The Champions League has always been a showcase of footballing drama, and this year’s edition has not disappointed. Although the group stages are not the most exciting in terms of match-ups, the tournament provides increasingly more entertainment in the knock-out stages. Without the cushion of an away-goal rule, teams are encouraged to go all in. 

This year’s edition saw nail-biting thrillers, like the 3-3 draw at the Etihad, Dortmund’s thrilling comeback at the Signal Iduna Park, and PSG’s remarkable four-goal performance on the road, bouncing back from a defeat at Parc des Princes. 

As the competition narrows down to the final four, the question is: Who is the favourite to take it home this year?

Not many had expected the current teams to advance this far in the competition. While Real Madrid stands out as the perennial contender, the other teams are in a very different situation. 

Dortmund, despite their defensive issues and subpar performance in the Bundesliga, has defied expectations. The Germans surprised Europe by making it out of the ‘Group of Death’ – which boasted heavyweights like Paris Saint-Germain, Newcastle United, and AC Milan – but also by advancing against the odds.

Resilient PSG Faces Surprising Dortmund

Interestingly, Paris Saint-Germain will clash with Dortmund once again in the semi-finals after meeting in the UCL group stages. However, both teams had a contrasting journey to this stage.

Luis Enrique’s team knocked Real Sociedad out of the tournament, followed by a dramatic win over Barcelona. PSG overcame the challenging situation with a decisive 4-1 victory after Araújo’s red card in the first half.

Red card or not, nobody can claim Paris does not deserve their current status, and against Dortmund, they are potential favourites. PSG’s previous opponents, Real Sociedad and Barcelona, are teams with vulnerable defences – a weakness that Dortmund shares. 

Dortmund also qualified against teams with subpar defences. However, with a superior attacking trio composed of Barcola, Mbappé and Dembélé, it is fair to say that Paris Saint-Germain would be the favourite from the right side of the draw to make it to the final.

Bayern’s Double-faced Season

The situation on the other side of the semi-final bracket paints a stark contrast. Against the expectations, Bayern defeated Arteta’s Arsenal in a close match. 

Under Thomas Tuchel’s tumultuous tenure, Bayern lost the Bundesliga crown after almost a decade of consecutive wins. As a team the Bavarian club has had a shambolic season. So much so that Tuchel will not continue beyond the summer, which was already announced months ago. 

In many ways, this describes the difference between the Champions and domestic leagues – it’s a matter of consistency. Bayern is a major power in Europe despite weak performances in previous editions of the tournament.

In most cases, Bayern would be the favourite to win the Champions League title. However, on the left side of the draw, they will face the ‘terminator’ and owner of the Champions League: Real Madrid. 

Real Madrid as the Unique Favourite

From the outset of this Champions League campaign, the consensus was clear: the winner between Real Madrid and Manchester City would likely go on to lift the trophy.

Los Blancos not only won it, they won it their way. By shifting different game plans – from a more adventurous approach to a deep block after securing the equalizer – Carlo Ancelotti has yet again shown his tactical acumen. 

After the 4-0 defeat at the Etihad last season, many thought the Italian was not up to the task, mostly because the media portrays Ancelotti as a people’s manager instead of an excellent tactician. 

However, Ancelotti’s longevity and flexibility in management are noteworthy. The Real Madrid manager started as a disciple of Sacchi, and he has evolved from playing defensively in a typical 4-4-2 formation to a set-up that allows players considerable freedom. 

It is not mentioned enough, but Ancelotti has a team that is adaptable to different scenarios, and the Italian switches strategy according to the needs of the matches.

With Manchester City out of the tournament, Real Madrid does not have a real competitor. Historical matchups against Bayern Munich – for instance, the landmark battles in 16/17 and 17/18 when Ronaldo was still at the club – were iconic. Still, at this moment, Real stands without a direct challenger that matches their psychological edge.

Yes, times have changed. But even if we’re talking about these two heavyweights of the Champions League, Madrid has no natural competitor. No other team possesses the unique mentality that they display, which can turn any match upside down. 

Madrid might not be the best team by modern standards, nor the fastest – but it is the best competitor. This makes all the difference, and Manchester City and several other teams have found out the hard way. 

Another reason Real Madrid is the favourite is that they have the most versatile squad. With players like Eduardo Camavinga, Jude Bellingham, and Federico Valverde, Ancelotti is able to shift between chaotic, back-and-forth games and simple possession-oriented domination. This adaptability creates opportunities for dynamic forwards like Vinicius and Rodrygo. 

What matters most in the Champions League isn’t necessarily which team has been the best throughout the season but who responds best to adversarial elements like goals, comebacks, and injuries. The competition invites randomness – adapting and competing are paramount. And nobody excels at this better than Carlo Ancelotti.

Why Other Teams Will Not Be Able to Keep Up

The problem with the other teams is that they have significant weaknesses which are tough to ignore. Paris Saint-Germain and Dortmund’s defences and midfields just do not seem good enough to compete this deep in the Champions League.

Bayern Munich, the primary challenger to Real Madrid, requires a tactical overhaul by Tuchel to counter their deficiencies. Bayern possesses the mental fortitude necessary on its best days. However, at the Bernabeu, it is often a different story. It lacks precision up front, and its defence is far from world-class. 

These shortcomings suggest that Real Madrid has a clear path to the Cup with their robust lineup capable of adapting to any style of play and situation. Real’s experience and strategic flexibility under Carlo Ancelotti’s guidance set them apart, making them the favourites to lift the trophy once more.

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