Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0
Photo: Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0

Champions League 2022 Predictions

November 3, 2021

Soccer’s biggest club competition started its 2021-22 group stage Sept. 14, much to the delight of fans worldwide. The Champions League means intense games, big teams going head-to-head, and major upsets. Past years have been nothing short of captivating competition. This raises the question: what will this season look like? 

At the time of writing, the group stage has not concluded. The “group of death” – Group A – pits three of the world’s best sides against each other: PSG, Manchester City, and RB Leipzig. The smaller Belgian team Club Brugge also joins them in the group, much to their own dismay. Unless Leipzig pulls off a massive comeback, as the team currently holds zero points in three games, Manchester City and PSG will certainly qualify for the playoffs. In Group B, Liverpool and Atlético Madrid are likely to progress ahead of Porto and AC Milan. Group C’s top two will certainly be Dortmund and Ajax over the smaller Sporting CP and Bestikas. Group D, however, may be the most interesting. If one looked only at the teams, he or she would almost certainly choose Real Madrid and Internazionale to advance. However, after three matchdays, an unlikely hero emerged at the top of the table: Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova, a small landlocked country in Eastern Europe. If Sheriff can keep their “cinderella story” form going, they could finish second in Group D to Real Madrid after all group games are completed. 

A disastrous Barcelona and triumphant Bayern Munich headline Group E – The Bavarian giants and Portuguese Benefica seem primed to advance to the playoffs. A shaky Manchester United should regain form and finish ahead of Italy’s Atalanta in Group F, while the Austrian RB Salzburg and German VFL Wolfsburg look to proceed in Group G. Chelsea and Juventus will certainly headline Group H ahead of Russian Zenit and Swedish Malmö FF. 

UEFA, the tournament organizer, divides the advancing teams into two seeding pots: eight group winners (seeded teams) and eight runners-up (unseeded teams). After they are divided, a draw takes place for the Round-of-16 matchup. Teams are redrawn if they are slated to play other clubs from their respective association (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc.) or from their group. For example, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid, both Spanish teams, cannot face each other in the Round of 16 (RO16). Based on these criteria, matchups could occur as follows: 

Manchester City (England) vs. Ajax (Netherlands) 

Liverpool (England) vs. Benefica (Portugal) 

Dortmund (Germany) vs. Sheriff Tirsaspol (Moldova) 

Real Madrid (Spain) vs. VFL Wolfsburg (Germany) 

Bayern (Germany) vs. Atalanta (Italy) 

Manchester United (England) vs. Juventus (Italy) 

RB Salzburg (Austria) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France) 

Chelsea (England) vs. Internazionale (Italy) 

Manchester City, a finalist in last year’s competition, would overcome Ajax in two games. Likewise, the ever-strong Liverpool would easily dispatch the smaller Benefica and progress. Sheriff’s cinderella story would most likely end quickly by facing Dortmund and their Norwegian forward Erling Haaland, a name lining the top-scoring charts in all eligible categories. Wolfsburg have a prime chance to advance past an inconsistent Real Madrid team in the home and away legs, but it would be a tough fought battle for the Germans. Bayern would quickly end Atalanta’s championship hopes, while Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Chelsea will do the same. Here’s what a quarterfinal matchup draw could look like: 

Manchester City vs. Dortmund 

Liverpool vs. Wolfsburg 

Bayern vs. Chelsea 

Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain 

Two of the 21st century’s most prolific forwards in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi would face each other in a Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain matchup that PSG should easily win with United’s lack of consistency and structure under coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though Ronaldo, aptly named “Mr. Champions League,” could lead the English side to a quarterfinal victory. Not this time, though. Manchester City and Dortmund faced each other in the quarterfinals of last year’s competition, with the English side coming out on top. The same should be true this year. When Bayern Munich and Chelsea last met, the German side won 7-1 on aggregate score. Last year’s champions, the Chelsea side spearheaded by striker Romelu Lukaku has become a force to reckon with as of late. Though predictably a hard-fought battle, the Bavarians would come out on top in two legs. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané would run riot in two legs versus the German underdogs, leading to a swift Liverpool victory. The resulting semifinal draw could look as follows: 

Manchester City vs. Bayern 

Liverpool vs. Paris Saint-Germain 

The star-studded final four would begin with a barnburner: Bayern Munich and Manchester City are two of the world’s best soccer teams. This time, Manchester City’s structured system under coach Pep Guardiola would outclass young Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann in two legs, though the Bayern forward trio of Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and Leroy Sané are capable of making magic happen on the soccer pitch. Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain would be a battle of structure versus individual flair, as Liverpool’s dynamic system under coach Jurgen Klopp could be broken down by the undeniable brilliance of PSG’s squad: Mbappe, Neymar, Messi, Di Maria are all capable of putting goals past even the best defenses in the world. However, PSG has one fault – the aforementioned individual brilliance. An over-reliance on the stars in place of any tactical system to fall back on has proved an issue for the Parisians in the past. It has not come to pass since the introduction of coach Mauricio Pochettino to the squad, either. In two legs, Liverpool should come out on top in a hard-fought battle.

Manchester City vs. Liverpool

If all results pan out as expected, an all-English final looms. It is not an understatement if one says that these squads may be the best in the world, which makes a final matchup even more exciting. Decided in one match instead of two, the final is a do-or-die for Manchester City – a team that has fallen short of expectation for years. In a neutral venue, fans would be balanced. Who comes out on top? 

This time, it should be Liverpool. If the squad remains healthy, the Merseyside Reds have the ability to take out any team on the pitch, a precedent that would not be overcome even facing a star-studded Manchester City. A final victory would give the Reds their seventh Champions League victory, though only their third in the 21st century. 

The beauty of Champions League football is that nobody knows who will come out on top. Predictions entirely flipping, underdogs overcoming top squads, and teams writing stories on the soccer pitch — whatever the result may be, the Champions League season surely gives the world’s best soccer every year. 

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