Barca have won the Champions League five times and are always the first port of call when considering future winners.
Luis Enrique’s side were disappointingly knocked out of the competition at the quarter-final stage last season by Atletico Madrid, but will be confident of an improvement this year.
A front three of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar can only be rivalled by Real Madrid and immediately put Barca above most competitors. The trio, when all fit and firing, are close to unplayable, boasting myriad threats, each complementing each other.
Suarez scored eight goals in the Champions League last season to finish as third-highest scorer, despite Barca exiting the competition at a relatively early stage. The Uruguayan is a perfect finisher at the sharp end of a supremely creative midfield.
He has started this season excellently, scoring five goals in his opening six La Liga games and if he continues his utterly preposterous goalscoring form – which stands at almost a goal per game since he arrived from Liverpool – he could prove Barca’s obvious, but unstoppable weapon.
Elsewhere in the side, it is much the same as last year: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic forming a revolving triumvirate in midfield, while Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano form a vastly experienced central defensive partnership.
Although far from perfect, two wins from two games have come so far.
Enrique is two years into his project at Barca, and with an experienced, settled and extremely talented squad Champions League glory is a distinct possibility.
Standing in Barca’s way, as usual, are eternal rivals Real Madrid. After breaking a 12-year wait for a Champions League trophy by beating Atletico Madrid in 2013/14, Real repeated the trick last campaign to make it two wins in three seasons.
Zinedine Zidane’s side are back in the big time and, like Barca, have essentially the exact same team as last season. As such they need to be regarded as one of the firm favourites this time around, too.
Real undoubtedly benefited from an easier path to the final last season, facing Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City in the knock-out phases, but they also played to their strengths well.
The one obvious and gigantic strength is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward was a man on a mission last season, scoring a frankly ridiculous 16 goals in 12 appearances in the competition to make it four consecutive seasons as top goal scorer.
Ronaldo is very capable of beating a team by himself – his pace, power and proficiency at literally every facet of football make him a one-of-a-kind player. His ultra-competitive nature also adds to his aura and drags him, and his side, through tricky moments. He is a major factor reason to back Real to win a third title in four years.
In Luka Modric and Toni Kroos they also have a midfield to rival the best out there, while the experience and big game nous of Sergio Ramos is invaluable.
Real have already passed their biggest test in the group stages, earning a point away to Borussia Dortmund and, fitness permitting, they will be a favourite in the latter stages.
Bayern Munich, managed by Champions League specialist Carlo Ancelotti, Manchester City, under Pep Guardiola’s spell, Atletico, perhaps under the command of Diego Simeone for the last time, and Juventus should all have a genuine chance.
But Borussia Dortmund provide a compelling argument to be the competition’s dark horses.
Thomas Tuchel’s side, unlike those above, have undergone many changes since last season. Ilkay Gundogan, Mats Hummels and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all left, but despite the high-profile departures, Dortmund somehow look stronger and more exciting this campaign.
The club recruited extensively in the summer window to ensure they didn’t stand still, with Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze, Ousmane Dembele, Sebastian Rode, Emre Mor, Marc Bartra and Raphael Guerreiro all arriving.
The result has been more than impressive. Dortmund have come flying out of the traps this season, scoring 16 goals in their opening five Bundesliga games and putting six past Legia Warsaw in their opening Champions League match.
Tuchel has continued the club’s characteristic high-tempo style while the new additions – chiefly Guerreiro and Dembele – have added a spark. The depth now is such that players of the ability of Schurrle, Shinji Kagawa and Christian Pusilic are left on the bench.
Dortmund were not in the competition last season, but they are back and look better than ever. While the side are still gelling together and taking on board Tuchel’s ideas, they appear to be doing so rapidly.
They won’t fly under the radar much longer. If you are looking for an outside bet at Champions League glory, look no further.
Write-up by Felix Keith at Squawka.com
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