Competition in the Champions League this season is as hot as ever. Throughout the years tactical trends have seen teams from certain countries enjoy a period of continental dominance, but that no longer looks to be the case.
A decade ago the Premier League’s mixture of robust physicality and richly acquired stars saw two of the division’s best sides, Manchester United and Chelsea, face off in the final. English teams also regularly took up quarter-final and semi-final berths.
Then came the possession era, brought about by Pep Guardiola’s thrilling Barcelona side, who were twice winners in the space of three years. After that, the Bundesliga’s pressing and counter-attacking antidote to the possession purveyors led to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund sharing the Wembley pitch for the 2013 final.
More recently Real Madrid, winners of three of the last four Champions Leagues, and neighbours Atlético have brought ruthless efficiency to the fore, twice bringing their cross-city rivalry to Europe’s grandest stage.
This season, however, the contenders are spread much more evenly. The current bookmakers’ favourites are Premier League champions-elect Manchester City, who have never been beyond the semi-final stage, much less got their hands on the famous trophy.
Real Madrid will once again be in the mix, while big-spending Paris Saint-Germain, Italian champions Juventus and unbeaten La Liga leaders Barcelona ensure the cabal of top contenders for this season’s Champions League is an eclectic bunch.
With that in mind, we’ve taken a deep dive into the statistics to see which of the clubs with their eye on the top prize are leading the way in key categories.
To win the Champions League, along with a sprinkling of good fortune along the way, a team needs to be proficient in all areas; able to score against elite backlines and capable of shutting out the game’s best attacks.
When it comes to attacking prowess, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who smashed Porto 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie in February, lead the way. The Reds are the Champions League’s top scorers this season, hitting the net 28 times in seven games, giving them a frankly ridiculous average of four goals per game.
However, Paris Saint-Germain follow closely behind in second with 26 goals. And considering they have faced opposition the calibre of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid this term, their goals return is perhaps even more impressive than Liverpool’s.
The Merseysiders do not top the scoring charts by chance, though; their thrilling and dynamic attack, spearheaded by the trio of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, also averages the third-most total shots per game (19) and second-most shots on target per match (8.6).
Real Madrid figure second in total shots per game with 20.1, marginally behind Bayern (20.4), with Los Blancos hitting the target more regularly than any side (8.6 shots on target per game).
While Liverpool’s attack has been the most productive so far, the reigning champions of Europe are proving once again they have the firepower to go all the way.
Liverpool’s attacking force will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen them regularly in the Premier League this season, but the fact the Reds also boast the Champions League’s most effective defence is rather more shocking.
Having spent a world-record £75million on Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk in January, the Anfield outfit have been altogether more sturdy at the back. But their average of just 7.6 total shots allowed per game in the Champions League this term, the lowest in the competition, suggests Klopp’s defence was performing well even before the former Celtic defender’s arrival.
Liverpool have not been the Champions League’s busiest defenders, however, with that distinction going to their last-16 opponents Porto, who average more successful tackles (21) and aerial duels (16.9) per game than any side still in the competition.
It will surprise no one that the crown for this season’s Champions League’s pass masters is a battle between Barcelona and Manchester City. Dominance of possession and astute ball circulation has long been a key tenet of the Catalan side’s overarching philosophy, in which City boss Guardiola was indoctrinated while rising through the club’s ranks as a young midfielder.
Barça average the greatest share of possession per game, seeing a whopping 63.3 per cent of the ball, closely trailed by City with 61.3 per cent. The team third in the average possession stakes, however, are not as obvious a choice: Manchester United‘s last-16 foes Sevilla average a share of 59 per cent possession.
Crucially, however, City have diversified their attack this season by leading the Champions League in dribbles per game (19.9), ahead of PSG (17), showing Guardiola’s competition favourites have more than one way to break down their opposition, thus justifying their status with the odds makers.