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Champions League Day 2: Pretenders and Contenders

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In a day that had soccer fans around the world salivating, the giants of the game did not disappoint.

SL Benfica v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Group E Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

With the first match week in the books, some true contenders asserted themselves while others slipped.

Pretenders

Manchester United

This team has quality all over the park, but they seem to win in spite of their manager Jose Mourinho. Mourinho is one of the great managers in UCL history, but his defensive style is becoming increasingly outdated. Unless he decides to loosen the reins on the offense and allow the likes of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial run rampant, their defense will be broken down and they will not have an answer against tougher competition. If the Portuguese boss keeps his job past the group stage, United will be out in the round of 16.

Roma

You can never fault Roma for their effort or their set up. Eusebio Di Francesco is a very effective manager, but when your best players are poached on such a consistent basis, maintaining a high standard of play is difficult. There are some promising young players on the roster, but the quality just isn’t there.

Hoffenheim

Not that Hoffenheim was ever even considered a contender, but today’s struggles against a solid Donetsk side indicates that Julian Nagelsmann doesn’t have the squad to get the job done. The prodigious manager installed a strong game plan and seemed to have pulled off his first UCL victory before letting it slip away at the end. German clubs not named Bayern continue to disappoint in European competition.

Contenders

Real Madrid

This team is better without Ronaldo—full stop. Julen Lopetegui has instilled a team-first mentality that is allowing the Galacticos to flourish. Gareth Bale looks like he has a new lease on life, while Isco, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can boss a midfield individually. Their fluid movement and interplay today was soccer at its finest. Their attacking play no longer relies on one key figure, which makes them even more dangerous going forward. Preventing a four-peat will be no easy task.

Juventus

The team that added Cristiano Ronaldo were forced to get the job done without him today as he saw a contentious red card. Despite the dismissal, Juventus dominated the match and realistically should have won by 4 or 5 goals. This team was a semi-finalist and finalist before Ronaldo’s arrival and they will be after it. Their back line is *arguably* the best in the world and they are a juggernaut going forward. Once Allegri figures out where CR7 fits in the team and the attack becomes more cohesive they will be the last team anyone wants to face. Undoubtedly, Bayern Munich will draw them in the quarterfinals.

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola has been trying to guard against complacency since an early draw in the Premier League against Wolverhampton. Well, City finally got their wake-up call after being torched in the first half by an impressive Lyon. The “cityzens” bounced back in the second, but were unable to overcome the 2-goal deficit. Pep will return to the touchline following his ban and look to see a rejuvenated Manchester City that is hungrier than ever. The talent and depth are there for all to see; making their UCL dreams come true will come down to the former Bayern Munich manager’s tactical and motivational abilities.

Lyon

The French side issued a declaration of intent Wednesday night as they took the game to Manchester City, borrowing a page from the Jürgen Klopp playbook. This team is full of young talent including Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay, Tanguy Ndombele and Pape Cheikh Diop. They look like a club with the potential to make a run to the quarterfinals, and they will probably do just that. Aggressive counter-attacking play will make them a threat against top teams throughout Europe.

Bayern Munich

The Bavarian giants fielded a weakened-side, yet still dominated in a tricky fixture in Portugal against Benfica. Kovac’s disciplined and aggressive pressing system as well as his authoritarian approach to rotation have served him well early in his tenure at Bayern. The Croatian manager will have some tough decisions to make moving forward since his best line up will probably leave out the likes of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Javi Martinez, but if he continues to manage the squad at this rate and Die Roten avoid an escalation of the injury crisis, this team can match up against anyone in the World. The club is playing with a confidence, team spirit, and solidity so far this campaign that inspires a sense of optimism as the European nights become higher stakes. Oh, and Renato Sanches has arrived!