August 31st, 2019

Breaking down the Champions League Group Draws

By Jonny Houghton

“As flies to wanton boys we are for the gods, they kill us for their sport.

“Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal.

“Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply.

“I love football. Thank you.”

I’m still trying to process Eric Cantona’s bizarre speech from last Wednesday’s UEFA awards night, whatever he’s on, get me some too. It looks like fun.

Aside from the Frenchman’s astounding monologue, the Champions League draw took place for this seasons Champions League group stages and it looks like we’re in for some mouthwatering ties already.

Since it’s the international break, let’s take a closer look at them. I can practically hear the theme song already, it’s glorious!

The full draw for the Champions League groups

Group A: PSG, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray

The team that’s won 3 out of the last 4 iterations of this competition have been drawn against the team that has been heavily invested in, fairly or not, just to win this competition. It’s hard to imagine either PSG or Real not qualifying from this group to be honest. A trip to Galatasaray won’t be easy though.

New Brugge keeper Simon Mignolet will be playing his first Champions League football for quite some time after leaving Liverpool in the summer, while the Turkish champions come in to this year’s group having lost their last 3 games in the competition.

More than likely, this group will end up a battle to see who can finish top between Real and PSG, potentially avoiding a more difficult last 16 fixture. The head to head between these to being likely to decide the order.

Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Olympiakos, Crvena Zvezda

Tottenham have the unenviable task of at least repeating their heroics of last season, they stumbled a bit through the group stages and then went on an incredible run to the final only to fall at the final hurdle. The players will be looking to go one further this season but there are some difficult away trips here, particularly Bayern.

Crvena Zvezda gave teams in their group trouble last year with their shall we say aggressive style and home support. But like Group A, I expect this to be a shootout between Spurs and Bayern for top spot while Olympiakos and Crvena Zvezda will have to battle it out for the Europa League place between them.

Group C: Man City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta

Pep Guardiola couldn’t have picked a better group short of Tranmere Rovers, Harchester United and the prisoners team from Mean Machine. It’s an absolute dream for City. That said stranger things have happened.

Trips to Ukraine and Croatia will no doubt tire City legs while trying to maintain their relentless league form, but I expect them to win this group at a canter, that’s never been a problem for them though to be honest. Atalanta’s debut season in the Champions League makes them an intriguing prospect having lost just once in the last 14 European ties, but it looks like a battle for 2nd and 3rd position between all bar City.

Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow

Juventus have 8 Serie A titles in a row, but the European trophy has eluded them for so many years and new manager Maurizio Sarri, who won the Europa League last season will hope to go one better and win the big one.

Like most of the groups so far, there seems to be a clear divide and you’d expect Atletico Madrid to qualify alongside Juve leaving the other two teams in this group to battle it out for that Europa League slot.

We’ll see if Portugese sensation Joao Felix can continue last seasons outstanding form in the competition but it’s not good reading for Leverkusen fans as manager Peter Bosz has yet to win a match in the competition (P6, W0, D2, L4). Lokomotiv Moscow will have little chance of improving on last years total of 1 point in the group stages this year though.

Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, FC Salzburg, Genk

Holders Liverpool will be happy with their draw this year as they bid to make their 3rd final in a row. A trip to Napoli where they lost in last year’s group stage is up first on the fixture list though.

The Italian outfit are no mugs and will give anyone in this group a game in front of their own fans, especially with Carlo Ancellotti at the helm. FC Salzburg make only their second appearance in the group stages of the competition and will be out for revenge after Napoli knocked them out of last years Europa League, they’ll also welcome old boys Sadio Mané and Naby Keita to the Red Bull Arena.

Belgian champions Genk face a difficult task getting any points in this group, they made the last 32 of the Europa League last season, surprising some but this is a whole different proposition for them. As mentioned, Napoli give The Reds trouble last year and not for a last minute save from Alisson, they would have been knocked out. Liverpool have kicked on from then and I expect them to top the group this time out.

Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague

What’s the term? Group of Death? Yeah, that seems to fit this one. Have a look for the video that shows the clubs owners reaction after Petr Cech pulls their name out of the hat for this group.

It’s about what you would expect. Barcelona v Dortmund is an extremely attractive tie on paper and their meeting on Matchday 1 and 5 will be the ones to put in the diary.

Three times winners Inter Milan have plenty of familiar faces after completing the loan signing of Alexis Sanchez, the £75m capture of Romelu Lukaku alongside former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. They last won this competition in 2010 and it looks to me like a battle for second between them and Borussia Dortmund.

The Germans strengthened over the summer after being outclassed a bit by Tottenham in the competition last year adding Mats Hummels and Julian Brandt among others. Expect Messi and co to top the group, although we’ve yet to see how last years semi final heartbreak will affect them.

Group G: Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig

The Russian league ranks as the sixth strongest in Europe according to the UEFA coefficients, explaining Zenit’s inclusion as the Pot 1 team of this group. They’d be the team that every other would want to have drawn most likely.

The Russian champions have only ever managed the last 16 of this competition and face three teams with just as much of a chance at topping the group as they do crashing out of it. This could make it one of the more interesting groups in the competition despite it looking the weakest on paper.

Benfica will have to find a way to cope without their young superstar Joao Felix, who left to join Atletico Madrid in the summer while Lille lost Nabil Fekir to Real Betis as well as Tanguy NDombele and Ferland Mendy. They look a shadow of a team that gave Man City trouble last season. Former Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann will be the youngest manager to take charge of a Champions League match at 32 and will be looking for his first ever win in the competition.

Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille

There was a time where Chelsea would consider a group like this to be an absolute gift. The Europa League winners are a slightly different prospect than they were this time last year though, new manager Frank Lampard struggling to find any sort of winning form in the Premier League.

They find themselves up against an Ajax side who were agonizingly close to the final last year only to be denied by Tottenham. They’ve lost a few key players so it will be interesting to see how the young side recover, they have a good opportunity to progress through this group and can possibly take advantage of Chelsea’s frailties.

Valencia aren’t the team they used to be under Rafa Benitez, but they’ll still put up a fight in this group and this is their third season in a row in the Champions League. They will look to use that experience and try to snatch a second place spot in this group. It’s been a while since Lille won a home game in this competition and this will likely be their undoing. An interesting group this, one to keep an eye out for if you’re a neutral!

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