It is fair to say that the Summer that has just passed gave us one of if not the best ever FIFA World Cups to have ever taken place. It may be hard to compare one edition of the tournament to another, especially when going back through the generations.
That said, there is no doubting that it was the best that we’ve seen in recent times. The Russians put on one hell of a party over the course of June and July, and it is one that will undoubtedly live long in memory. The party will surely continue back home and it is likely that many of the fans will celebrate with an increase in football relating gaming, maybe even play on some new UK casino sites such as Vegas Slots or some football themed online slot games or drinking vodka, or visiting a land based casino.
CLUB OVER COUNTRY
However, that is all they are now as the focus shifts back to club soccer and more importantly the return of Europe’s premier competition. That of course is the UEFA Champions League and 32 teams will soon be duking it out to be kings of the continent.
Played in a near identical format to the World Cup, bar return leg fixtures in the Round of 16, Quarter Finals and Semi Finals respectively it sees Europe’s elite clubs do battle over the course of the season in a bid to come out on top.
That honour has been bestowed Real Madrid as of late, as they have won the Champions League an unprecedented three times in a row. The first time that a club has done so in what is considered the modern era of the competition.
When it was known as the European Cup, Real Madrid went even better and managed to win the first five editions. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s they were without question a class apart from their opposition.
And even though they have had a repeat in terms of Champions League successes, they are going to have dig deep this time around if they are to continue their winning streak to four and try to emulate what the club did nearly 60 years ago.
ALL CHANGE IN THE SPANISH CAPITAL
If they are to make in a fantastic four then they are going to have to do with a change of personnel both on the pitch and in the technical area. Much has been made of the move that Cristiano Ronaldo has been made to Juventus while there is also a new man in charge in the shape of Julen Lopetegui.
Whether the former Spain manager can continue this cycle of success remains to be seen as he takes one of if not the toughest job that the sport has to offer, especially as Los Blancos are in something of a state of transition.
This means that if Champions League success is to elude them this time around, then who are the other realistic contenders for the crown. It could well be that the trophy stays in Spain, but actually ends up moving north to Catalonia.
If that were to be the case, then it would mean that Barcelona have won a first trophy in this competition since 2015. For the past three years they have had to witness, their most arch rivals sweep all that has gone before them.
However, with Real Madrid in a state of flux, they will be confident that they can once again return to the very top. Especially with their talisman Lionel Messi looking to prove a point after a disappointing showing with Argentina in the aforementioned World Cup.
Spanish clubs have had a monopoly on the Champions League since 2014 as they have won every edition. Real Madrid have won four of the five finals that have been contested, with Barcelona’s solitary win in 2015 breaking the Galactico’s dominance.
MANCHESTER TO MOUNT A CHALLENGE
If the trophy is to leave Spain for the first time since 2014 then one destination it could end up is that of Manchester. Especially as both Pep Guardiola’s City and Jose Mourinho’s United will do battle once more.
For many it is the blue half of Manchester that are this season’s competition favourites. City were incredible under their current manager last year on a domestic front as they blew all and sundry out of the water on their way to winning the Premier League.
The task for them now is to try and convert that domestic dominance into conquering the continent. The club’s owners are desperate to land this competition, especially after the huge amounts of money that have spent in the past decade or so.
At the same time, their arch rivals United will be bidding to win the competition for the first time since 2008. A trophy that they arguably have more chance of winning after an incredibly poor start to this season’s Premier League.
With two defeats from their first three matches the writing could already be on the wall for manager Jose Mourinho and he may well feel that it makes more sense to put all their eggs in a European shaped basket instead.
Their group draw has been relatively favourable, so the real work will not start until after Christmas when they should then reach the knockout stage. It is that point that if United are once again off the pace on the home front, then their full focus may well lie on European matters instead.
It might be something of a risky strategy, but should it mean a first Champions League success for the Red Devils in 11 years then the ends will certainly justify the means. However, should it backfire it could well be the end of Mourinho’s tenure in Manchester.
As always, the likes of Bayern Munich and PSG will be asking questions in terms of who can go on and win the final come next May. In terms of latter they will be boosted after keeping hold of both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
And with Mbappe already winning the World Cup this Summer, he will now be looking to add to his accolade of honours with hometown club. The outfit from the French capital have never won the big one as it were, could this end up being the season in which the curse is finally broken.