Real Madrid have always been a club of firsts in the Champions League: the first to win it; the first to win it ten times; last season, they even became the first to retain it – something that conventional wisdom had long told us was impossible.
This year, however, they’ve started poorly. Five points off Barcelona at the top of La Liga, Zinedine Zidane’s men also trail Harry Kane’s Spurs in Group H. All of which begs the question: could another team topple them?
RealSport think the following clubs may just be in with an outside shot.
Seven games, seven wins. Maurizio Sarri couldn’t have asked for a better start in Serie A this season. His Napoli side are playing the best football in Europe at the moment and, in the end, they were unlucky to lose to Manchester City on Tuesday night. Sarrismo, the mesmeric passing game named after the Partenopei’s brooding coach, has proven a revelation for football in Naples.
With a dynamic forward line boasting Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejon either side of the predatory Dries Mertens, the Italians possess enough firepower to worry even the most seasoned of defences. Not to mention the gargantuan talents of a certain Marek Hamsik in midfield.
2 Atlético Madrid
Life isn’t fair. At least, that’s what Diego Simeone must've been thinking as he watched his side labour to a goalless draw against FK Qarabag on Wednesday night. Twice in the last four seasons, he’s watched his team fall at the final hurdle to their eternal cross-town rivals, Real Madrid.
This year, though, Atlético are as well-equipped as any to wrestle the title from Cristiano Ronaldo and co. with their team boasting arguably the greatest goalkeeper and centre back in European football.
Jan Oblak and Diego Godín will be integral to any march to Kiev but it is their inimitable coach who has been their nuclear soul. It’s easy to forget that, when the gel-haired Argentine took over from Gregorio Manzano in December 2011, the club were languishing in mid-table.
Seven trophies and six years later, they’re a genuine force on the continent. With just two points from their first three games, however, time is running out for them to make good on this golden generation.
It’s tempting to think of Liverpool as a joke these days: a bastion of plasticine centre backs, shambolic goalkeeping and Jordan Henderson. Avoid that temptation.
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané are two of the best wide men in Europe. Behind them, Adam Lallana continues to evade recognition as a genuine creative force. Even Alberto Moreno looks rehabilitated - the Spaniard himself looking as bemused as anybody having secured a place on the left of Jurgen Klopp’s defence.
With the German recently celebrating his two-year anniversary at Anfield, legitimate questions have been raised though. Where, some have wondered, is the progress? With one win in their last eight games heading into the midweek fixtures and a difficult transfer window ruined by the Pyhrric pursuit of Virgil van Dijk, its a fair question to ask.
The seven goals scored in Slovenia have gone some way to answering the critics. The quality of the opposition notwithstanding, the game on Tuesday felt like catharsis for a team who had suddenly found top gear. If they can secure a win in the return fixture against Maribor, top spot in the group and an easier tie in the next round look increasingly likely.
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