Barcelona? Bayern Munich? Juventus?
For Europe’s elite clubs, participation in the Champions League is an assumption.
But what about the plucky underdogs for whom qualification alone is a massive achievement?
With the most popular leagues ready to climax, here’s some clubs who could surprise you with their presence in the continent’s premier club competition next season…
Juventus strolled to the league title but the competition for Champions League places in Italy is heading for a dramatic conclusion.
All the historic giants are in the mix: Napoli, Roma, both Milan clubs, even Lazio aren’t out of it.
And then there’s Atalanta.
Only goal difference separates the Bergamo-based club from usurping AC Milan in the coveted fourth position.
And given the Rossoneri’s rotten form, you wouldn’t bet against Atalanta.
Captain Papu Gomez inspires their entertaining brand of football and there’s a real sense of lovable underdog about them.
A toe-dip in the Europa League last season was the club’s first European adventure since 1991.
Their stadium hosts a modest 21,500 (similar to Notts County’s home) and it’s likely they’d have to play any Champions League ‘home’ games at Sassuolo’s ground due to UEFA regulations.
Not a problem for the likes of Roma, Inter and Milan, who all boast 70,000+ capacities.
The Europa League semi-finalists are worth a watch.
A front three of Sebatien Haller, Ante Rebic (of World Cup fame) and Luka Jovic (linked to Barca, Real Madrid, etc) have combined for 40 goals in the Bundesliga alone.
You have to go back to the early 90s for Frankfurt’s last top-four finish in the top flight.
Borussia Monchengladbach’s stuttering form has opened the door for Adi Hutter’s side, who would add to the Champions League’s entertainment value with their swift counterattacking style and partisan fan base.
They could even qualify via Europa League success…
On average, around 10.000 people turn up to watch Getafe play at home — about the same number as League One’s Plymouth Argyle get.
Founded in the 1980s, the club are based in Madrid and are therefore almost literally in the shadow of the city’s two giants, Real and Atletico.
Their typical starting XI cost approximately £4million.
They are, in the words of Spanish football expert Sid Lowe, a ‘tiny club’.
Despite their limitations, they currently occupy fourth place in La Liga, ahead of Sevilla by virtue of their head-to-head record.
Their squad is a rag-tag group of ‘has-beens’ and unwanted talent — 13-goal centre-forward Jorge Molina is 37 years young and Mathieu Flamini pops up now and then to collect a yellow card.
Needless to say, Champions League qualification would be Getafe’s greatest ever achievement by some distance.
Lille are a global superpower in comparison to some of the other clubs on this list.
But the Great Danes deserve a spot for their turnaround in the last 18 months.
They avoided relegation to Ligue 2 by a single point last season and have rallied to become the second-best team in France’s top tier this term.
Lille even thrashed PSG 5-1 earlier this month to give them a comfortable cushion ahead of Lyon and the rest of the chasing pack.
Barring a meltdown in the home stretch, the club will enter the Champions League group stages automatically for the first time since the Eden Hazard-inspired days.
Casual viewers have become accustomed to the likes of Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce influencing the Champions League narrative but this season’s Super Lig champions may be a surprise package.
Those unfamiliar with Istanbul Basaksehir will recognise plenty of their players as the club have assembled a Football Manager-esque collection of former notables: Emmanuel Adebayor, Arda Turan, Demba Ba, Robinho, Gokhan Inler, Gael Clichy and Emre Belozoglu.
All those players are older than the club itself.
Istanbul Basaksehir (or Medipol Basaksehir as they are also known) have made the Champions League qualifying stages before but were eliminated by Sevilla in the play-offs.
If they hold off the challenge of Galatasaray this season and become champions (three points ahead at this stage) they’ll automatically make the group stages of next season’s Champions League.
Good luck to them all!