Although the 2019/20 Champions League campaign only finished recently, with the Champions League final taking place on August 23rd, this year’s tournament is already here. The schedule for the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League is stacked tight. There are thirty-two qualifiers for the UEFA Champions League group stage, with 26 qualifying automatically via their national leagues and six joining as play-off winners. Bayern Munich won the final in Lisbon against Paris Saint-Germain to become European Champions for the sixth time and will be defending their title.
Like every year, there are a few surprise qualifiers for the UEFA Champions League group stage. We take a look at four unexpected clubs who qualified for the 2020/21 Champions League.
4 surprise Champions League qualifiers
The Greek Olympiacos qualified for the group stage of the Champions League after overcoming their final play-off against Cypriot Omonia. The Greek 45-time champion will, once again, be among the 32 teams fighting to win the cup with big ears. The Thrylos won the first leg at Georgios Karaiskakis with 2-0 and got a 0-0 draw in Cyprus. Omonia could not be more shocking after having kicked out Polish Legia and the Serbian Red Star.
The last time Olympiacos got past the Champions League group stage goes back to the 2009–10 season. The Greek club made it to the round of 16 when they lost to Bordeaux. This time around, Brazil youth international Rafinha and his teammates will play against Manchester City, Olympique Marseille, and FC Porto. Olympiacos is very tactically astute and caused problems for both Wolves and Tottenham in Europe last season and are likely competing with Marseille and FC Porto for third place this season.
The 19th of July 2020 marked a historic date for Istanbul Başakşehir, as the club were crowned champions of the Turkish Süper Lig for the first time in their history. The Istanbul-based club were runners-up in 2016–17 and 2018–19 but, this time, were able to go one better and finish above rivals such as Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, Trabzonspor and Besiktas. Being crowned champions of Turkey, they are automatically one of the qualifiers for the group stage of the Champions League.
Istanbul Başakşehir have never made it to the UEFA Champions League group stage before, as the Baykuş got kicked out by Olympiacos in the third qualifying round last season. The Turkish champions signed two former Premier League stars ahead of their debut Champions League campaign in Belgian winger Nacer Chadli and Brazilian defender Rafael. Istanbul will play Man United, PSG and RB Leipzig, playing their first game against the latter.
Having enjoyed a good season in the Ligue 1, managing a place on the championship podium behind PSG and Marseille, Rennes will now play in the Champions League in 2020-2021. Until recently, Stade Rennes were not a club known for domestic success but they are certainly on the rise now in France and Europe. Les Rouges et Noirs are owned by François Pinault, the third richest French person, and are aiming to challenge many French top-tier clubs such as PSG and Olympique Marseille.
The Bretons will play against Chelsea and Sevilla, winners of the last two Europa League finals and FC Krasnodar. Rennes are currently first in the Ligue 1 and, with players like Guirassy, Aguerd, Terrier and Nzonzi, have reinforced an already talented team. Eduardo Camavinga, one of the biggest French talents at the moment, is staying at the club. The club recently acquired Jeremy Doku from Anderlecht, one of the most promising young Belgian players.
Danish club Midtjylland are perhaps the most surprising Champions League qualifiers this year. After battling through four qualification rounds to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage and beating Slavia Prague 4-1 in a sensational turnaround in a historic playoff win over the Czech champions in Denmark, Midtjylland are making their first appearance in the Champions League.
The Danes have been drawn in Group D alongside Dutch giants Ajax, Italians Atalanta and Premier League champions Liverpool and thus, face a difficult challenge in their debut. Even if the Danes finish fourth and last in their group, they will be happy to play against some big European clubs and will be ready for a shirt swap at the end of every game.
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