By Senji Torrey
As the Super Bowl is over and people are beginning to question why the Masked Singer is somehow their favorite TV show, Europeans are turning their focus to their TV screen to watch the Champions League, where true talent is unmasked and revealed.
The Champions League is an annual tournament that brings together Europe and Asia’s best soccer teams to compete against each other; this tournament, in turn, gives teams from lesser-known or less-popular leagues prove themselves against Europe’s top league’s teams.
Teams who make the round of 16, teams who make it past this stage are the best of the best. Despite the competitive environment, a few teams, such as Valencia and Atalanta, took the league by surprise by qualifying for the Round of 16. Atalanta was put in a weaker bracket, granting them much more wiggle room. On the other hand, Valencia proved to be the more impressive squad since they topped a much harder bracket which included teams such as Chelsea, which boasts a very skilled roster, including America’s pride and joy Christian Pulisic.
The top contenders for this year’s trophy are Liverpool, Manchester City, and Juventus. All three teams have domineering squads that allow them to succeed in both their independent leagues, as well as in the Champions League.
Since scoring is the objective in soccer, a strong attacking line is key to the success of any team. Liverpool has arguably the most dangerous triple-threat offense in the world with Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah, and Roberto Firmino. On the other hand, Manchester City has the revered Sergio Aguero, who has scored over 200 goals for his club. Finally, Juventus has perhaps the most unlikely, yet successful duo, of Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo, as Higuain’s sturdy build and precision-based play blend perfectly with Ronaldo’s speed and skills.
This year, the consensus stands that the underdog teams are Atalanta and RB Leipzig. Atalanta has been very strong in their independent league; as of Jan. 17, they are in fourth place out of 20 teams. Despite this success, RB Leipzig is the true dark horse of this year’s tournament. In the Bundesliga, their independent league, they are at the top of the table, beating top-tier teams such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Furthermore, Leipzig fought their way to a first-place finish in the group stages of the Champions League. The only factor holding this team back is their limited experience in the Champions League as this is their first appearance in this stage of the tournament.
In total, more than 100 million people are projected to watch these games. Fans all over the world have all put in their predictions and are hopeful that their instincts prove to be correct.
(Sources: Sports Illustrated, Champions League, New York Times, Premier League)
Another concept would be a strong defense. Liverpool, who also are part of the English Premier League, have a backline that has held EPL teams to just 14 goals in 21 games. Both Manchester City and Juventus’ defenses have kept their Champions League opponents to four goals over the course of six games.
In previous years of this tournament, many underdog teams came dangerously close to winning the cup. Just last year, Ajax, a team who were not even projected to make it past the round of 16, went all the way to the semi-finals match where they lost to the English club Tottenham.