UEFA Champions League predictions: UCL winner, golden boot, breakout stars, shock group-stage scenarios, more – CBS Sports - Techy Hunters

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Monday, September 13, 2021

UEFA Champions League predictions: UCL winner, golden boot, breakout stars, shock group-stage scenarios, more – CBS Sports

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Europe’s biggest and best club competition is back. The Champions League resumes on Tuesday and you can watch all the action on Paramount+. After a summer of high drama on and off the pitch the balance of European football may well have tilted and our expert picks would suggest there is no clear frontrunner for the prize with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain all likely to be vying for the crown. Our soccer panel pick the likely winners, top scorers, breakout stars and much more below.

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Champions League winner

Fabrizio Romano: Too easy to say Paris Saint-Germain! Of course, they’re the big favorites. But I want to take a risk with Atletico Madrid, who have built an incredible team with many different players, good mentality, and always the same manager to give continuity. It’s probably a crazy prediction, but it’s not impossible. Pick: Atletico Madrid

Luis Miguel Echegaray: I know, I know. For many of you, PSG are the obvious choice. I mean how could it not be, right? Forget about the embarrassment of riches, which includes Kylian Mbappé, Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi. There is star power all throughout the squad, and most importantly, championship experience. Every area of the pitch has a champion. From Sergio Ramos to Marco Verratti and Gianluigi Donnarrumma, this is team is – and I can’t stress this enough – loaded with trophy power. Mauricio Pochettino, therefore, is the football version of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of golden coins. The pressure will be there for sure, and many will counter Man City as another club who has a lot of talent. But the difference is that one team plays in a league – and with all due to respect to Ligue 1 – that can afford to constantly rotate, meaning that key players can rest and prepare for midweek UCL action. It’s PSG for me, and if they don’t win it, they should retire from the game altogether. Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

Jimmy Conrad: FC Sheriff! Because they have the coolest name and crest. OK, fine, trophies aren’t actually handed out for that type of stuff so I’ll go with Chelsea. I know going back-to-back is a rare occurrence, especially when the Blues will have a big target on their back for winning it last season, but this team is built to win these types of competitions with their defense-first mentality. And when you couple that with the addition of Romelu Lukaku up top, they could prove to be unstoppable on both sides of the ball. Pick: Chelsea

Thomas Rongen: Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar form arguably the greatest attacking trio in history and should be unstoppable. The French giants also have a solid defensive structure with Marquinhos, Sergio Ramos and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. This team is the real deal. Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

James Benge: The complete package, Chelsea have stars in every roster spot and a level of depth that ought to be the envy of teams across Europe. But it isn’t just talent that wins these competitions, it’s systems and team quality. That is what Thomas Tuchel instilled at Chelsea almost overnight. They are masters of the way they play. In attack, they stretch the pitch. In defense, they challenge opponents to squeeze through the tightest of gaps. They are the best team in Europe. I’m not sure it’s even that close. Pick: Chelsea

Jonathan Johnson: With Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé now in the fold, it feels like now or never for the Parisiens. Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

Roger Gonzalez: It just has to be PSG. Arguably the greatest lineup we’ve seen on paper in terms of quality from goalkeeper to strikers, it’s Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar leading a team that in truth shouldn’t lose a game. I expect them to dominate, to cruise into the final and win the club their first European crown. Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

Mike L. Goodman: Manchester City continue to be one of the best couple of teams in Europe every season. Eventually, if you get enough swings at it you manage to get over the line. Of course, the same could be said for PSG who have been finalists and semifinalists over the past two seasons. But, being hardened by the most competitive league in the world right now in the Premier League, and being pushed week in and week out by Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United, will stand City in good stead. Pick: Manchester City

Des Norris: Don’t sleep on the Rojiblancos. Diego Simeone remains a pragmatist at heart, and his defense, fortified by the presence of human forcefield Jan Oblak, reflects that. However, the return of Antoine Griezmann will add more dynamism to a front line that already boasted a procession of world-class attacking options. There’s not a manager in Europe that would want to run into the LaLiga champions. Pick: Atletico Madrid

Champions League runner-up

Fabrizio Romano: If they don’t reach the final, PSG would be the biggest sporting failure of recent years. I think they will certainly compete to win the Cup until the end. Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

Luis Miguel Echegaray: I think Pep Guardiola arrives to the final once again with the defending Premier League champions, but once again, not having enough cover in the No. 9 position will hurt them. This obviously depends to how the season unfolds and what type of business they might or might not do in January. But I do believe that this club is strong enough the reach the final once again, it’s just that in order to win the whole thing, they’re going to need a clinical striker. Pick: Manchester City

Jimmy Conrad: PSG. If only because their incredible squad of superstar players in almost every position on the field isn’t fair so I’d prefer someone else do it … like FC Sheriff! Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

Thomas Rongen: Like PSG, Manchester City are obsessively chasing this title, spending big bucks on the world’s best players to improve their chances at winning. City is slightly ahead on odds, but in the end PSG arguably have more talent. Pick: Manchester City

James Benge: It’s a toss-up between PSG and Manchester City for the title of “not quite as good as Chelsea.” It’s still hard to be that optimistic about how much a team can blend when they’re so rarely on the pitch together. It is eminently plausible that all this attacking talent will not carry them all the way if it is not willing to press or defend with intensity. Still, Lionel Messi will win them some matches. Neymar a few too. And Kylian Mbappé. Pick: Paris Saint-Germain

Jonathan Johnson: Although anything could happen between now and then, it feels like one of last season’s finalists will make a repeat appearance and City are in PSG’s Group A. Pick: Chelsea

Roger Gonzalez: The team invests in a true striker in the winter, has little trouble in the knockout stage and sets up a final of modern day soccer where money rules all. Pick: Manchester City

Mike L. Goodman: Don’t sleep on a Liverpool team that remains extremely dangerous now that they’ve put last season’s defensive injury crisis behind them. There’s simply nothing much to suggest that this team is worse than the side that won the Premier League two seasons ago and the Champions League the year before that. Pick: Liverpool

Des Norris: Defending the crown is never an easy task, unless your name is Zinedine Zidane. Thomas Tuchel managed to guide the Blues to the summit of the mountain four months after taking charge of a team low on confidence and ideas. And things have only improved over the summer, with the addition of Romelu Lukaku and the revelation that Trevoh Chalobah is up to the task. Pick: Chelsea

Surprise group-stage elimination

Fabrizio Romano: Villarreal is very strong but despite being in the first pot having won the last Europa League, they will take a lot of risks in their group. Atalanta have all the credentials to do great things again and Manchester United are obviously the big favorites of the group. Pick: Villarreal

Luis Miguel Echegaray: This is a tough one, especially because there are multiple narratives that could come true in more than one group. Group B for example, teases me to select one out of Liverpool, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Porto. Man United’s fate remains a mystery, even with Cristiano Ronaldo, simply because he doesn’t answer their midfield problems. But I am going to stick my neck out here and say that Juventus will be the victim. I know, I know. It probably won’t happen but I think Ronaldo’s exit (who by the way happens to be the tournament’s all-time leading scorer) severely hurts them. If you’re going to gamble, you might as well go big, and my guess is The Old Lady … will just get older this year. Pick: Juventus

Jimmy Conrad: Barcelona. Bayern will win this group and I think Benfica will get second. Yeah, I said it! Because, first, you can never sleep on Portuguese clubs in European competitions and, second, Martin Braithwaite instead of Lionel Messi and Luuk de Jong instead of Antoine Griezmann? Those sound like Europa League replacements to me!  Pick: Barcelona

Thomas Rongen: Europa league champions Villarreal are not be a Pot 1 side anybody would fear. Seventh in La Liga last year, and started the season with three draws. Pick: Villarreal

James Benge: I predicted Inter Milan wouldn’t make it out last season and was vindicated, and that team was much better than this current iteration. Perhaps all you could say in their favor as compared to 2020-21 is they have lost Antonio Conte, the most outstanding manager to seem completely incapable of grasping the Champions League. One final point on Group D: Write Sheriff off at your peril. Pick: Inter Milan

Jonathan Johnson: Their start to the Serie A season has been pretty poor and Allegri’s men look devoid of identity. Pick: Juventus

Roger Gonzalez: Again they crash out of the group stage with a tricky group, stumbling against Shakhtar Donetsk in back-to-back seasons. Losing Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi is their downfall. Pick: Inter Milan

Mike L. Goodman: Group B sees last season’s La Liga champs run headlong into AC Milan and Liverpool. Atletico barely held on to win last season’s championship and if Barcelona hadn’t choked away a few points in the last week’s, this team would be remembered for a historic collapse. This season, they’re walking the same line with very late goals rescuing a draw against Villarreal and a win against Espanyol. That magic runs out under the Champions League lights. Pick: Atletico Madrid

Des Norris: Bayern Munich are the prohibitive favorites to advance out of Group E, while Benfica, under the tutelage of a manager who knows a thing or two about winning continental cup competitions in Jorge Jesus, will fancy their chances of taking second spot. As good as Memphis Depay is, the shellshock of losing Lionel Messi will ultimately be too much to bear for Ronald Koeman’s side. Pick: Barcelona

Surprise group-stage winner

Fabrizio Romano: Not a big surprise, of course – but in the PSG group being able to pass first is practically a feat, even for a fantastic team like Pep Guardiola’s. They can do it. Pick: Manchester City

Luis Miguel Echegaray: It’s not really much of surprise as this is very doable for the Italian side, given the fact that they’re an ever group (Man United, Villarreal, Young Boys) but folks forget that Atalanta is the little — extremely aggressive — engine that could. From a financial and spending standpoint, they have no right being in this tournament, but they keep on plugging away thanks Gian Piero Gasperini’s do-or-die philosophy. They have come runners-up in their groups in the last two UCL campaigns but this time around, I think they top the whole thing. Pick: Atalanta

Jimmy Conrad: Atletico Madrid — which might not be THAT much of a surprise since their team is stacked, but our friends at Caesars Sportsbook have them at +2200 to win it all, which, at that value, I’m definitely putting some money on them. However, they underperformed in last season’s Champions League, only winning two out of eight games and getting bounced in the round of 16 by Chelsea, 3-0, over two legs AND they’re in a tough group with Liverpool, AC Milan and Porto. Pick: Atletico Madrid

Thomas Rongen: Red Bull Salzburg to make it through the group stage for the first time, having drawn probably the weakest sides from Pot 1 and Pot 2. Pick: Red Bull Salzburg

James Benge: Well look, history says you should be surprised by Man United. In the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, they have only topped their Champions League groups twice and on those occasions they did not face many if any teams as good as Atalanta and Villarreal. Although this group has given them three very good opponents, they are also teams that suit United to a tee, the sort of opponents who are willing to press high (to almost kamikaze levels in Young Boys’ case) and are vulnerable to the sort of punchy running into space that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side do so well. Pick: Manchester United

Jonathan Johnson: Many will expect Sevilla to win Group G, but I predict that it will be the Germans. Pick: Wolfsburg

Roger Gonzalez: While Sevilla are the favorites in Group G, it is the revived German side, sitting atop the Bundesliga with a perfect 4-0-0 record, that wins the group rather convincingly with the defense leading the way. Pick: Wolfsburg

Mike L. Goodman: Does this count as a surprise? Salzburg have been increasingly competitive in the Champions League, and while they’ve been drawn into a group with competitors from top leagues, none of Sevilla, Wolfsburg or Lille are particularly inspiring. Pick: Red Bull Salzburg

Des Norris: The surprise here is Real Madrid will have to settle for second place. Despite losing Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi over the summer, and starting the season with a big question mark hanging over Christian Eriksen’s future, the Nerazzurri have responded well under new coach Simone Inzaghi. Notice how I didn’t mention Antonio Conte’s departure in the previous sentence? While the Italian reinvigorated the team on the domestic front, his track record in Europe made for depressing reading. Inzaghi is a different story. Pick: Inter Milan

Golden boot winner

Fabrizio Romano: Finding the enthusiasm of playing in a team of “aliens” after the last few years in Barcelona with so many difficulties will certainly give us back the “real” Messi also in the Champions League. I expect an extraordinary Champions League for him. Pick: Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain

Luis Miguel Echegaray: There are obvious choices everywhere. From Cristiano Ronaldo to Romelu Lukaku, picking just one magnificent top scorer is not easy. But let’s keep this one very brief. There is one man right now who scores practically every time he blinks and who right now, enters a pivotal point in his career. Erling Haaland knows that this is a key season for him at Borussia Dortmund and perhaps most importantly, so does his club. Haaland is hungry and he is ready for his next victim. In a very doable group, one that will offer him plenty of chances, I would be very surprised if he doesn’t leave the group stage with at least 10 goals. Pick: Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund

Jimmy Conrad: First, Erling Haaland won the Golden Boot for the first time last season with 10 goals, two more than Kylian Mbappé, who finished in second on eight, so we know he’ll be looking to retain his title. Second, in his career, Haaland has scored 20 goals in 14 Champions League games, which is an average of more than one goal a game. Yeah, I just did the math for you. I was a math major in college. Third, his club, Borussia Dortmund, and they have a pretty manageable group with Ajax, Besiktas and Sporting Club de Portugal, so he should be well-positioned to keep hitting the back of the net at a record pace. Pick: Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund

Thomas Rongen: Mbappé! With the service of Messi and Neymar, the French international will be the one that will benefit the most. Pick: Kylian Mbappé, Paris Saint-Germain

James Benge: For a Golden Boot winner we’re looking for a player who is bang in form, takes penalties and has a couple of pretty favorable opponents in his group. Hello Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea superstar who is about to face Zenit Saint Petersburg and Malmo. Pick: Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea

Jonathan Johnson: Romelu Lukaku has hit the ground running with Chelsea and the defending champions look even more formidable. Pick: Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea

Roger Gonzalez: The best striker in the world runs away with it, getting seven goals in the group stage and four more in the knockout stage as Dortmund make a quarterfinal run. The most dominant attacking force in the world right now at the No. 9 position. Pick: Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund

Mike L. Goodman: Erling Haaland is really good. Also, three of the other most likely winners (Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, and Neymar) all have to share the same ball. It also doesn’t hurt that Dortmund have been drawn into an easy group with Ajax, Besiktas and Sporting CP for Haaland to feast on. Pick: Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund

Des Norris: It doesn’t matter what you try to do to stop him, the Bayern Munich No. 9 will always find a way to score. Since Dec. 14, 2019, he has only failed to find the back of the net in seven out of 50 Bundesliga appearances, racking up 62 goals in the process. If more proof of his prowess were needed, in the previous three Champions League campaigns, he notched 28 goals in 24 games. Pick: Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

Breakout star

Fabrizio Romano: Rodrigo de Paul is one of the most underrated purchases of the summer. He will finally be able to play in the Champions League, in Serie A he has been stellar for years with Udinese and now Atletico Madrid can help him amaze again. A young man from 2001 to keep an eye on is Roberto Piccoli, Atalanta striker, top scorer of the Youth League in 2020. He has already scored a goal in the first two Serie A games. Pick: Rodrigo De Paul, Atletico Madrid

Luis Miguel Echegaray: Eduardo Camavinga. I am such a fan of this young man. From his inspirational story to his work ethic, Camavinga is ready to elevate his game to new heights with Real Madrid. If you watched his announcement presser, you can see that he’s not faced by anything. Now that he has a stronger set of teammates and a manager who will encourage him to push himself, I expect some great things from the 18-year-old on the biggest stage. Pick: Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid

Jimmy Conrad: Mannnn. This one is tough. I like a few youngsters like Bayern’s Jamal Musiala, who continues to demonstrate his world-class attacking ability at the tender age of 18, but I think I’m going to go with Atleti’s Rodrigo de Paul. The 27 year-old Argentine international, who not only was considered by many to be the best player for Argentina in the Copa America this summer, he was also a complete stud for Udinese in Serie A last season. Despite playing for a club that finished 14th last season, he led all players in Serie A in expected assists in open play, so imagine him on a team with Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa, Joao Felix, etc. He could blow up! Pick: Rodrigo De Paul, Atletico Madrid

Thomas Rongen: U.S. midfielder Brenden Aaronson scored in each leg of the last round of qualifying and will continue to do so for club and country. Pick: Brenden Aaronson, Red Bull Salzburg

James Benge: There’s no thing as a true unknown on the Champions League stage, he says in a desperate attempt to justify picking a full Germany international as a breakout player of the group stage. But one thing that Erling Haaland and Dominik Szobszlai have taught us is that you can rarely do worse than picking the next star attacker coming out of Red Bull Salzburg. Karim Adeyemi excelled in the qualifier against Brondby, is scoring at an impressive rate in the Austrian Bundesliga and is blessed with all the raw attributes a modern striker needs. I can already hear the January rumor mill whirring up. Pick: Karim Adeyemi, Red Bull Salzburg

Jonathan Johnson: We saw glimpses of Tanguy Kouassi’s potential with PSG before his first season with Bayern was disrupted by injury. He will step up in David Alaba’s absence and take everyone by surprise. Pick: Tanguy Kouassi, Bayern Munich

Roger Gonzalez: The young Brazilian talent is the next big thing in the Ajax attack and with superstar potential. The former Sao Paulo speedster comes to life on the European stage, produces goal after goal and continues to make Europe’s biggest clubs salivate at his potential. Pick: Antony, Ajax

Mike L. Goodman: For the most part, the biggest performers this season are going to be players we all know about already: Your Mbappés  and Haalands and Robert Lewandowskis. But, if any team has a draw that lets them surprise, it’s Salzburg, and if they do manage to get through the group and maybe even win a round of 16 tie, it’ll be because Aaronson playing a kind of funky, creative No. 9 excels on the biggest stage. Pick: Brenden Aaronson, Red Bull Salzburg

Des Norris: USMNT fans who haven’t been living under a rock for the last few months should already be familiar with the New Jersey native. With bags of energy and a nose for goal, Aaronson has hit the ground running with the Austrian champions, netting two clutch goals against Brøndby to secure the team’s group stage berth. A taste of more to come? Quite possibly: Group G has been dubbed the Group of Life for a reason. Pick: Brenden Aaronson, Red Bull Salzburg



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