With the world’s premium club competition kicking off once again this week, ambulance Conall Devlin discusses who will be the biggest contenders in this year’s Champion’s League.

Main Challengers

Barcelona- the Champions are back and seemingly better than ever with the arrival of Arsenal captain Cesc Fábregas and Udinese winger Alexis Sanchez bolstering what is already the most technically gifted midfield and strike force in the world. The one worry for Barcelona remains with their defence, particularly when injury prone captain Carles Puyol is absent. The early season form of defensive-midfielder-come-centre-back Javier Mascherano however, would seem to suggest that he is comfortable in his new role alongside Gerard Pique when needed. It remains Barca’s trophy to lose.

Real Madrid- they have run their bitter rivals close both in Europe and on the domestic front of late so Real will feel as though they are ready to take the next step this year. While they possess natural flair and abundant ability in Cristiano Ronaldo, Mezut Özil and Angel Di Maria, Madrid remain a primarily functional and cohesive athletic unit, indicative of manager Jose Mourinho’s style of at Porto and Chelsea. They are a match for any team on a good day and may well have to attempt to conquer their Catalan counterparts on the greatest stage of them all once more.

Manchester United- runners up in Wembley in May, United have rejuvenated their squad somewhat over the summer with the signings of Ashley Young, David De Gea and Phil Jones and the emergence of previously on loan Tom Cleverley as a potentially viable long-term replacement for Paul Scholes. Integral as ever to their efforts are the centre back pairing of the ageing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic while a maturing Wayne Rooney appears to have adopted an almost Eric Cantona-esque (a la 1995) leadership role for the Red Devils. Inexperience may be their only downfall, however expect United to be in the mix yet again.

Dark Horses-

Manchester City- the most exorbitant squad in football history venture into the Promised Land of Champions League football for the first time. Key summer signings Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero and Samir Nasri join Yaya Toure and captain Vincent Kompany as key personnel for the Mancunians (to name but a few). City possess a copious number of world class players capable of challenging rivals for the trophy provided some semblance of balance and team unity is established under Roberto Mancini. It’s an unenviable task.

Bayern Munich- Bayern have an added incentive in this year’s competition with the final taking place on home turf in the Allianz Arena. The Germans boast the proven talent of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller but the fitness of Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben is crucial to providing their cutting edge. Injury permitting they have the experience to go one step further than they did in 2010 when they lost Inter Milan in the final.

Surprise packages-

Borussia Dortmund- as the financial power of Europe’s elite widens with the rest of the competition year on year, surprise packages are increasingly few and far between. However Dortmund come into this year’s competition as Bundesliga champions, perhaps under the radar of the casual punter. They have amongst the ranks the next influx of German talent in Ilkay Gundogan and Mario Gotze and may well become household names by the time the trophy is lifted on the 19th May 2012 in Munich.

Conall Devlin