Champions League: Guide to this season’s primary contenders

Sep 7, 2022

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Eight sides stand a decent chance of winning this season’s European Cup.

Generally speaking, they look familiar from the last season, few clubs have gone through a dramatic overhaul in terms of their starting XI and only one of these eight clubs appointed a new manager in the summer.

Here is a quick rundown on their approaches for 2022-23.

Manchester City

After winning two European Cups in the first three seasons, Pep Guardiola now coached clubs in 10 Champions League campaigns without winning a third, one with Barcelona, three with Bayern and with Manchester City – six.

Although, this season he probably has a team less suited to meddling. He let go of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling both versatile and tactically disciplined options, in return, he signed Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez, both center forwards.

Clearly, Haaland has transformed City’s approach and probably the purest No 9 the team has ever had. He proved perfect at thumping goals past weaker Premier League sides while there’s little doubt he’ll work in the Champions League stage.

For now, Guardiola has started the season specifically keen on using half-backs and full-backs trucking inside the game as narrow midfielders.


Liverpool’s major change from the previous season is not totally different to Manchester City. An appropriate No 9 has replaced a unique wide player. 

Darwin Nunez is less of a can’t-miss success than Haaland. Nunez being sent off on his full Premier League debut did not help his opportunities of becoming an undroppable first-teamer.

As such, Mane’s replacement was Luis Diaz who had already landed in January and adjusted to the Premier League with remarkable ease.

Nunez could also be considered someone of a bonus, an alternative option up front. However, it remains to be seen how Mohamed Salah plays in a side boasting a proper No 9 rather than a link player to feed him. Hence far, his best contributions have come when Liverpool have used Harvey Elliot in a right sided midfield role, dragging the opposition left-back forward.

Liverpool are particularly understaffed in midfield, though there are more questions about whether Klopp knows the right combination to provide the right balance.

Paris Saint-Germain

PSG has signed Vitinha, Nordi Mukiele, Renato Sanches, Fabian Ruiz and Carlos Soler while bidding farewell to Angel Di Maria, Georginio Winjnaldum, Thilo Kehrer, Ander Herrera Leandro Paredes, Abdou Diallo, Julian Draxler and Idrissa Gueye.

Christophe Galtier was also appointed as the new manager replacing Mauricio Pochettino.

Galtier is obviously going about things in a different manner to Pochettino and focusing on using a three-man defence of Sergio Ramos, Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe.

Messi, Neymar and Mbappe feel like they are together in center positions. Neymar previously the star so far, with a record of seven goals and six assists from his first five matches, but the three combined well as a whole.

PSG have twice scored impressive team moves featuring Veratti playing a forward pass, then one of Neymar and Mbappe knocking the ball back to Messi, the other sprinting in behind onto his through ball.

The three presumably considered the first half of their club campaign as something of a warm-up for the World Cup.

Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski has helped Bayern Munich extremely consistently; however, he then also made them tactically a little boring. 

Lewandowski was dominant that everything was based around him, even with the quality of Bayern’s attacking options.

In the absence of Lewandowski, Julian Nagelsmann can have the opportunity to explore more. Thus, he consistently used a back four that seemed to shift into a back three less often than last season, also continuously used Joshua Kimmic and Marcel Sabitzer – both in centre of midfield.


The side who do have a Lewandowski figure up front is Barcelona.

The midfield is pure Barca; Sergio Busquets in the holding role with Pedri and Gavi either side is precisely what you expect from a Xavi Hernandez side. 

The interesting thing has been the defense which, on paper, has a solid back four, that means Barca play in a 4-3-3 and look like most Barcelona sides over the past couple decades.

This particularly happens when Barcelona are pressed with a front two. The build-up play looks encouraging.

Real Madrid

Carlo Ancelotti is not a tactical obsessive and, after guiding Real Madrid to the European Cup last season using a simple 4-3-3 system, has not seen fit to make sweeping changes here. 

The major summer acquisition was Aurelien Tchouaemeni, effectively a replacement for Casemiro before he left Manchester United. 

Although, it is still the same thing for Real. It is largely about Karim Benzema, whose freedom to drop deep and drift left perhaps the feature of Real’s 4-3-3.

The match winner in the previous season finale, Vinicius remains the most dangerous attacker from the left. Luka Modric and Tonu Kroos are still around uttering plays from either side.


Thomas Tuchel’s performance was impressive, formatting Chelsea in a rough 3-4-3 that took them from a chaotic mess under Frank Lampard to gain European Cup winners.

Previous summer with Romelu Lukaku was supposed to transform Chelsea going forward; apparently, the Belgian struggled desperately at times, criticizing Tuchel’s tactical use of him.

During the last part of the season, Chelsea seemed to have gone backwards and several key attacking players under Tuchel-Lukako, Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech have struggled to find their best fit.


A 2019 finalist made their comeback to the Champions League after several seasons playing both Europe and Conference Leagues.

With Antonio Conte, they now boast a manager widely considered among the best in Europe.

Conte established the usual three-man defense at Spurs, 3-4-3 of his Chelsea days instead of 3-5-2. 

Tottenham was superb, still based around the excellent relationship between Son Heung-min and Harry Kane.

Spurs summer transfer business has been impressive but not immediately revolutionary. 

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