By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Feb 16, 2015) US Soccer Players – When Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl recently, attention quickly shifted from how the Seattle Seahawks narrowly lost the game to Brady’s place among the league’s best quarterbacks ever and how the Patriots are now one of the winningest franchises ever.
From the NFL to European football, the UEFA Champions League – similar in magnitude and scope to that of the Super Bowl – is back after the winter break. Which team ultimately lifts the Cup this spring will go a long way in determining what teams, players and coaches go down as some of the game’s all-time best.
Although the European Champions Cup dates back to 1955, the tournament that we know today as the Champions League dates from 1992. The revamp happened to add more teams. All of a sudden, the European Cup wasn’t just the winners of each domestic league but the best teams from various European countries. With the world’s best playing in Europe, the Champions League now rivals the World Cup as a barometer of what determines greatness.
The analysis below takes a look at some of the statistical highlights from the 2014-15 Champions League season as well as past editions and how the battle between two Spanish clubs (Real Madrid and Barcelona) could determine which player (Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi) goes down as one of the all-time best.
Below is a look at several factors that could ultimately determine this year’s champion:
Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
In terms of overall titles, Real Madrid has won the Cup the most times (10) and are currently the defending champions after winning it last year. The club has a record of 225-64-89 (514 points) for the best all-time totals. Bayern Munich are in 2nd-place with 396 followed by Barcelona at 361.
This season, all three of these clubs remain in contention. Barcelona has won it four times — including two out of the last six under coach Pep Guardiola — while Bayern is currently at five. Guardiola currently manages Bayern.
Ronaldo vs. Messi
In relation to goals scored, Messi is the tournament’s all-time goals leader with 75, followed by Ronaldo (73 goals) and former Real Madrid and Spain international (who is currently on the New York Cosmos) standout Raul (71). It’s incredible that the two leading scorers in this tournament are still active players who are on teams still in contention to win the trophy. While neither has ever won a World Cup, both can claim Champions League titles.
Both Messi and Ronaldo remain healthy and should play in their respective Round of 16 matches: Barcelona-Manchester City and Real Madrid-Schalke. Messi has eight goals this season in the Champions League; Ronaldo has five. Both have played in six matches so far, every one from the first round.
Casillas vs. Xavi
When it comes to most appearances all time in the competition by a single player, Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez leads the charge with 152, followed by former Manchester United star Ryan Giggs (151) and Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas (146).
Again, two of the players in the top three are active and again feature a dual between the two Spanish giants. The remaining seven players on the list are all retired. Only if Barcelona fails to advance in the next round and Real Madrid reaches the final can Casillas (who would need to play in every game) catch Xavi atop the leader board.
Ancelotti vs. Enrique
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has won the Champions League three times as a coach (last season with Real and two previous times with AC Milan). Ancelotti also won the Cup as a player (in 1989 and 1990) as a member of the mighty AC Milan squad that featured Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. Enrique, on the other hand, has never won the trophy – either as a player or manager.
Both coaches have gone through periods of “crisis” this season. Enrique was embroiled in his own controversy after several losses highlighted his possible discord with Messi. That, in turn, fuelled rumors that he was eyeing a transfer to another club. Ancelotti has also come under fire – and Real’s 4-0 rout to Atletico Madrid this month exposed the team’s defensive weaknesses.
Real/Barca vs. Atletico Madrid
Although Real and Barca seem poised to make deep runs in the knockout phase, it could be another Spanish club, Atletico Madrid, who could reach the final once again. Runners-up last season, Atleti may find the Liga title out of reach for now, but can use it as an opportunity for coach Diego Simeone to refocus on capturing the continental title.
Atletico Madrid takes on Bayern Leverkusen in the Round of 16. It remains to be seen if it can topple Real or Barca, two teams that have not only dominated the Champions League in the past, but could very well do so again in the future.
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