We are slowly heading into the business end of the season, and it is time The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the top contenders for the UEFA Champions League title.

When the season starts every top club imagines getting their hands on the UEFA Champions League title at the end. While 16 teams remain in the competition, only one will get to lift that coveted trophy at the iconic Wembley Stadium in London, England later this year.

Defending champions Manchester City, who won their first-ever UCL title last season, will be looking to make two in a row, while record winners Real Madrid will look to lift their 15th title. With Barcelona, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and PSG in the mix, it promises to be another exciting final phase of the tournament which will undergo major changes starting next season.

The current group stage format, that features 32 teams, will be replaced by a league competition that will consist of 36 teams. Each team will get eight fixtures in the first stage of the competition, and the opponents will be decided on the basis of seeding to ensure a mix of strong and challenging match-ups.

The Round of 16 fixtures are already underway and once they are done and dusted, we will have the road map to the final that will be held at Wembley. But, before it arrives, here are The Hard Tackle’s top three picks to win the Champions League this season.

Manchester City

Manchester City are the biggest favourites to once again win the Champions League. They were the most dominant team in Europe last season, and nothing much has changed. While a few of their star players have left, they have added young stars like Josko Gvardiol and Jeremy Doku in order to maintain their standards.

They had a slow start to the season but have managed to get things back on track and have been on a dominant run of late. Apart from the disappointing draw against Chelsea last night, City have been quite clinical over the past few months.

Manchester City have already won the first leg of their Round of 16 fixture against FC Copenhagen. It was a dominant performance by Guardiola’s team as they won 3-1 on the night to almost ensure their place in the final eight teams of the competition.

Kevin De Bruyne’s return from injury has been a huge boost, as things have started to click for them at the right time. Given the kind of depth they have in their squad, they can surely win back-to-back Champions League titles.

Real Madrid

The record winners of the UEFA Champions League could make it 15 UCL titles if they manage to win it this time out. Carlo Ancelotti’s team switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 (diamond) at the start of the season. The main reason behind the change in tactic was the departure of star striker Karim Benzema and the arrival of Jude Bellingham.

In the initial matches, things were not really clicking for them, but they were still getting the desired results. While quite a few of their key players are out injured, they still seem to have enough depth to go past the very best in Europe.

Of late, the entire team seems to have adjusted to the new formation which is giving them even better results. They are in full flow and are also leading the race for La Liga having handsomely defeated second-placed Girona in the recent past.

Bellingham has been in sensational form since the start of the season. Those around him have started to bring the best out of themselves as we head into the business end which suggests Los Blancos are very much in reach of their 15th UCL.

Real Madrid have a 1-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Round of 16 fixture against Leipzig at home. They might not have been at their best in the first leg, but their record at the Santiago Bernabeu speaks for itself.

Inter Milan

Not many are talking about what Inter Milan have been doing of late, a few might have even forgotten the fact that they were the finalists of Europe’s biggest competition last season. They did lose in the final, but Inter have gone from strength to strength since.

Simone Inzaghi’s team are playing a dominating brand of football in the ongoing season. They have won 25 out of their 33 matches and have only suffered two defeats so far. Their defensive and offensive record is right up there with the very best teams from across Europe this season

They are top of the Serie A at this stage and have a nine-point advantage over Juventus, who have played an additional game. Their record in the ongoing campaign speaks for itself. While they have a tough task at hand as they will square up against Atletico Madrid in the Round of 16, the kind of football they are playing suggests they will go a long way in the ongoing edition of the UCL.

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