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Is Thomas Partey and Kwadwo Asamoah among Africa's best Champions League contenders?

Published on: 14 September 2017

African Champions League winners have been few and far between in recent seasons, with Real Madrid and Barcelona's domination denying the likes of Kwadwo Asamoah and Thomas Partey a winner's medal.

In fact, you have to go back to 2012, and Chelsea's penalty-shootout triumph over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, to find the last time one of the continent's stars got their hands on 'Old Big Ears'.

Could that unhappy run be set to end this season?

While Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich don't boast any African players - Merengues youngster Achraf Hakimi a sole exception - which of the other UCL favourites could contribute a continental winner this season?

With five Premier League teams competing this season, the chances of an English winner are high, even if the EPL's top sides have struggled to reach the latter stages of the tournament in recent seasons.

Europa League winners Manchester United may be England's best bet, as Jose Mourinho seeks to become the first manger to win the competition with three separate clubs.

The 2-2 defeat against Stoke City may have exposed some of the Red Devils' failings, but the additions of Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic makes them genuine contenders, while Eric Bailly is already a seasoned continental performer after several extended Europa League campaigns.

Another Ivorian, Yaya Toure, may fancy his chances of winning a second winner's medal following Manchester City's considerable summer of spending in what would be a perfect finale to his trophy-laden spell at the Etihad Stadium.

The Sky Blues' 4-0 demolition of Liverpool at the weekend served a warning to their Group F opponents, although it remains to be seen what role 34-year-old Toure will play this season after failing to make an appearance yet this term.

Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea should also be contenders, with their recent fine form answering many of the questions that abounded after their muddled summer recruitment.

To date, Nigeria has produced three winners - John Obi Mikel, Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu - but don't bet against Victor Moses adding to that tally this term, even if the Blues must find a way past AS Roma and Atletico Madrid in the opening round.

No side in the competition can boast an African contingent as talented as that of Liverpool, with the Reds able to call upon Joel Matip, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Dominic Solanke.

Mane's controversial red card against Manchester City at the weekend shouldn't detract from the quality that he offers in the final third, while Salah has hit the ground running following his summer move from Rome.

The Reds' backline remains unconvincing despite Matip's continued improvement, but they should have enough to get through a fairly comfortable group.

And what of Tottenham Hotspur?

The Lilywhites limped out in the first round of last year's competition, and while it would be hard for them not to improve on that showing, they're yet to truly banish the Wembley hoodoo, while a testing group-stage draw doesn't help.

Victor Wanyama should relish the midfield battles against Real and fellow contenders Borussia Dortmund - who boast Africa's finest player today in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - but Spurs' squad could be stretched elsewhere.

It remains to be seen, for example, whether Franco-Cameroonian Georges-Kevin N'Koudou offers enough quality in wide areas off the bench to help Mauricio Pochettino's side break down stubborn defences.

One player who should, however, is Serge Aurier, who could make his Tottenham debut in their UCL opener away at BVB on Wednesday. Just how valuable could he prove to be in the Londoners' European campaign this term?

Elsewhere, Juventus should still be in the running despite the loss of Leonardo Bonucci, with Medhi Benatia signed permanently from Bayern as one option to fill the gap in the heart of the defence.

They have a settled side and options across the park, while Asamoah remains at the club and started at the weekend, despite rumours linking him with a move away from Turin this summer.

Atletico, another side to have fallen at the final hurdle in recent seasons, should also be there or thereabouts, and it will be interesting to see what role Diego Simeone has in mind for Ghana international Partey this season.

The midfielder was one of Africa's star performers during the recent international break, and his Man of the Match display against Valencia at the weekend - when he played 90 minutes in the heart of the park - suggests that Simeone could see him as a key man this term.

It will be interesting to see how Napoli - who kept hold of Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam during the window - and RasenBallsport Leizig - able to profit from one final season of Naby Keita - fare this season, with both decent outside bets to reach the quarter finals.

However, perhaps Africa's best shot of winning the Champions League this term comes in the form of Paris Saint-Germain, whose ambition to win Europe's grandest prize was laid bare during an extravagant summer of spending.

Despite Aurier's exit, there's still continental interest at the club in the form of Franco-Congolese teenager Christopher Nkunku, and former Democratic Republic of Congo youth international Presnel Kimbembe, who's yet to be capped by France, despite being called up by Didier Deschamps.

There has already been a Franco-Congolese European Cup winner in the form of Real Madrid great Claude Makelele, and could Nkunku or Kimpembe follow in his footsteps this term?

Source: Ed Dove, KweséESPN

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