Rui Vieira/Associated Press
With the group-stage predictions in the bag, it’s only right that our experts gaze into their crystal balls and take a look at what they think will happen when the Champions League gets to the business end of things.
Biggest Flop: Edin Dzeko (AS Roma)
Top scorer in Serie A last season, Edin Dzeko is a player whose struggles in front of goal have been masked by the sheer volume of chances AS Roma have created for him. However, the Champions League has often revealed the true qualities of players, with some big names struggling to perform on such a stage.
With former team-mate Mohamed Salah now at Anfield, Dzeko’s lack of accuracy could well harm Roma, and his inability to convert regularly might be the difference between the Giallorossi’s progression or another failure.
Surprise Package: Elseid Hysaj (Napoli)
This past summer saw a plethora of top clubs linked with Napoli’s biggest stars. Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens need little introduction, with their names featuring in numerous transfer rumours before they opted to stay and fight for the Serie A title once again.
Yet for all the Partenopei lean upon their bright attacking stars, it is the incredible cohesion behind them that makes them such a formidable force. Right-back Elseid Hysaj plays a major role at both ends of the pitch.
His defensive diligence, slick passing, tireless engine and accurate crossing make the Albania international a high-class player, and with full-backs in demand, he could make an impact this term.
Winner: Bayern Munich
Picking a winner for the competition at this early stage seems difficult, but it could well be the year Bayern Munich finally recapture Europe’s most prestigious honour. The domestic title races in England, Italy and Spain appear set to be far closer this term, leaving the door open for the German giants.
A quality squad hungry for success, it is in midfield where the strength of this team lies, as Corentin Tolisso, James Rodriguez, Thomas Muller, Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcantara provide ammunition for Robert Lewandowski. Add the presence of Carlo Ancelotti on the bench, and Bayern’s path to glory is impossible to ignore.
Biggest Flop: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
His best chance of winning this competition has passed him by, and Gianluigi Buffon will not be able to enjoy this European campaign because his job has become much more difficult. He’s already conceded more in one group game this season than he did in six group games last term.
Surprise package: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
He’s already become a hero to United fans, and he could prove himself to a wider audience. He loves making big statements, so expect him to come up with some magic moments for Manchester United.
PSG will walk away with Ligue 1 and have it in the bag well before the end of the season. That will allow star players to be rested and firing for the big European nights and see the club lift the trophy for the first time.
Biggest Flop: Douglas Costa (Juventus)
A whole host of players will be letdowns at this level—although we already know they aren’t that good. But for one who could have a big impact on his side (and probably will in future seasons), Douglas Costa might end up as a flop for Juventus.
Juan Cuadrado is reliable and more hardworking, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic could feasibly play either side of Gonzalo Higuain, and there are only so many systems Costa fits in properly. He needs better consistency to demand a guaranteed starting role at Juve, and for all he could bring to the side, they won’t see it enough on the elite stage.
Surprise package: Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
Once a monster of a striker, then a faded force and now back to his best. Falcao is a formidable physical presence, is sharp and hungry in the penalty box and a focal point for Monaco’s attack. He can score the goals that not only to send his side through to the last 16 but also beyond that past one or two of the more favoured sides.
Winner: Manchester United
Unless Real Madrid buy a top forward in January, they won’t be retaining the trophy this year, even as complete as they are otherwise. Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain are three teams who look as if they have the all-around quality and power to win it this year, but the only one of those who have both the depth in key attacking areas and a manager who knows how to perform in Europe is the English side. Manchester United to win and kickstart a period of impressive performance, even prolonged dominance, from English sides.
Biggest Flop: Edinson Cavani (PSG)
He may be scoring freely this season already, but Edinson Cavani is also still the guy who needs six chances to score one goal. That’s been evident in PSG’s early games, as he’s teed up time after time and responded with misses. Top teams won’t give Cavani the six chances that Guingamp and Strasbourg do.
Surprise package: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)
When it comes to RB Leipzig, much of the focus is on Naby Keita because of Liverpool’s summer-long pursuit of him. He’s fantastic, but striker Timo Werner’s growth means we might soon see him giving Keita a run for the honour of the club’s best player.
Winner: Real Madrid
Don’t be too deterred by Real Madrid’s slow start in La Liga; this is still the best collection of players in the world, with the perfect manager to keep them in check. With two successive Champions League triumphs under their belt, why not fancy them for a hat-trick?