Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane favourite to bag Champions League hat-trick

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 12 September 2017, 12:57

The Champions League makes its eagerly anticipated comeback this week as 32 of the continents top clubs do battle in the tournament’s 26th season since its inauguration, while in total it will be the 63rd edition of the European Cup.

32 managers from 16 nationalities take part in this season’s competition, and shockingly or perhaps not shockingly, not a single one is English, while Brendan Rodgers (Northern Ireland) is the only representative from the UK and Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, its Portugal lead the way with six gaffers, followed by Italy with five, and three from Spain and Argentina.

Below we take a look at the main managerial talking points ahead of tonight's big kick-off.

Can anyone stop Zidane?

Back-to-back winner Zidane once again has history in his sights as he aims to become the first manager in the history of the European Cup to win the continent’s showpiece spectacle three times on the spin.

4/1 favourites Real Madrid, have a record 12 European Cups to their name, three of which have come in the last four years, and Los Blancos now have the chance to become the first club since Bayern Munich (1974-76) to win the tournament three times in a row.

Zidane's chargers are the rightful favourites for glory, but may face an early test with the champions placed in the Group of Death alongside Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, and APOEL.

Pressure on Emery to strike gold

Next in the betting is Unai Emery’s PSG (13/2) who infamously blew a 4-0 first-leg lead over Barcelona last season, losing 6-5 on aggregate following an astonishing Catalan comeback at the Nou Camp.

The mega rich club have once again splashed the cash, luring over the likes of Neymar and Mbappe to Paris, two stunning additions, meaning the pressure is on Emery to succeed, and a failure to do so could cost him his job.

Emery famously led Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League triumphs, but the Spaniard will now be gunning to double up and win the Champions League, joining the likes of Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, who have won both tournaments.

Ancelotti has his eye on two records

Hot on PSG’s heels are the only other two clubs (both 7/1) that have hoisted the Champions League trophy in the last five years: Barcelona (2015) and Bayern Munich (2013).

Bayern have three-time winner Ancelotti who is attempting to become the first manager to:

1 - Win the European Cup four times.

2 - Win the European Cup with three different clubs.

The Italian, who has rubbished reports that he’s set to dart off to China, previously led AC Milan to victory in 2003 and 2007, then won Real Madrid ‘La Decima’ in 2014, but in his first season at Bayern he lost out to former club Real in the quarter-finals.

Valverde aiming for success with Barcelona

Barcelona entered into a new managerial era in the summer after Luis Enrique left the club, with former Barca forward Ernesto Valverde venturing over from Athletic Bilbao. Valverde is tasked with winning every competition in which Barca enter, including the Champions League, with the Catalan club's last success coming in 2015 - they are level with rivals Real on four successes this millennium.

It will be interesting to see how Valverde fares as he has a fourth crack at the Champions League, following one season stints with Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Olympiakos. The Spaniard has only once experienced life in the latter stages - a last-16 showing with Valencia (2012/13) - although it’s worth remembering that he took charge of the club in December of that season.

Guardiola & Mourinho lead Premier League contingent

There may be no English managers anywhere to be seen, but at least the Premier League has a whopping five representatives in Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, and Tottenham, with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal missing out.

In addition, Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic are also involved in the action, although the Scottish giants are a whopping 750/1 shot to repeat their success of 1966/67.

Mourinho and Guardiola are both bidding to win the Champions League for a third time, with Man Utd and Man City both priced at 11/1 in the betting, ahead of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea (18/1), Klopp’s Liverpool (22/1), and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham (40/1).

Chelsea, under caretaker boss Roberto Di Matteo, were the last English club to taste success (2015), while the only other victors this century were Man Utd (2007/08) and Liverpool (2004/05). Furthermore, no Premier League team has reached the Final since the Blues five years ago.

Meanwhile, according to an analytical study by Gracenote Sports it’s Klopp’s Liverpool who have the best chance, out of the six British clubs, of progressing through to the knockout stages (81%).

But, one manager who certainly will not be excited about the return of the Champions League is Arsene Wenger, who will not be able to add to his 188 match tally in the competition after Arsenal failed to qualify, meaning the Gunners have to settle for Thursday nights in the Europa League.


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