Champions League returns with field wide open

As Chelsea showed last year, no-one should be discounted. This is a competition which could be one by anyone, in theory.

Favourites of course are Barcelona, who have not gone more than a season without winning the Champions League since 2007. They are the best team in the competition at present, without doubt, and take on AC Milan in a repeat of last year’s quarter final. The Italian side have improved after a poor start to the Serie A season, but are still some way off the force they once were. Barcelona should be in the last eight, unless something dramatic happens.

La Liga rivals Real Madrid are of course another big name expected to compete well for this trophy this season. They are taking on Manchester United in the last 16, another side with ambitions to lift the Champions League this May. Real’s season rests on their European adventure with domestic problems mounting and Barcelona’s lead in La Liga seemingly insurmountable. But a 10th Champions League trophy would make the season worthwhile and a success in the eyes of Madrilenos. For United, they have the Premier League title all but won, so they can pay more attention to the Champions League. With four fantastic strikers in their ranks, and the FA Cup in their sights, a repeat of the historic treble of 1999 cannot be ruled out.

Then there are the German sides. Borussia Dortmund take on Shakhtar Donetsk in one of the hardest games to call in the last 16. These are arguably two of the top six teams in the competition, and both play high pressing attacking football. Whoever comes out on top will fancy their chances of making it to Wembley, and certainly this is a real test for both of their Champions League credentials. Dortmund’s rivals Bayern Munich, another team who appear to have their domestic league all but won, take on Arsenal, in another intriguing clash. Bayern are favourites, and the way they have been playing this season, allied to the fact they have been in two of the last three finals, means they are a very serious contender to win the competition. Yet Arsenal will be a tough test, particularly if their forwards and midfield are firing on all cylinders, and if the Londoners found a way to win that would give them confidence that they could win the title for the first time.

Juventus are all but in the last eight after a convincing first leg win over Celtic, and the Italian giants are another big contender. Having gone through last season unbeaten, their powerful and technically gifted midfield is one which most teams would struggle against. With arguably the continent’s best defence, Juve will be an exceptionally tough nut to crack, and must be a real contender. Paris St Germain may lack experience, but their coach Carlo Ancelotti, certainly does not, having won the tournament twice with AC Milan. His side are a dark horse, as could be the winner of the Porto-Malaga tie, two technically accomplished teams. And then there is the last of the ties, between Schalke and Galatasaray. Schalke, like Celtic, probably do not have much of a chance after their problems in recent months, and Galatasaray will not be considered in the running either. Yet with two players, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, who have inspired their teams to win the Champions League in the last three seasons, the Turks could shock one or two big names still. It shapes up to be one of the most open tournaments in years.