Champions League Predictions

The Champions League is finally back. Four months after Liverpool lifted the trophy for the sixth time, 32 teams are ready again to battle it out, to see who is the best team in Europe.

In this article we will make some Champions League predictions: who will be the eventual winners, the ‘dark horses’, the team that disappoints and the overall top goalscorer.

Of course, as with any prediction, it may go completely wrong, but it always fun to see how it pans out.

Eventual winners- Manchester City:

Pep Guardiola has the best team in Europe, we saw that as his team accumulated 98 points in the Premier League last season.

Last weekend Norwich sprung a surprise in their 3-2 win, but that should not dissuade you from the chances that Manchester City have of winning the Champions League.

Their group is easily negotiable, and they should comfortably finish top, which would most likely set up a round of 16 tie with either Juventus or Atletico Madrid. A boost for City going into the Knockout phase is that Aymeric Laporte should have recovered from his injury by then.

The only reasons for Manchester City not winning the Champions League this season, is that this team have never got past the quarter-final stage. Last season they lost to Tottenham in the most dramatic fashion in the quarter-finals, so there may still be a mental block there. However, Guardiola has won the Champions League before, so surely it must only be a matter of time until he wins Europe’s top trophy with Manchester City.

Dark Horses- RB Leipzig:

The German club currently sit top of the Bundesliga after four games, drawing 1-1 with Bayern Munich last Saturday. This is the club’s first season in the Champions League, but do not expect them to merely make up the numbers.

Their team is stacked with talent: Ibrahim Konate and Nordi Mukiele in defence, with Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg in midfield, and the pacey Timo Werner up front.

Their group contains Lyon, Zenit and Benfica. Whilst no game will be a certain victory, they can go into every match with a realistic chance of three points. If Leipzig were to make it through the group they would face one of Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia or Lille in the Round of 16, where they would again fancy their chances.

If Leipzig can progress and get a favourable draw in the Round of 16, then who knows how far they can go?

Top Scorer- Aguero:

Assuming Manchester City win the competition, they will play 13 games in total. If Aguero is leading the line for them, expect him to bag a dozen goals in total. Probably most of these will come in the group stage, but his goals in the knockout rounds will be crucial to Manchester City lifting the Champions League.

Last season, Aguero scored six goals in the Champions League, averaging a goal every 85 minutes.

What’s more, is that Aguero is Manchester City’s designated penalty taker, so he is likely to score a few penalties.

Biggest flops- PSG:

Although PSG should make it through their group, containing Real Madrid, Club Brugge and Galatasaray, they may struggle to make it past the Round of 16. This summer has seen much unrest within the squad, following Neymar’s failed transfer to Barcelona.

The Parisian club have signed Mauro Icardi, who scored four goals in the Champions League last season, but I envisage them struggling against Bayern Munich or Tottenham in the Round of 16, especially if Neymar has moved on by then.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (1)

Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi (L) and AC Milan’s Manuel Rui Costa waits on the pitch as supporters throw flares onto the pitch during their Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match at the San Siro Stadium in Milan April 12, 2005.

Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi and AC Milan’s Rui Costa watch on together, as a sea of flares rain down upon the San Siro pitch. Materazzi rests his right elbow upon the left shoulder of Costa, in what was a rare showing of camaraderie between the two teams in this Champions League clash.

April 12th 2005, and two of Italy’s giants faced off for a place in the Champions League semi-finals. The stakes do not get much bigger. Two weeks prior, AC Milan had run out winners in a 2-0 victory over Inter after goals from Jaap Stam and Andriy Shevchenko. Inter were faced with a mammoth task. If there were to have any hope to overturn the first leg deficit, they would need their fans in full voice to push them to victory.

As the match kicked off, the San Siro erupted. The volume only increased after Shevchenko seemingly headbutted, Inter defender Materazzi in just the second minute. Materazzi fell to the floor clutching his head, in typical Italian fashion. Inter’s Ivan Cordoba sprinted towards German referee Markus Merk, pleading for him to send the Ukrainian striker off. Merk did not, but already it seemed that the match was destined to become a battle, played out in a gladiator’s colosseum.

Despite, most of those inside the San Siro cheering for Inter, Milan looked dominant and comfortable, as Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo controlled the midfield, whilst Kaka broke through Inter’s midfield of Cambiasso and Veron, running at their vulnerable defence throughout the first half. Milan’s inevitable breakthrough came in the 30th minute. Shevchenko rifled home a left-footed shot from the right-hand side of the box, which flew past Toldo, into the bottom-left hand corner of the net. 1-0 Milan, and 3-0 on aggregate. Inter needed to score four without reply if they were to progress. No doubt, the Inter’s fans aggrievement increased following the Ukrainian’s goal, as they felt that he should have not even be on the pitch after his earlier headbutt.

Into the second-half, and Inter became more dominant, as they pressed for an equaliser. However, their powerful talisman, the prolific Brazilian goalscorer, Adriano, was forced off in the opening minutes of the second period. Milan’s centre-back, Alessandro Nesta had constantly been crunching into the Brazilian throughout the match, and his aggression eventually told as the bulky Brazilian crumpled to the floor, following another challenge near Milan’s left corner flag. Inter fans no doubt had further reason to be enraged.

Despite, Adriano’s injury, Inter continued to dominate. Milan looked to gain a foothold once more through the substitution of Rui Costa for Hernan Crespo in the 69th minute, as their midfield failed to replicate the controlling first-half performance.

However, it seemed that Milan’s substitution had failed to neutralise Inter’s constant attacking waves.

A 71st minute corner was met by the head of Inter’s Esteban Cambiasso, the ball bounced into the net. A comeback may be on the cards. 19 minutes to play and three more goals, the San Siro was rocking. The joy was short-lived, however. Seconds later, Merk blew his whistle, as he saw a foul on Milan’s, Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. Inter and Cambiasso were incensed, the Argentine raced over to Merk, wide-eyed and shouting, whilst pinching his fingers in protest of the referee’s decision.

Inter’s fans were similarly enraged. As Dida was readying himself to take the resulting free-kick, the Ultras behind the Milan goal hurled water bottles onto the pitch. However, bottles soon turned to flares, as a sea of smoke began to engulf the air near Dida’s goal. One flare smashed into the Brazilian’s right shoulder, prompting him to roll on the floor in agony. His team-mates dragged him away from the goal, which now resembled a battlefield, the San Siro had truly become a colosseum. Whilst Dida was being treated for bruising and 1st degree burns, the players of both sides stood and watched, as the smoky flares covered the San Siro turf. It is at this point where the photograph of Materazzi and Costa looking on at the smoke-ridden pitch would have been taken.

Half an hour later the match resumed, with Milan substituting Dida for Christian Abbiati. Unsurprisingly, flares continued to be thrown on the pitch, and the match was abandoned after just one additional minute. UEFA awarded AC Milan a 3-0 victory and fined Inter £132,000 and forced them to play their next four European home games behind closed doors.

“Two or three hundred hooligans were involved in throwing the flares.” Milan police spokesman Paolo Scarpi said: They have been caught on video camera – they were the usual hotheads from the Inter sector.”

This match perfectly symbolised the state of Italian football in 2005, and something that remains prevalent today. Large parts of the game were filled with attacking class and defensive brilliance- a game including the likes of Nesta, Cordoba, Maldini, Cambiasso, Cafu, Seedorf, Adriano and Shevchenko to name a few, meant it was not a surprise to see such quality. What is more though, is the crowd trouble and controversy which has always gone hand-in-hand with Italian football. Although it may display the passion of the Derby della Madonnina, it harms the prestigious legacy of Italian football.

Boavista FC: How the ‘textile workers’ fashioned the most recent Portuguese underdog story and their more recent decline

The 1999/2000 season in the Primeira Liga finished in a similar fashion to all the previous campaigns. Sporting Lisbon won the league, four points ahead of Porto, and eight points clear of Benfica. It seemed evident that for the next season the top of the league would paint a similar picture- only differing if the top three were to juggle positions. This had been the case for so long in Portugal- the last a team outside of the ‘Big Three’ won the league was back in 1946 when CF Belenenses were champions. This was soon to change, however.

The famous chequered Boavista badge

Boavista FC were founded in 1903 by British entrepreneurs and Portuguese textile workers (hence the chequered pattern). They have yo-yoed through Portugal football division, but they remained firmly in the Primeira Liga in the decades leading up to the turn of the millennia. Boavista’s success in the league did not come to fruition overnight. Their fortunes gradually improved thanks to chairman Valentim Loureiro, who was at the club between 1972 and 1995. Eventually his son, João succeeded him- it was here when the club’s golden hour had begun. João Loureiro appointed former FC Porto and Portugal midfielder, Jaime Pacheco as their manager in 1997, and soon the club’s league position ascended. They were the team that occupied the place below the ‘Big Three’ in 1999/2000. Despite their position in the league granting them entry into the UEFA Cup Qualifying Round, there was a mild sense of disappointment surrounding the club. The previous season Boavista had finished second to Porto, accumulating 71 points in the process- 16 more than they managed in the preceding campaign. Still, Boavista’s back-to-back finishes in the top four showed that they were a club on the up and ready to challenge for titles, although, it still seemed unlikely that they would ever get their hands on the coveted Primeira Liga title.

Pacheco’s team certainly had talent. Boavista’s goalkeeper, Ricardo, went on to make 79 appearances for Portugal. At the heart of their defence was Pedro Emmanuel and Litos, with the former going on to win the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. Boavista’s midfield was equally talented- the diamond jewel of it was Bolivian midfielder, Erwin Sanchez, dubbed as ‘Platini’ for most of his career- indicating the South American’s skilful and graceful style of play. At the base of the midfield was the Portuguese pair of Rui Bento and Petit- who provided an added industry to the team. The latter would go on to play 148 times for Benfica and 57 times for Portugal. The more eccentric players came in the forward positions, Duda, Silva and Martelinho, who offered pace and creativity going forward. Pacheco had created a wonderfully balanced team, filled with dynamism, ingenuity, and a resilience that made them incredibly difficult to beat, and clinical going forward.  

Despite this, the club at the time were still in the shadow of the ‘Big Three’ in Portugal. Midfield starlet Nuno Gomes was sold to Benfica, as was the proficient forward João Vieira Pinto. Meanwhile, young forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sold further ashore- to Leeds. It did not seem that the club was soon to break the power-fold that had been present for over 50 years in Portugal. The fact that many of their players were poached by other clubs was unsurpirisng given how well the Boavista team had been performing, and the lack of financial might that the club had to keep their star assets when bigger clubs came calling. In Portugal, Boavista were dwarfed by the ‘Top Three’ in terms of finances. These clubs could offer players greater salaries, as well as higher quality training facilities. The record transfer fee of Boavista by 2000 contextualises the lack of funds available. They spent €700,000 on Elpídio Silva. Benfica’s record transfer fee by 2000 was in excess of €6.7 million spent on Brazilian midifielder Roger. The gap between Boavista and the top teams in Portugal was profound- making their achievement even greater.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista

So how did they do it? It started with a win, a convincing one, beating Beira-Mar 4-2. This was immediately followed up by an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of União de Leiria. A draw and defeat followed, but the club responded like champions beating Benfica 1-0. In what proved to be their crucial part of their season- Boavista went on a 15-match unbeaten run, crucially during this period they were able to beat the city neighbours, and closest challengers FC Porto, once more the scoreline read 1-0, thanks to a 31st minute goal from Martelinho. Following a defeat to Braga at the beginning of the year, the club once more responded by not losing in 12 and winning 10 of those games- accumulating 32 points from a possible 36. They had wrapped up the title with a game to spare, which no doubt allowed everyone associated with Boavista to breathe easy, as they faced second placed FC Porto on the final day of the season. Despite FC Porto thrashing Boavista 4-0, the league title was already secured and the shackles were off- the club had made history.

Boavista fans celebrating the 2001 Primeira Liga

There were several key parts that made the Boavista machine tick. The defence was solid and robust, and they conceded five goals fewer than any other side, and four of those goal came after the title was already secured. Going forward the team was also clinical, scoring 63 goals. The vast array of goalscorers that Boavista had typified the collective spirit and attitude of the team. No player scored more than 11 (Silva, Duda), but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The quality of hardwork and defiance definitely was not lost on Pacheco and the Boavista team. Capello later remarked that, ‘no other club in Europe runs as much.’

Boavista’s famous Primeira Liga win was the pinnacle of their success. Although, they did not immediately fall off the pace, the club started to regress in the following seasons. A respectable second place finish in the 2001/2002 season may have suggested that the club would become a staple at the top of the Portuguese league, as the club amassed 70 points, and conceded a mere 20 goals. Furthermore, their Champions League campaign put them in the limelight on the biggest European stage. Two draws against Liverpool, as well as victories over Dynamo Kiev and Borussia Dortmund enabled Boavista to progress from the Champions League first group stage. Despite failing to qualify from their second group stage, the Portuguese club put in a respectable performance, but fell short to Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Boavista did progress further in European competition in 2002/2003- this time in the UEFA Cup, but the club were knocked out of the semi-finals by a late Henrik Larsson goal, which prevent an all-Oporto final. This success was not shared on the domestic front, as Boavista slumped to 10th place.

Boavista’s Duda battles for the ball with Liverpool’s Sami Hyypia

Whilst the club enjoyed some success on the pitch, they were struggling off it. Winning the Primeira Liga and competing in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup meant that the club had to give out improved contracts and big bonuses. The poor financial situation was compounded by the need to construct the new club stadium (Estádio do Bessa XXI) in time for Euro 2004 which was to be held in Portugal. The Portuguese government failed to live up to the financial support that it had promised for the stadium, and the club plunged into debt.

In 2004 Pachecho was let go by the club, as they once more lurked in the mid-table of the Primeira Liga. But worse was yet to come. In 2008, via the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’, it had emerged that both FC Porto and Boavista FC were involved in the alleged bribery of referees in the 2003/04 season. In 2008 Boavista were relegated to the Liga de Honra (Second Division), due to the verdict that the club had ‘coerced’ match officials in three Liga games, versus Belnenses, Benfica and Académica. Former president João Loureiro was suspended for four years, and the club was fined €180,000.

A long five year spell, battling in both the Liga de Honra and the Segunda Divisão (Third Division) finally came to an end in 2014, when the Portuguese Professional Football League made the decision to promote Boavista back to the Primeira Liga following several judicial reviews, as the club leapt forward two divisions. Around the same time João Loureiro rejoined the club, and he helped to cut the debt from the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’ in half.

Boavista still sporting their balck and white cheques.

Under the guidance of former midfielder, Petit, Boavista finished a respectable 13th in the 2014/15 season, as the club looked to consolidate their Primeira Liga status. Since then performances have gradually improved as the club has gone on to finish 14th, 9th, 8th and 8th once more last season. And whilst the club are miles away from winning the Primeira Liga, fans will be grateful to experience the top Portuguese division once again. Meanwhile, it seems that the ‘Big Three’ are set for another spell of dominance- no club other than Sporting, Benfica and Porto have lifted the trophy since Boavista’s triumph at the start of the millennium.