Football

25-11-2019 UEFA Champions League breakthrough?

UEFA Champions League breakthrough. 

Who will make it through to the prestigious knockout phase of the Champions League (UCL)? 

And will there be any surprise maiden qualifiers?

 

Favourites going through.

 

With two rounds of the competition remaining three heavyweights, PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich, have already qualified and Premier League title holders Manchester City are on the brink of doing so.

Mix in multiple winners Real Madrid, last time finalists’ Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, and the holders Liverpool who are also very likely to progress. 

So far so good for the favoured clubs. 

And Group F is where three big names (Barcelona, Inter and Borussia Dortmund) will battle it out and similarly in Group H is between the established talents of Ajax, Chelsea and Valencia.

 

Surprise qualifiers?

 

Which leaves possibilities in the other groups for the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig. 

 

Maximum dynamo. 

Record Croatian League title holders and arguably (their great rivals Hajduk Split might beg to differ) the most successful club in that country Dinamo have had limited success in European competitions.

Despite their dominance in Croatia and resultant 21 appearances in the UCL Dinamo has never progressed beyond the group stage. 

Their current squad is solid but with few top-rated stars.

Spanish U21 midfield talent Dani Olmo is priced by far the highest, at 30 mil euros. 

But Dinamo does play at home in the atmospheric Maksimir stadium and has very vocal support led by the ‘Bad Blue Boys’. 

The problem is that they have may have missed their chance after they conceded two added-time goals to Shakhtar in the 3-3 draw on matchday 4.

Then Dinamo’s next match will be in San Siro against a (so far) underperforming Atalanta.

Any result there would be a minor triumph for the team from Zagreb. 

But even a defeat could still leave them with the hope of qualification because their final group game will be at home to Manchester City. 

Backed by a fanatical home crowd against a team that would, almost certainly, have already qualified, Nenad Bjelica’s Dinamo could pull-off a big surprise and go through to the knockout phase for the first time.

 

Needing wings.

 

Taken over by the energy drink manufacturer almost twenty years ago Salzburg has no shortage of ambition.

Although their track record in the UCL (under the Red Bull motif) is limited to just this one appearance in the group stages.

They did, however, get to the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League in 2018 before losing to Marseille. 

Their squad comprises players from a dozen or more countries and features the coveted new scoring sensation (and current UCL top scorer) - nineteen-year-old Norwegian Erling Haaland.

And they have American coach Jesse Marsch in charge after his success at New York Red Bulls and subsequent period as assistant to Ralf Rangnick at RB Leipzig.

They clearly like to keep things within the family. 

Regular winners of the Austrian Bundesliga Salzburg will have aspirations to do more in the UCL.

Could they achieve a breakthrough this season? 

Much may depend on their match against the holders Liverpool on December 10th at the Red Bull Arena.

Like Manchester City, Liverpool could have already qualified.

But the chances are Napoli, who would be hosting bottom team Genk at the same time, will go through ahead of the Austrians. 

Leaving Salzburg likely to campaign in the Europa League.

 

Bullish.

 

Although Red Bull Salzburg could well struggle to progress their stablemates RB Leipzig are currently top of Group G and strongly favoured to move forward. 

Consider the transfer market valuations and it’s soon evident RB are the ‘senior member’ of the controversial Red Bull footballing setup. 

Their coveted striker Timo Werner heads the list with a rating at £58.5m, followed by young French defenders Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano and a strong squad of talent. 

Currently, joint-second in the Bundesliga under young coach Julian Nagelsmann Leipzig look destined for greater achievements. 

To progress in the UCL they will have to negotiate a home game against a disappointing Benfica and a tricky visit to Lyon (having previously lost at home to OL) but the chances are RB will make a first-time participation in the knockout phase draw. 

Unpopular in many areas of Germany because of their controversial connection with Red Bull RB can point to their fan base and their evident commitment to the region. 

Expect a lot more from this club.

 

Analysis by John Bethell

 


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