The La Liga leaders have been in blistering form under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, runaway leaders in La Liga. The Catalan giants have won 15 games from 18 in the league, scoring 54 times in their relentless pursuit of glory. To underline how good they actually are, one need only look at some of their results this season: an away 6-1 destruction of Sporting Gijon, a 4-0 victory over one of their main rivals for the title, Valencia, and an away 5-0 whitewash of FC Basel in the Champions League.
This is in no small part, down to the little Argentinean, Lionel Messi. It is Messi who many now regard as the world’s current in-form player and rightly so. He has eclipsed every other player with displays of breathtaking football, including the brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring a frankly ludicrous total of 20 goals in 22 games so far. Then there is Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, Carles Puyol and Xavi, among others. With a squad of players of such quality, the Catalans are deservedly billed as favourites.
Manchester UnitedThen there is Manchester United, champions of England, Europe, the world. January is the month usually where the Old Trafford outfit raises their a game a level, which is exactly what they have done, destroying Chelsea 3-0 in the process. They are perhaps the only team capable of stifling Barcelona’s attacking play, as they did so last season. Along with the La Liga leaders, Manchester United have one of the two most potent attacks in Europe. Though a long way from his best form, Ronaldo is starting to show why he has been voted the world’s greatest player, whereas Rooney and Berbatov are developing a strong partnership up front. Their defence also speaks volumes, with Ferdinand and Vidic rocks at its heart. Perhaps the only area where the European champions are lacking is in a midfield enforcer, though Darren Fletcher proved last season that he can excel in the role.
It is difficult to see where there is a real weakness in their team, though perhaps the sheer strength in attack from Barcelona could overwhelm even the mighty Red Devils.
Rafa Benitez’s team currently lead the premiership and will be fancied by many for this year’s Champions league. Liverpool have two of the best players in the world, in Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, both capable of single-handedly winning games for their club. Although the Merseysiders have quality across their team, notably Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Agger, if either Gerrard or Torres are injured they are much weaker, such is the importance of the two. Benitez has already masterminded Champions league triumph for Liverpool though, in 2005, with a weaker squad at his disposal, and it would be foolish for any team to ignore their significant threat this campaign.
Under Jose Mourinho Inter are once again being taken very seriously by Europe’s best. They lead Serie A, with a crop of outstanding players. Mourinho considers Zlatan Ibrahimovic to be the best player in the world. They have an experienced side, with Luis Fgo, Adriano and Hernan Crespo, but Inter have considerable talent in attack. They will be a dangerous team for anyone to face, not least as Mourinho is a masterful tactician, already victorious in the competition.
Chelsea, a permament fixture in the latter stages of the Champions League since the beginning of the Abramovich era will have their sights on going one better than last year and lifting the Champions League trophy. However they have stuttered this campaign, in the Champions League and in the Premiership, recently being hammered 3-0 by Manchester United after an awful performance at Old Trafford. Luis Felipe Scolari, the Chelsea manager has conceded that he may not be the man to lead them to glory. It would seem that their team spirit is not what it once was, that their togetherness has been disjointed. They are however desperate to win the Champions League. Struggling in the Premiership, they may view the Champions League as their saving grace. With players such as Didier Drogba, Anelka, Lampard and John Terry, not many teams will want to be drawn against them.