Real Madrid proved a thorn in the side for English teams in the Champions League last season, and the holders could be the ones to avoid in the latter stages of the tournament this year too
The Champions League returns this week with all four English sides looking to make a strong start to their European campaigns.
Tottenham are the only Premier League side starting at home, welcoming Marseille to North London. While Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool will all start on the road against Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla and Napoli respectively.
Many anticipate the signing of Erling Haaland can be the final piece of the puzzle Manchester City need to land their maiden UEFA Champions League title, while 2020/21 winners Chelsea and last season’s runners-up Liverpool will be hoping to repeat their own recent successes in the competition.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were thwarted by a familiar foe in the final last season in the form of Real Madrid who secured their record 14th European Cup, and fifth title in nine years.
Many felt Madrid were fortunate to reach the final last season, just about edging dramatic contents against Paris Saint-Germain, holders Chelsea and Manchester City. Manager Carlo Ancelotti though deserved plenty of praise for their success and made history himself by becoming the first coach to win four European Cups while also taking a team to five separate finals.
While the competition will again be littered with exquisite talent and top European sides, having beaten all three English teams they faced last season, it’ll be Real Madrid that Premier League sides should arguably be most wary of. That’s especially true given how they’ve started the new season.
Ancelotti bolstered his ranks by bringing in the highly-rated midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni while also signing former Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger. Their only notable departee was Casemiro who they willingly let join Manchester United in a £64million deal.
So far, Los Blancos have played five competitive matches – four in the league plus the Super Cup final – and have secured victory in each. Their Super Cup success came thanks to a 2-0 victory against Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt in Helsinki.
Going forward, Madrid look as strong as ever, particularly with Karim Benzema and Vinícius Junior within the ranks who have both netted three goals across their last three league matches. Madrid have also attempted the most shots in La Liga and are tied on the most goals with Barcelona so far.
Their underlying defensive numbers though do make better reading for Madrid’s opponents. Not only are they yet to secure a league clean sheet, but they rank an unremarkable ninth in terms of the fewest number of shots faced, and there are six sides with a lower combined Expected Goals against (xGA) total than them in La Liga.
Although Ancelotti’s men should ease through Group F – containing Celtic, RB Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk – with relative ease, it’ll be interesting to see how their defence holds up in these contests. Any struggles could be a good sign ahead of the knockout phase that they might not have the capacity to keep Europe’s elite at bay again in this year’s edition of the competition.