Spain has become the first nation ever to have five teams qualify for the Champions League group stage after Valencia’s victory over Monaco in their qualification tie on Wednesday.
Nuno Santo’s side were beaten by their French hosts 1-2 on the night, but still went through 4-3 on aggregate after a strong showing at the Mestalla. Former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo got the all important goal to see them through.
And so now Valencia join Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who qualify automatically by virtue of their final La Liga positions in the 2014/15 season, and Sevilla, who earned their spot by winning the Europa League, in doing battle for club football’s richest prize.
It is perhaps no surprise that Spanish teams continue to dominate, with four of them winning four of the last seven renewals of the competition. They also lead UEFA’s coefficient rankings, which is the system that the organisation uses to work out how many qualifying spots get dished out to each European country.
Best in the World
These Spanish greats will of course be joined by some of the world’s best teams as they battle it out for the biggest accolade in club football. Juventus will be hoping to go one better than last year when they were beaten finalists at the hands of Barcelona, whilst five-time winners Bayern Munich will be hoping to avenge their semi-final defeat against the Catalan giants too.
The English charge will be led by Chelsea, whose recent signing of Pedro could help to push them into the realm of tournament contenders if they can sort out their shaky defence. Manchester City have started the season in fine form, with the attacking triumvirate of David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero looking deadly, whilst Arsenal are seemingly on the verge of taking things to the next level.
All of these sides named, plus French champions PSG, dominate the bookmakers odds. It will be interesting to see if the signing of Angel Di Maria can push the Parisians onto new and exciting levels.
And then there are those sides who can do untold amounts of damage in the group stages, without necessarily being contenders for that famous trophy. Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk are a good side who are incredibly tough to beat at home, and they knocked out the more-fancied Athletic Bilbao at the group stage last year. CSKA Moscow will be hoping to tread a similar path this time around.
Whoever you fancy to challenge for the big prize, there’s no doubting it is going to be a tournament to savour once again.
By: Craig Simpkin