OP-ED: Whims of destiny
The preliminary rounds are over. The Champions League is just around the corner. The world’s most prestigious clubs tournament is about to start. The two Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona, winners of the last three editions (Real in 2014 and 2016 and Barça in 2015), are the top favorites, but challengers from four different countries will give them a tough fight.
Three of them (France’s Paris Saint-Germain, England’s Manchester City and Germany’s Bayern Munich) have changed their respective coaches, looking for the bright orchestra conductor that would play the perfect symphony.
Despite the constant successes achieved in the league, the French champion fired local Laurent Blanc and hired Spanish Unai Emery, who coached Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League championships. The same happened in Manchester, where good results were not enough for Chile’s Manuel Pellegrini to keep his job. City acquired another Spaniard: Josep “Pep” Guardiola, whose place in Munich was given to veteran Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian is one of four managers who have coached two different teams to win Europe’s Champions League (A.C. Milan and Real Madrid).
The fourth challenger is Italian giant Juventus, which has won La Lega’s Serie A five years in a row, the last two under current coach Massimiliano Allegri. To comeback to Europe’s soccer summit Juventus paid during the summer 90 Million Euros (more than 100 million dollars) to acquire Argentinean forward Gonzalo Higuian from Napoli. The striker set a record for the Italian Lega delivering 36 goals last season, showing he will be amongst Europe’s prime scorers this season.
The Champions League is formed by two stages. First the 32 participating teams are divided into eight groups of four each. This phase finishes before Christmas with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout round. The second stage is filled with thrilling games with the winners of home-and-away matchups staying in the tournament and the losers going home in dramatic fashion.
Although the group stage is generally comfortable for the top teams, whims of destiny play tough times for some clubs in the draw. For example, this year Barcelona will not have an easy path to the knockout round. The Spanish champion is in the group of dead with Manchester City, tough Borussia Monchengladback from Germany and Celtic Glasgow which is always hard to beat before its loyal Scottish home crowd.
The contests between Barça and City are going to be very interesting, mainly the one in which the English club will travel to Barcelona (October the 19th) guided by Pep Guardiola, the coach that planted the seed that stills makes Barça play the most beautiful soccer in the planet. Besides Guardiola other former Barcelona members who work now for City include Chief Executiver Officer Ferran Soriano, Soccer General Manager Aitor “Txiki” Begiristain, forward Nolito and Chile’s goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.