounts. Let’s see how he gets on on the biggest stage of all.

After moving to Dortmund Jude Bellingham is ready to make his debut in the competition

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on and which big club could face a group stage exit?

Rennes have an array of exciting talent – namely Eduardo Camavinga. It’ll be exciting to see how far they go in the competition. 

Barcelona are in disarray off the pitch, and it remains to be seen what lasting impact Ronald Koeman has off it. They could be an early high-profile casualty.

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

Fingers crossed it’s completed without disruption, and with large number of fans in stadiums by the end – but the unpredictable nature of the virus means we live in hope rather than expectation.

Daniel Matthews

Who will win the Champions League?

Bayern Munich seem the safe bet – they were a cut above anyone else last season. But not many teams defend the title and it’s hard to escape the feeling that Real Madrid will do as they’ve tended to do under Zinedine Zidane.

How far will each of the English clubs get?

Liverpool – Quarter-finals – Well stocked for another tilt, having added quality to their midfield and forward line. But without Virgil van Dijk can they go all the way? You’d suspect not

Manchester City – Semi-finals – Boast all the ingredients to break their duck but always find a way to fall just short.

Chelsea – Last 16 – Frank Lampard is building one of Europe’s finest attacking units but their backline will let them down in the unforgiving knockout stages.

Manchester United – Group Stages – Dealt a tough draw and have done little recently to suggest they will be a match for PSG or Leipzig.

The absence of defender Virgil van Dijk will be huge for Liverpool this season

Which player are you most excited to watch?

Can I have two? Covid permitting, the battles between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in Group G will be fascinating. Could this be the final time they share a pitch on this stage?

Who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star?

Phil Foden – Manchester City. If last season was the year the England midfielder came of age, this is his time to explode on the European stage.

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Midtjylland – Owned by Brentford chief Matthew Benham, the Danish upstart’s data-driven approach has finally brought them to the top table. They will struggle in Group D but it’ll be a fascinating story.

Which big club could face a group stage exit?

Beyond Manchester United, I’ll go for Ajax. Liverpool should top Group D but beyond that, who knows? Atalanta showed they’re a match for anyone last season and Ajax have lost Donny van de Beek.

Having lost Donny van de Beek this summer Ajax could struggle in the competition

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

It’s difficult to see how this competition doesn’t descend into farce at some point. With so many teams, from so many countries, at so many different stages of the Covid battle, it could only take one outbreak to cause more arguments and legal wrangling. 

Mike Keegan

Who will win the Champions League?

Bayern Munich

How far will each of the English clubs get?

Manchester United may struggle to get past the group stage. If they do, I would expect them to go out at the next hurdle. I cannot see Chelsea going much further than that, while Liverpool and City may go to the semi-finals. I would be surprised if an English team made the final.

Which player are you most excited to watch?

Eduardo Camavinga. He is 17 and has already been called up to the France squad. And he does not play for one of the traditional powerhouses. What is not to like? A supremely talented midfielder who has the world at his feet.

At just 17 Eduardo Camavinga (centre) has emerged as a player with frightening potential

Who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star?

Eduardo Camavinga

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Leipzig

Which big club could face a group stage exit?

Manchester United

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

Smoothly completed.

Adrian Kajumba

Who will win the Champions League and how far will each of the English clubs get?

Bayern are my favourites to win it again with their strength in depth. Manchester United won’t get out of their group while the other three English clubs will all reach the knockout stages. 

Again expect Manchester City to go the furthest, particularly with Virgil Van Dijk’s injury in mind.

Bayern Munich head into the competition as favourites following their emphatic victory

Which player are you most excited to watch? 

I am most excited to see how the next generation of Europe’s leading attackers, Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho continue to develop at the highest level. 

Mason Greenwood’s first taste of this competition will also be intriguing. I’m looking at RB Salzburg striker Patson Daka and Rennes’s Jeremy Doku as potential breakout stars. Daka has a near goal-a-start record for the Austrians while Doku is just 18 but Rennes decided to splash out £25m to sign him from Anderlecht this summer.

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on and which big club could face a group stage exit?

Both made the latter stages in Portugal last season but won’t be among the favourites – free-scoring Atalanta and German league leaders RB Leipzig. 

Can see United finding themselves in the Europa League after the group stages.

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

Smoothly completed competition. Last season showed it is possible to get the competition finished and UEFA will ensure one way or another that the same happens this year.

Tom Collomosse

Who will win the Champions League?

Paris St Germain. The French champions got a taste for it last season when they were beaten in the Final by Bayern Munich and have the squad to go all the way this season.

How far will each of the English clubs get? 

Even without Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool are proven in this competition and have what it takes to reach at least the last four, as do Manchester City. United and Chelsea do not have enough quality in defence to make a serious impression.

Which player are you most excited to watch?

Joao Felix. The Portuguese attacker has magic in his boots and if he can operate within the tactical constraints imposed by Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone, this could be a stellar season for him.

There is a big season ahead for Joao Felix, who has many expectations placed on his shoulders

Who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star?

Jude Bellingham. The 17-year-old Englishman has made a hugely promising start to his career in the Borussia Dortmund midfield and he looks born for the big stage.

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Olympiakos. Their woeful away record in European football should be negated by the fact stadiums will not be full and so they should not be intimidated. They have some excellent technicians and will fancy their chances in Manchester City’s group.

Which big club could face a group stage exit?

Manchester United. This is a strong group and they do not appear to have the defence to handle it.

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

There are certain to be some COVID complications, especially with quarantine rules changing frequently. But for the most part, UEFA have planned for this and should be able to react appropriately.

Pete Jenson

Who will win the Champions League?

Bayern Munich. They had an underwhelming transfer window but they could put that right in January if they have to. They are still the safest bet in a very unpredictable field.

How far will each of the English clubs get?

Manchester United will have to work hard to get out of their group with PSG and RB Leipzig. Chelsea will have sorted themselves out defensively come next February and they have as much attacking firepower as anyone so they ought to join Liverpool and Manchester City in the quarter/semi finals.

Which player are you most excited to watch?

Thiago under Klopp is one of the most exciting things about the new season.

Who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star?

Barcelona’s 17-year-olds Ansu Fati and Pedri. Fati broke through last season and should get more minutes this time. Pedri might get less exposure but Koeman is a huge fan – a throwback to Andres Iniesta.

Barca have hopes that Ansu Fati will step out of the shadow of Lionel Messi this season

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Sevilla have kept most of last season’s Europa League winning team together. They have plenty of attacking options and when Jules Kounde returns from his coronavirus positive to partner Diego Carlos they have as good a defensive pair as anyone.

Which big club could face a group stage exit?

Group stage exits for big clubs are so rare but keep an eye on Real Madrid. They have relied on a full Santiago Bernabeu so much over the years. They will miss it and their group is tough with Conte’s Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk. They have started the season with plenty of doubts and plenty of injuries.

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

Where there’s money there are solutions, UEFA have the resources to make sure things run more or less smoothly again.

Joe Bernstein

Who will win the Champions League?

Paris Saint Germain. 

Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are keen to make amends after last season’s final heartbreak

How far will each of the English clubs get? 

Liverpool and City to the semis, Chelsea into the last-16, and Man Utd out in the group stage.

The Champions League is our equivalent to the NFL, no team is dominant, there is a decent spread of the top players and so it’s open with eight to 10 potential winners. I fancied PSG last year and maybe getting to the final will give them the confidence to go one better. 

Manchester City and Liverpool will be in the mix at the business end of the competition. Chelsea look like a last-16 team as last season. For United, qualifying from a group with PSG and Leipzig would be success.

Which player are you most excited to watch? 

Kylian Mbappe

Who will follow Erling Haaland as this year’s breakout star? 

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

The race to be regarded as the best player in the world post-Messi and Ronaldo is on in early earnest, and the way Mbappe can move through the gears marks him out as special.

Less heralded but capable of taking the competition by storm is Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, at 25 about to show why everyone was so excited about him at one stage. 

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is highly regarded and seen as Lazio’s prized jewel 

He overshadowed Haaland to help Serbia beat Norway in a recent Euro 2020 play-off and that is a good omen. Lazio have a tough group, they start against Dortmund, but few teams will have a playmaker like him.

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Lokomotiv Moscow.

Which big club could face a group stage exit? 

Man Utd.

Russian teams never seem to go deep. Locomotiv have always been narrowly beaten by top teams (Juventus, Atletico Madrid) but they have put up a fight and that experience will put them in good stead

Manchester United look vulnerable with their double-header against Leipzig key. They are so vulnerable when teams get into their final third – they badly need a protector like N’golo Kante

Locomotiv Moscow have always been narrowly beaten by top sides but fancy their chances

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

The myriad of rules make it hard to know whether you can make the trip from Liverpool to nearby north Wales. 

Even taking into account the football bubble which means star Players can go where mortals can’t, it would be remarkable if positive tests and protocol breaches don’t lead to some late cancellations. I hope not.

Craig Hope 

Who will win the Champions League?

Bayern Munich. I was lucky enough to see them live last year and had them down as European champions from a long way out.

You would hope the four English clubs make the last 16 at a minimum, but I have doubts over all of them going too much deeper.

Liverpool without Virgil van Dijk are not the same force, that much is obvious. Chelsea will be beaten by the first savvy team they come up against. United likewise. While City are probably best equipped to make the last four but Pep Guardiola continues to come up short in this competition since leaving Barcelona.

Chelsea have spent vast sums yet still look unconvincing when it matters most

Which player are you most excited to watch?

It has to be Serge Gnabry, again. He was devastating in this competition last season, although wasn’t great in the final.   

But there is a joy to the manner in which he makes the difficult look easy. He glides across the turf and has velvet feet, but his boots are equally capable of dispatching with venom on goal – just ask Spurs.

Who are the underdog team to keep an eye on?

Liverpool’s group is fascinating and it will not be straightforward to emerge ahead of both Ajax and Atalanta. I’d fancy one of Ajax or Atalanta – as we have seen in recent seasons – to outperform expectations. 

Do not rule out the pair of them taking Liverpool to the final group game in the battle for progression to the last 16.

COVID chaos or a smoothly-completed competition again – which will it be?

Take a look at the chaos of the most recent international break with positive tests and late withdrawals and it’s an indicator of what could be to follow in the Champions League.

The quickest way to contract Covid, it would appear, is to get on an aeroplane right now and the movement of players and staff around the continent is fraught with risk.




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