The Real/Barça duopoly of European football has, for now, collapsed. Serie A no longer reigns supreme. The Bundesliga sides are starting to look tasty again, while Ligue 1's big boys are learning from experience every year. And that's without touching on how good English sides have been in Europe lately.
The Champions League isn't as easy to predict as it used to be. What used to be a simple "pick the team with the Ballon d'Or winner" debate has turned into a game of wits - egos, coaches and bottling all considered.
So we thought we'd put it to the trusty FFT team. Who do our writers predict will lift the European Cup this season?
Joe Brewin (deputy editor, @JoeBrewinFFT)
Well, someone's got to say the obvious one.
Liverpool haven't exactly looked infallible in Europe's premier competition this season – as a 2-0 defeat in Naples to kick off their campaign aptly demonstrated – but at home, they're on another level. Jurgen Klopp has got this team calibrated to his dream settings, and it feels like no stretch to suggest they're on course to go down as the greatest Premier League side of all time. World-class goalkeeper? Check. Europe's best pair of full-backs? Check. The world's best defender? You bet. A busy midfield that'll overrun you with ease? Tick. Front three still scoring for fun? Mm-hmm.
Throw in Anfield nights which live up to the legend, and the only thing Liverpool are missing is Leo Messi. Pity the poor buggers who have to come up against them.
Conor Pope (online editor, @ConorPope)
After a 30-year wait, it would be no surprise if Liverpool's inevitable title win proves distracting from their European defence. Manchester City's domestic issues and forthcoming UEFA ban will pile unwanted pressure on their Champions League campaign. Barcelona continue to look unconvincing under Quique Setien. Bayern Munich actually have a title race to concentrate on. So do Juventus. The likes of Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham – all finalists in the last decade – could do it, but all would be seen as an upset.
No. What we've learned is that when in doubt, bank on Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid. Their dominance in the 2010s did not ever feel inevitable; success came from wide-open races. Zidane is not an ideological manager, but a reactive, 'big game' one – perfect for a cup competition. Madrid are top of La Liga. Karim Benzema is going toe-to-toe with Messi in the goalscoring charts, and Luka Jovic is his back-up. They have Eden Hazard, Sergio Ramos, Thibaut Courtois, Luka Modric, Raphael Varane and Gareth Bale (when he's not golfing) in the squad.
Dysfunctional? Yes. Unconvincing? You bet. But that's never stopped them before.
Chris Flanagan, (senior staff writer, @CFlanaganFFT)
Even before the imminent Champions League ban, I fancied City this season. It's far from unknown for a team who've had a difficult domestic season to suddenly turn it on in the Champions League - think back to how Chelsea won it in 2012, after years of falling marginally short when their Premier League form was much stronger.
City have been capable of winning the Champions League for years, and that ability is still there despite a poor league campaign. If anything, that could provide them with motivation to rescue their season with success in Europe. If they get to the latter stages, they may have the option of resting players in the Premier League, too.
Add in the possibility of a two-year suspension from the competition, and it could focus minds even further. For one of the most talented teams in Premier League history, it could be now or never.
Ed McCambridge (staff writer, @EdMcCambridge)
It's an Italian Job, for me. The crack-team capable of pulling off the biggest heist of all has finally, painstakingly, been assembled - masterminded by a boss who knows a thing or two about a European smash-and-grab. Maurizio Sarri's Europa League triumph with Chelsea last season proved he can call the shots under intense conditions, and he has the tools to go one bigger this time around.
The midfield is packed with schemers following the arrivals of Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey, who are still yet to hit peak form and fitness this campaign. While the grizzled defence has been freshened up with the recruitment of Matthijs De Ligt, the poster boy for Ajax's own European caper last season. The demolition team comes in the form of Paolo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo: a frontline to rival any in Europe, with the latter a kind of swaggering Danny Ocean figure, staving off retirement long enough to finish one last job. Ronaldo's record-breaking scoring form is a terrifying omen for the competition, and will carry Juventus to a first European Cup since 1996.
Mark White (staff writer, @markwhlte)
How can anyone look past Liverpool?
Jurgen Klopp has built the perfect team to conquer all in their wake. Not only is the system capable of breaking down almost anyone in the world, they have world-class game-changers who can improvise when things aren’t going well.
We all thought they'd focus on the league this season, but they've gone and wrapped it up before the European knockouts. They’re a better side than the one that beat Barcelona and Bayern to lift last year’s crown, and arguably the only club sat at Europe’s top table that aren't in some kind of transition period. They're simply irresistible; they have the best footballer in the world in several positions and the best coach on the planet right now.
The record speaks for itself: Klopp has never lost a two-legged tie at Liverpool. And the scariest bit? I still think they've got another gear in them that they haven't played with this season.
Harry Jones (freelance)
Their performance in this season’s group stage - comfortably beating Real Madrid at home before drawing at the Bernabeu - should serve as a warning to Europe’s elite.
Minus the odd Kylian Mbappe substitution meltdown and Neymar departure rumour, Thomas Tuchel has settled an ego-heavy PSG side. Their attack is arguably the best in Europe; boosted by summer signing Mauro Icardi and Angel Di Maria playing among the best football of his career. Add to that the world’s best young player in Mbappe and Neymar who, thanks to injury, has only played one knockout game for PSG so far.
With a 10-point lead in Ligue 1, they can solely focus on Europe – starting with Borussia Dortmund, whose leaky defence should be easy prey for the Parisian attacking quartet.
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