2023 Champions League Preview

Courtesy of Reuters
Courtesy of Reuters

Throughout November and December, the FIFA World Cup captivated our school’s attention. Rallying around their favorite teams and players, students were immersed in the event’s action and energy. While we’re months away from the kickoff of the women’s World Cup—and years from the next iteration of the men’s—there’s still plenty of electric soccer on the horizon.

All the best leagues in the world are back in full swing, including England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1. In less than a month, 16 of Europe’s best teams will begin the knockout phase of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, which awards the most prestigious club title in the world.

32 clubs qualify initially for the Champions League from placing in their country’s league in the prior season. For example, the top four teams from the Premier League qualify, the top three teams from Ligue 1 qualify, and the top two teams from Liga Portugal qualify. Then, the clubs play group stage games where the top two teams from each randomized group of four advance.

The eight group winners are then put on one side of the draw and randomly matched up against teams that finished second in their group. The clubs play two legs (once at home and once away), and whoever scores the most goals advances to the last eight—and so on until a winner emerges.

Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s field.

PSG vs. Bayern Munich

This year’s draw produced no shortage of heavyweight matchups in the round of 16. In a rematch of the 2020 final, Paris Saint-Germian (PSG) and Bayern Munich will face off for a spot in the final eight. Lionel Messi will look to stay hot and claim his fifth Champions League title, while Kylian Mbappe will attempt to win his first and Neymar his second. 

It appears as if Bayern forward Sadio Mané, who hasn’t seen the pitch since before the World Cup, could return to give his side a boost against a PSG defense headlined by an aging Sergio Ramos. Additionally, Bayern will have a new face present with João Cancelo, who joined the German club on loan from Manchester City in January. PSG have yet to see the unbelievable success that their big three suggests they’re possible of, and Bayern will surely make it difficult for them.

Real Madrid vs. Liverpool

What’s better than a rematch of the 2020 final in the round of 16? A rematch of the 2020 final and the 2021 final. Liverpool have been a shell of the side they were last season, but their talent could still prove to be difficult for the defending champion Real Madrid to contain.

Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema is back with Real after missing France’s World Cup run due to an injury, and he’ll team up with a very familiar World Cup face in Luka Modrić as well as young stars Rodrygo, Vinícius Júnior and Federico Valverde. The matchup also brings together two of the best goalkeepers on the planet: Thibaut Courtois for Madrid and Alisson Becker for Liverpool.

A key question is whether Reds center-back and Dutchman Virgil van Dijk can make it back from a hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined since a January 2 match against Brentford. Reigning Premier League Golden Boot winner Mo Salah has been out of form as of late, and Darwin Núñez and recent transfer Cody Gakpo will also need to step up to have a chance.

An underlying storyline is the fact that these clubs are the frontrunners to land young superstar Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund on a transfer. Neither of the powerhouses were able to get a deal done in the January transfer window to bolster their starting XI before their matchup, so they’ll look to the summer window for another square off.

Manchester City vs. RB Leipzig

Manchester City have been slightly lackluster in the Premier League as of late, falling behind in a title race that they should theoretically be winning, but their talent is still more than worth tuning in for. Norwegian force Erling Haaland, who didn’t get to show off his ridiculous scoring prowess for his country, will return to the world stage with a vengeance. The 22-year-old is currently running away with the Golden Boot, and this lineup that also boasts Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is an intimidating sight.

Leipzig will look to have one last hoorah with Christopher Nkunku before he joins Chelsea on June 1 as well as Joško Gvardiol, who is likely to leave as well, but a miracle would have to occur for them to send the Citizens home.

Tottenham vs. AC Milan

Harry Kane has been brilliant for Tottenham this season. He’s netted 16 goals so far, an excellent number that has been fully overshadowed by Haaland’s 25. While 2021-22 Golden Boot co-winner Son Heung-min hasn’t been himself, the Spurs’ attack is still lethal.

Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris is back on the same side as Kane, unlike during France’s high-profile World Cup quarter-final against England. Now he’ll have to stop his own national team’s countryman instead: Olivier Giroud, captain of les Bleus and striker for Milan.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Chelsea

Chelsea is another underperforming Premier League team—they currently sit in 10th at 8-5-7 despite spending outlandish amounts of money on their roster. The most notable Chelsea player to Americans—Christian Pulisic—is currently out injured, and he won’t make it back on the field in time to face Gio Reyna, his United States teammate.

Reyna has shown flashes of wonder of late, which furthers the question as to why he didn’t see the pitch for the U.S. in Qatar. Bellingham, as noted, is all but guaranteed to depart from the Bundesliga this summer, and Dortmund is already struggling to stay afloat. After a hyper-active January window, Chelsea will roll out new signings such as Enzo Fernandez and Mykhailo Mudryk, and the question is whether either side can regain form in time.

Other matches: Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Napoli, Inter Milan vs. Porto, Brugge vs. Benfica

Frankfurt and Napoli both looked excellent in the group stage of the Champions League, so the clubs could produce some exciting football. Neither Inter Milan nor FC Porto have looked excellent domestically, so . And Brugge have been abysmal in the Belgian Pro League, making them very large underdogs to a Benfica side making easy work of Liga Portugal (even with the loss of Fernandez).

Who’s missing?

There were plenty of upsets in group play this year. The round of 16 will not run through Camp Nou, as Spanish giant Barcelona bowed out after coming out with only two wins in six matches. Italian power Juventus also failed to qualify. Plus, Arsenal, who sit atop the Premier League table and are one of the best teams in Europe this year, didn’t qualify for the Champions League in the first place after finishing fifth in England in 2021-22.

So, while young stars like Gavi and Bukayo Saka—as well as seasoned veterans like Robert Lewandowski—will be missing from the action, there’s still a whole lot to be excited about.

The Champions League action begins on February 14 with PSG vs. Bayern and Milan vs. Tottenham, both at 3 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Mason Wolverton
Mason Wolverton, Copy Editor
Mason Wolverton is a junior reporter entering his second year on staff and first year as Copy Editor. Mason runs cross-country and track for our school. In his free time, he enjoys reading and hiking with his dog, Crosley.

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