Sporita’s Top Champions League Picks: The Favorites for the Final

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Jamie Carragher famously stated in 2010. The Champions League provides a better spectacle than the World Cup.

While there are many who would argue this statement, there’s no doubt that the UEFA Champions League is the world’s most prestigious club competition. Lifting the huge silver trophy, affectionately known as ‘old big ears’, is something that players from all over the world dream about.

In addition to being the most prestigious competition, the Champions League is also one of the most difficult to win. Before Real Madrid’s unprecedented run of three straight victories, no club had won it back-to-back in its current format.

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The Champions League season of 2018/2019 has been one of the best in recent memory. Right from the group stages, we’ve witnessed everything that makes football the beautiful game – some breathtaking matches, incredible goals and huge upsets. Now, we’re at the business end of the season – the semi-finals. Only 4 teams left – F.C Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, AFC Ajax and Liverpool F.C – with each having the chance to make history.

Let’s analyze each team’s performance over the course of their campaigns, and their chances of scooping the greatest prize in European football.

FC Barcelona

The Catalonians are the standout favorites for this year’s final. They have been in superb form this campaign and have had a near perfect season in Europe. They’re the only team that’s unbeaten from the four semi-finalists and have scored 23 goals in the process (only Man City has scored more). There are no prizes for guessing the catalyst behind the Blaugranes’ success this season; it’s Lionel Messi of course.

Widely considered to be the greatest football player in history, Messi has been a man on a mission this time around. He has been central to everything Barcelona has done well this campaign and is currently the competition’s top scorer with 10 goals. 

Barcelona was given a fairly tough group, comprising of 2-time champions Inter Milan, Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven and fellow semi-finalists Tottenham Hotspur. However, the Spanish side cruised through the group stages, finishing as group winners with 14 points. Messi’s superb performance against Tottenham at Wembley was the highlight of Barcelona’s group-stage performance.

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In the last 16, Barcelona was paired with French side Olympique Lyonnais. Lead by the Argentine maestro again, Barcelona made light work of Lyon, beating them 5-1 on aggregate, with all the goals being scored during the second leg at the Camp Nou. Messi finished the game with 2 goals and 2 assists.

The quarter finals saw Barcelona face Manchester United. The English side was fresh from knocking out PSG amidst controversial circumstances and was looking dangerous under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

However, stopping Messi when he’s in this kind of form was a bit too much for Chris Smalling and co. Barcelona swatted the English giants aside with the tie ending 4-0 to Barcelona. Messi again scored a brace in the second leg at the Camp Nou. FC Barcelona are now through to the semi-finals where they will face Liverpool F.C.

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Liverpool F.C

Talking about Liverpool F.C, it’s safe to say that they’re finally back where they belong – among the European elite. The English giants are arguably the most in-form side in Europe right now. With their explosive attacking trident of Mane, Salah and Firmino, and the monstrous Virgil Van Dijk in defense, Liverpool don’t fear anyone or anything.

After last year’s final heartbreak in Kiev, few were expecting Liverpool to bounce back like they have. They’ve made it to their third semi-finals in three years under Jurgen Klopp. Group C of the Champion’s League was considered by many experts as this season’s “Group of Death”. It consisted of Liverpool, PSG Napoli and Red Star Belgrade. The Red’s group stage journey was full of drama and last-minute goals. They lost all three away games, but still managed to qualify for the knockout stage, albeit by the skin of their teeth.

In the Last 16 of the Champion’s League, the 5-time champions of Europe were paired with Bayern Munich (5-times champions themselves).

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After the first leg at Anfield ended in a stalemate, most experts were tipping Bayern to go through at the Allianz. However, Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp had other ideas. Led by the excellent Sadio Mane and the colossal Van Dijk, Liverpool came away with a historic 1-3 victory.

In the quarter finals, the Reds were paired up with Porto in a repeat of last year’s last 16 tie, where Liverpool demolished the Portuguese side. However, not many were expecting a repeat of that result this time round. Nevertheless, the first leg at Anfield finished with Liverpool having a 2-0 advantage. The second leg saw Liverpool far from their best, but they still managed to cruise through, winning 1-4.

There’s something different Liverpool than last season. While their attack is still strong as ever, their defense has improved significantly. They’re calmer, more mature, and they know how to win ugly. If they can overcome Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the semis, than they’re odds on to pick up their 6th European crown.

Tottenham Hotspur

What a European campaign it has been for Spurs. Things were looking dire for them after match day 2. They had lost to both Barcelona and Inter Milan, and few were giving them a chance to make it out of the group stages, but they did.

In the first knockout round tie, they went face to face with German table-toppers Borussia Dortmund. Most were expecting it to be a closely fought tie, however it was anything but. Spurs dominated both legs, and the tie finished 4-0 on aggregate.

Most people though that the quarter finals would be the end of the road for Tottenham. They were pitted up against domestic rivals and reigning English champions Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s side was in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple and had already beaten Tottenham in the league. However, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs team defied the odds once again.

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After a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the first leg, Spurts traveled to the Etihad without captain and star striker Harry Kane. What happened at the Etihad will be remembered as one of the most thrilling Champions League games we’ve ever seen. While Spurs lost 4-3 on the night amidst a lot of VAR drama, they advanced to their first ever Champions League semifinals on the away goals rule.

Spurs will meet Ajax in the semis, where they’ll be branded as favorites. From what we saw in the quarter finals, Spurs have what it takes to go all the way.

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AFC Ajax

If you bet on Ajax to be in the Champions League semi finals at the beginning of the season, then congratulations!

You’re probably quite a rich person right now. Ajax has arguably been the story of this Champions League tournament, and they’ve established quite a reputation as the premier giant-slayers of Europe.

After relatively smooth sailings in the group stage, where they went unbeaten, Ajax were paired up with defending champions Real Madrid in the last 16. While Ajax lost the first leg in Amsterdam, what happened in the second leg was totally unexpected. Ajax blew away Real Madrid with a performance for the ages. Dusan Tadic was particularly impressive as Ajax romped to a 4-1 victory at the Bernabeu.

The quarter final draw saw Ajax put against Italian champions Juventus. Juventus were riding a wave of confidence after Ronaldo’s heroics in the last 16, and they were standout favorites to progress to the semis. But Ajax had other ideas. They edged the Old Lady 3-2 on aggregate, and even managed to pick up a win at the Juventus Stadium.

This Ajax side has not only dispatched two European giants, but they also dispatched them in style. This team is young, fierce, dynamic and fearless. It’s the ultimate underdog story.

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Who Will Prevail?

So the question is: which club will end the season as champions of Europe? At this point, the odds-on favorites are Barcelona. With Lionel Messi in such imperious form, the Blaugrana are like a runaway train. Furthermore, they have the La Liga title wrapped up which means they can afford to focus on the Champions League now.

But if anyone can stop them, it’s Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The Reds are direct, dangerous and fearless. You can be certain that they’ll be relishing the chance to test themselves against Messi, Suarez and co. However, the Reds are also locked into a close battle with Man City for the Premier League title, which means they can’t afford the luxury of rotating their squad.

But let’s not forget Spurs and Ajax. They’ve taught us that big names and big reputations mean nothing at this stage of the Champions League. Whoever prevails in the semi finals, this year’s centerpiece at the Wanda Metropolitano is shaping up to be a cracking one.

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