PUNDIT Paul Merson has made some early Champions League predictions for the upcoming season naming his five favourites to lift the famous trophy.
But the Arsenal legend made a huge call by omitting one of Europe’s top clubs as he doesn’t see them as a threat to win it.
Merson, 54, told Sportskeeda that he can’t see Real Madrid making it back-to-back Champions League victories.
He said: “I just can’t wrap my head around what they did last season. Were they great, or did they just get lucky?
“They were effectively out of the competition three times in the knockout stages against PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City but managed to defy the odds each time.
“They prevailed in the final despite Liverpool playing better football and creating better chances. It was one of the most one-sided finals I’ve seen.
“Karim Benzema, who is deservedly the front-runner for the 2022 Ballon d’Or, had one of the biggest purple patches of his career last time around, but can he carry on in the same vein this season?”
So, who does Merson think are the top five contenders for European glory this time around?
He is confident that we could once again see an all English final if the draw allows.
Pep Guardiola’s side are still searching for that elusive Champions League trophy.
Over recent years they have been dubbed the favourites multiple times but always stumble having lost the 2021 final to Chelsea and in 2022 they suffered that shock last-gasp defeat to Real Madrid.
Perhaps the signing of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund will be enough to give them the edge. He has netted an incredible 23 goals in 19 Champions League appearances.
Merson thinks his success isn’t guaranteed however. He calls City “the best team in world football” but suggests the pressure on winning the Champions League “could prove detrimental.”
The 2020 winners are again one of the club’s to keep an eye on.
Despite losing star striker Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona, Merson still sees them as a big threat in Europe’s top club competition.
He stresses that the signing of Sadio Mane can be key as they look to avoid another upset after being knocked out last season to Villarreal.
Merson states: “Mane is a different player when compared to Lewandowski, but he’s a big-game player and will take them to the next level.
“I think the former Liverpool man is my player to watch out for in the Champions League this season.”
He also says Bayern will go all-out for Champions League triumph: “They will win the German top flight even if I play at the back for them next season.”
Last year’s runners-up will again be a contender to win it this time around.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have a stunning record in the tournament making the final three of the last five times (winning twice).
Merson says: “‘If you look across the board, Liverpool have world-class players in each position.
“It’ll be interesting to see how Darwin Nunez copes at Anfield.
“They paid a lot of money for him and Klopp hardly ever gets it wrong when it comes to attackers, so we’ll have to wait and see if the boy turns out to be a special player.”
Thomas Tuchel’s side won the Champions League in 2020 and Merson believes they could do it again.
There was disappointment last time out losing in the quarter-final to Real Madrid in a thrilling contest.
But Chelsea’s strength defensively can be key on the continent claims the ex-England international.
Merson said: “You have to be tight at the back to win the Champions League and Chelsea are been defensively tidy.
“Reece James and Ben Chilwell – who I regard as the best pair of full-backs in world football – can make things happen on both ends of the pitch.”
He is equally impressed with the signing of Kalidou Koulibaly and Raheem Sterling, who he “really admires”.
Barcelona failed to even make it out the group stages last season but Xavi is re-building the side and they could be a Champions League challenger again.
Merson believes the signings they have made could propel the club back to where they should be.
He said: “One minute I hear about their debts, but the next thing I know, they snap up Robert Lewandowski for big money! It’s extraordinary, isn’t it?
“Lewandowski is a goalscoring machine and will undoubtedly continue to bang them in at his new club.
“I give Barcelona a chance because of the signings they’ve made.”