The Champions League was a tournament of surprises last season. It is futile to pretend that it revived all the romance of the competition when it was known only as the European Cup but there was unpredictability. The outcome was strange enough for moneyed Chelsea almost to pass themselves off as insurgents when they landed the prize.

With that win on penalties against Bayern Munich in the opposition's own stadium Roberto Di Matteo overcame steep odds. In the aftermath nothing seemed quite so clear any more and that can only be of benefit to the Champions League. Illusions were dispelled and people understood that the imposing La Liga sides were not really beyond all others on football's evolutionary scale.

Barcelona and Real Madrid each fell in the semi-finals. Their status has not vanished and Barcelona are favourites to claim the trophy this time, with Real a little behind them in the betting. Nonetheless the Champions League can be enigmatic. Wealth, for instance, is far from being the sole consideration.

The affluence of Paris Saint-Germain's Qatari owners is remarkable, even if Uefa's financial fair play regime eventually curbs some of their extravagance. Despite that, the manager, Carlo Ancelotti, does not look as if he is expecting glory regardless of the fact that £35m was paid to Milan for the defender Thiago Silva.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a 30-year-old purchased from the same club for £20m, has had an impact, with five goals so far, but only one other player has scored. Ancelotti, in typically understated fashion, will still have his hopes but extravagant talk is slightly out of favour when the global economy, with few exceptions, is sluggish.

Glamour may be less available than usual, with even Manchester City cutting back on big spending, but that could bring us a more absorbing tournament. The UK interest has been expanded a little with the return to the Champions League group phase of Celtic after a four-year absence. For them this was not simply a matter of pride or a pursuit of glory.

With Rangers demoted to the Third Division of the Scottish Football League, Celtic will be relieved to shore up their income with a European campaign. In England modest aspirations of that sort would be shunned. While City's outlay will get closer to normal standards, the means already employed by them ought to have registered more deeply in the Champions League.

Other clubs, however, have been able to lay down stores of experience in this particular context. From 2005 to the present there has been only a single final without an English team present. Despite that, modesty should still come readily to hand. Barcelona have been particularly fastidious in emphasising their superiority, with triumphs over English clubs in three of the past seven finals.

There is, all the same, a hint of change in the air. Pep Guardiola has stepped down at Barcelona and, although Tito Vilanova has taken over in convincing fashion, the great challenges are still to come. While it is folly to discount José Mourinho, his Real Madrid side gave a relentlessly mediocre account of themselves at the weekend while falling to defeat at Sevilla.

It may just have been a rogue occasion but Mourinho's inability to rouse his team to even a few minutes of high-intensity attacking was remarkable. The summer, of course, is only just behind us and there are no certain conclusions to be drawn but it does feel as if the normal preconceptions about the authority of Barcelona and Real will be under review.

The prospects for the leading English sides look a little encouraging. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are all steeped in the Champions League. That cannot be said of City and therein lies the test for Roberto Mancini. Cosmopolitan though he may seem, the manager did better with the grind of the domestic front. In Champions League and then Europa League his side disappointed.

There were setbacks, too, for an Arsenal side that lost 4-0 to Milan and could not quite recover in the match at the Emirates. Even so, the moments of dismay are offset by the general consistency, although nobody has yet eulogised one of the Premier League sides as they did Barcelona until very recently. Regardless of that, the store of Champions League expertise is still great, particularly at Old Trafford.

Players such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are certainly old but not yet obsolete. They should be bolstered, too, by acquisitions such as Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, who ought to prove a menacing partnership. United's prospects must be healthy if that pairing makes people forget that Wayne Rooney is injured.