Who Will Take Home The Title?
The 2021/22 Champions League final is still relatively fresh in the memory, with Real Madrid beating Liverpool 1-0 at the Stade de France in late May. But attention has already turned to the next edition of the competition, the qualifying rounds for which are already under way.
The Champions League 2022/23 promises to be as entertaining and exciting as ever. Europe’s biggest football competition never disappoints, and it will be fascinating to see which team will triumph this time around.
Can Real Madrid retain the trophy they won under Carlo Ancelotti last term, or might Barcelona usurp their arch-rivals and the rest of the continent? Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea will be vying to bring the prize back to England, while Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain will be flying the flag for Germany and France respectively. Perhaps this will be the season when the Champions League is won by an Italian club again, with Serie A’s last triumph coming courtesy of Inter back in 2010.
Not everyone knows that there are dozens of Champions League matches held before the group stage starts in September. At the same time that the teams mentioned above are conducting lucrative pre-season tours around the globe, many smaller sides around Europe are beginning their quest to qualify for the biggest club competition in the world.
Champions League Qualifying: Recent Success Stories
The preliminary qualifying round took place in June. On July 5 the first qualifying round begins, followed by the second round on July 19, the third round on August 2, and the play-offs on August 16. Different teams will enter at different stages depending on various factors such as their performance last season and the country they come from.
Twenty-six teams have automatically qualified for the group stage of the Champions League, including all of the heavyweights we mentioned earlier. That means there are just six places up for grabs for the 52 teams that will participate in the qualifying rounds.
We have already lost three of those outfits in FCI Levadia, La Fiorita and Inter Club d’Escaldes, all of whom were eliminated in the preliminary round. That means there are 49 sides still standing – in this article we have crunched the numbers to work out which six are most likely to qualify for the group phase and have at least six more Champions League fixtures to look forward to.
Let us start with some bad news for the vast majority of the 29 clubs that are about to begin their European journeys in the first qualifying round, including sides from Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Albania, Gibraltar and North Macedonia. For most of these teams it is highly unlikely that they will make it through to the tournament proper.
It is only the most recognisable names in this section, such as Malmo, Ludogorets Razgrad and Qarabag, that have a realistic chance of battling their way through the entire process.
Over the last five years, just four teams have advanced from the first qualifying round all the way through to the group stage of the Champions League: Malmo and Sheriff Tiraspol in 2021/22, Ferencvaros in 2020/21, Red Star Belgrade in both 2019/20 and 2018/19.
As for the second round entrants, which this year include the likes of Olympiacos, Dynamo Kyiv and Fenerbahce among its automatic entrants, there is a better chance of reaching the final 32.
In the last five years, Young Boys (2021/22), Midtjylland (2020/21), Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb (both 2019/20), Ajax (2018/19), and Celtic, APOEL, Maribor and Qarabag (all 2017/18) have achieved the feat of entering in the second round of qualifying and going on to rub shoulders with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Bayern Munich in the group stage.
On the face of it that might not sound like much, but consider that there have only been 64 automatic entrants to the second round in that time, giving a qualification success rate of 14 per cent – significantly higher than the 3.7 per cent chance for first-round entrants.
Third Round and Play-Offs
Eight teams will start in the third qualifying round this year, including Benfica, Rangers and Red Star Belgrade. Over the last five seasons, 39 sides have begun their Champions League campaign at this stage – and a total of eight have gone on to reach the group phase, giving a success rate of 20.5 per cent.
Finally, two teams – Copenhagen and Trabzonspor – have been given byes all the way to the play-off round, which means they are just one two-legged victory away from qualifying for the Champions League. In the five campaigns since 2017/18, 18 teams have started in the play-offs and 11 have reached the tournament proper, which works out as a 73.3 per cent chance of making it.
Champions League 2022/23 Qualifying: Who Will Make It Through?
In the table below you will find the 32 teams we predict will qualify for the group stage of the competition. Our forecasts are based on the sides’ recent record in the Champions League, which we will explore in more detail below. The teams not in bold are those which qualified for the group phase automatically via different methods.
|Team||Country||Method of Qualification|
|Real Madrid||Spain||Champions League Winners|
|Eintracht Frankfurt||Germany||Europa League Winners|
|Manchester City||England||Premier League Winners|
|AC Milan||Italy||Serie A Winners|
|Bayern Munich||Germany||Bundesliga Winners|
|Paris Saint-Germain||France||Ligue 1 Winners|
|Porto||Portugal||Primeira Liga Winners|
|Atletico Madrid||Spain||League Position|
|RB Leipzig||Germany||League Position|
|Tottenham Hotspur||England||League Position|
|Borussia Dortmund||Germany||League Position|
|Shakhtar Donetsk||Ukraine||Premier League Winners|
|Bayer Leverkusen||Germany||League Position|
|Sporting CP||Portugal||League Position|
|Red Bull Salzburg||Austria||Bundesliga Winners|
|Club Brugge||Belgium||First Division A Winners|
|Red Star Belgrade||Qualifying Rounds||Predicted|
|Dynamo Kyiv||Qualifying Rounds||Predicted|
So, why do we favour the six sides above over the likes of Rangers, PSV Eindhoven and Dinamo Zagreb, who will also be involved in the Champions League 2022/23 qualification process?
Quite simply, the objective analysis helped us reach our conclusion: we looked at the data from the last five seasons and calculated how many times each of the 52 teams involved in this year’s qualifying progressed to the group stage.
Olympiacos and Benfica have done it four times in the last five campaigns, so we fancy their chances of doing so again this time around. Olympiacos will have it tougher, though, since they will begin their Champions League fixtures in the second round.
Dynamo Kyiv, Monaco and Red Star Belgrade have participated in the group phase twice in the last five years. Like Olympiacos, Dynamo Kyiv will also make their bow in the second round, potentially complicating their route through to the final 32.
That left one spot up for grabs. PSV, Dinamo Zagreb, Viktoria Plzen, Qarabag, Malmo, Sheriff Tiraspol, Ferencvaros, Maribor and Midtjylland have all qualified for the Champions League group stage once since 2017/18. For our final prediction, we, therefore, combined this knowledge with some subjective analysis to pick out PSV. The Dutch side pushed Ajax very close in the Eredivisie title race last term, and the fact they will enter in the third qualifying round means they are just two aggregate wins away from the group phase.
Champions League 2022/23 Group Stage
Now this is where it gets really exciting. Let’s apply the same formula we used above to the group stage in order to work out the teams that are likeliest to make it through to the round of 16. A caveat to start: this is by no means a scientific study and, just like investing, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Just because a team reached the last 16 in four of the last five seasons, it does not mean they will do so again in 2022/23.
Another factor to bear in mind is the draw for the group stage, which will be made towards the end of August. Last season Barcelona were drawn in a tricky group alongside Bayern Munich, Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv, and were eliminated before the knockout phase. A kinder draw might have allowed them to progress.
Another pertinent example is Eintracht Frankfurt, whose Europa League triumph last season means they are in Pot One for the group stage draw alongside the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City. In theory, they should be handed a kinder draw than would have been the case had they qualified by finishing in the top four of the Bundesliga. Factors like these will have a big say in determining which 16 teams make it out of the group stage.
Even so, there is plenty we can learn from the last five years of data. It is a substantial enough sample size, giving teams the chance to make up for the odd bad season. And as long-term followers of the Champions League will know, there are a handful of teams that advance to the round of 16 year after year, usually with a minimum of fuss.
So, without further ado, the table below shows the 16 teams we are tipping to qualifying for the knockout stage of the 2022/23 Champions League.
Round of 16
|Team||Country||Round of 16 Appearances|
We will discuss the likes of Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich later in this article – in this section we will focus on the teams that have made three or fewer appearances in the last 16 of the Champions League in the last five seasons.
Tottenham were the runners-up in 2018/19 but were absent from the competition last time out. In Antonio Conte they have one of the best managers in the European game, and there are not many better players than Harry Kane and Son Heung-min in their respective positions. Borussia Dortmund and Porto have also advanced to the knockout phase more often than not since 2017/18, so as long as the draw is not too unkind both teams should make it through again.
Sevilla, Ajax and RB Leipzig have each made two appearances in the round of 16 in the period we are looking at. The Spanish side were narrowly beaten by Borussia Dortmund at this stage in 2020/21. Ajax reached the semi-finals in 2018/19 before losing to Tottenham, while Leipzig reached the last four in 2019/20.
That leaves one spot remaining. The choice is between Napoli, Inter, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, Sporting CP and Red Salzburg, all of whom have reached the last 16 once in the last half-decade.
Statistically Benfica have the best record, having reached the quarter-finals last term. But the Portuguese giants are not yet through to the group stage, with their Champions League fixtures beginning in the third qualifying round. The situation in Ukraine will make it difficult for Shakhtar to progress, while Sporting CP and Napoli would need a kind draw to advance.
Our choice to make it through to the round of 16 is therefore Inter. The Serie A side only narrowly missed out on the title to AC Milan last season, and they also pushed Liverpool all the way in the first knockout round of the Champions League. Inter have underachieved in Europe in recent years, but they have a good chance of reaching the last 16 for the second consecutive campaign.
Again, this section will focus on the teams towards the bottom of the above table. Five clubs have made it through to the quarter-finals twice in the last five seasons: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
Dig a little deeper, though, and it is clear that these five sides do not have identical records at all. Juventus, for instance, have never reached a semi-final in the period we are looking at, and none of their quarter-final appearances came in the last three years.
Juventus have gone backwards since the end of Max Allegri’s first spell in charge, and they could struggle to make it into the last eight this term. A fourth-place finish in Serie A last season is further evidence of their decline – remember, it is not that long since the Bianconeri won a ninth Italian championship in a row.
Porto are the other side whose journey we predict will not go beyond the quarters. The Portuguese outfit did not make it beyond the final eight in the last five years, and they only narrowly scraped through their last two successful round of 16 ties, against Juventus in 2020/21 and against Roma in 2018/19.
Now we are really down to the business end of the competition. Over the last five years, 13 different teams have participated in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Villarreal, Lyon and Roma are among them, and none of those teams has even qualified for the group stage this year. Ajax and RB Leipzig have also made it through to the semi-finals since 2017/18.
With three appearances apiece, we are backing Real Madrid and Liverpool to reach the semi-finals once again. Based on their records in the last five years, Bayern Munich and Manchester City look well positioned to join them.
We could have opted for Paris Saint-Germain. The French giants, like Bayern and City, have reached the semi-finals on two occasions since 2017/18. In Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, they have arguably the most talented front three in football history – although the latter member of that trio could be on his way out of the Parc des Princes. Mbappe looks like an astute choice to finish as the Champions League top scorer.
But PSG have continually disappointed in this competition. Granted, they did reach the final in 2019/20 and were not markedly inferior on the night to Bayern Munich, who ran out 1-0 winners. But PSG crashed and burned last season, going out to Real Madrid in the last 16 despite being 2-0 up on aggregate with less than 30 minutes of the tie remaining. We expect PSG to once again fall short in their ongoing quest to win the club’s first-ever European Cup.
Final and Winner
Sound familiar? The data over the last few years points towards Liverpool and Real Madrid making it all the way through to the Champions League final, just as they did in the 2021/22 campaign. In the five seasons we have analysed in this article, these are the only two teams who have reached the showpiece event on more than occasion. Manchester City and Bayern Munich, our other predicted semi-finalists, have only played in one final each.
Madrid are the most successful side in the history of this competition. Their triumph last season was their 14th in total, which means they have double the amount of Champions Leagues than the next-best AC Milan.
If the tournament had been played in a round-robin format, Madrid probably would not have won it in 2021/22. They were outplayed at times in each of their knockout ties, against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City. Yet their potent blend of quality and experience meant they continually found a way to win, including in the final at the Stade de France.
Liverpool had more possession in that match. They took 23 shots to Madrid’s three, and landed nine on target to their opponents’ one. Yet despite appearing to dominate statistically, Liverpool were unable to avoid defeat. Vinicius Junior grabbed the all-important goal in the 59th minute to send the trophy back to Madrid.
These two sides have been the most consistent in the Champions League over the last five years, with Madrid’s two victories compared to Liverpool’s one arguably giving them the edge. But might the 2021/22 campaign have been this Madrid team’s last hurrah? Luka Modric and Karim Benzema, arguably their two most important players, are now in their mid-30s. Madrid have some talented youngsters in the ranks, but it might take a little while longer for the likes of Rodrygo, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni to bed in as regular starters.
If these teams were to again meet in the final, just as they did in 2018 and 2022, perhaps Liverpool could make it third time lucky. Jurgen Klopp’s side have vast experience in the Champions League and the addition of Darwin Nunez should give them additional firepower up front. Their style of play might actually be better suited to knockout football than a league format, and if everyone stays fit Liverpool do not have any notable weaknesses.
History shows that a repeat of the previous year’s final is rare, so perhaps at least one of Liverpool or Madrid will not make it to the Ataturk Olympic Stadium on June 10. Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain might finally make the breakthrough in Europe, while Bayern Munich and Chelsea – both of whom have won the competition in the last five years – could get their hands on the trophy once more. One thing is for sure: the 2022/23 Champions League will be box-office viewing, just as it is every year.
Eintracht Frankfurt are the Europa League holders and knocked out Barcelona among others on the path to glory last season. The fact they are in Pot One boosts their chances of reaching the knockout phase; it is plausible that their opponents in the group stage could be Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk and Club Brugge.
AC Milan are also in Pot One thanks to their Serie A title triumph. This is a club that knows what it takes to be successful in Europe, although the current team has minimal experience at this level. Even so, a kind draw could help Milan into the last 16 – and from there they might fancy their chances of a run to the latter stages.
Ajax are another team that could spring a surprise against more fancied names. Erik ten Hag has joined Manchester United, but the Dutch giants tend to handle managerial transitions well. Ajax were superb in the group stage last season and, like Frankfurt and AC Milan, are in Pot One for the draw. They too could be potential dark horses in the 2022/23 Champions League.