This year’s Champions League group stage draw has gifted us with yet another exciting set of matchups. With some pretty tough draws and interesting matchups within the groups, it will be exciting to see who advances to the Round of 16 and who is left behind.
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) vs Real Madrid is the highlighted matchup of Group A.
Neymar, Mbappe and co. will be wanting revenge after a disappointing knockout by Manchester United last year. With some reinforcements and changes to their roster in the offseason, they will be fighting harder than before. Neymar, having wanted to leave in the previous transfer window, has reinstated his focus in fighting for the French giants. He will want to show that he is capable of carrying a team to a Champion’s League victory, as was his goal when he left Messi and Barcelona.
Real Madrid will also be wanting to get back into the final. They set records by winning three in a row but this past season, after Ronaldo’s departure, were knocked out by huge underdogs – Ajax. They also lost La Liga, so they will be trophy-hungry. During the offseason, they brought in superstar Eden Hazard to bolster their attack in an attempt to once again challenge for the La Liga title and reclaim their recent throne in the Champion’s League.
The matches between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid should just be deciding who is finishing in first or second in the group, as I don’t see the other teams staking a claim for either position.
Bayern Munich vs Tottenham will be the highlighted matches of Group B.
Last years finalists, Tottenham will be out to fight again for the trophy with the hopes of coming out on top. The German giants Bayern Munich will be challenging them for the first position in the group. Both teams have made some changes in the off-season, but nothing too drastic.
Manchester City should be topping Group C.
The English champions got a pretty favorable draw. Again, they got Shakhtar Donetsk in their group. The other opposition being Dinamo Zagreb and Atalanta. Despite bad news of their top center back Aymeric Laporte being out for a few months, they should still be able to handle this group with relative ease.
Juventus vs Atlético Madrid will be the highlighted matchup of Group D.
Juventus and Atlético Madrid are both known for their defensive styles and are hard opponents to break down. Last year these two met in the round of 16, where Juventus advanced after a masterclass performance by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, but not before some antics by both teams – including Diego Simeone and Cristiano Ronaldo getting at each other with some questionable celebrations.
Both of these teams should advance from the group, but the battle will again be for first and second place seeding. Most likely without threat of elimination, the matches between these two will be intense and as if it were life and death. Last year, both teams went all out in a physical and immense battle, and everyone will hope to see it again in this group.
Liverpool, Napoli and Salzburg will create some exciting matchups in Group E.
Liverpool should most likely be topping the group. They’re the reigning champions and were very close runner-ups in the English Premier League last year, so they will be wanted to win both trophies again this season.
However, Napoli and RB Salzburg may prove to be tough opponents for Liverpool. These two teams will likely battle it out for the second seed spot, but if one of the two can snag some points from Liverpool, the group may get even more exciting. Napoli has started their season strong and almost gave Juventus an early loss in Serie A, but lost 4-3 in an exciting match. They will be giving the Champions League a lot of attention this season and will likely give everyone they come up against a harder than expected fight.
RB Salzburg may be a dark horse in this competition. With their new head coach Jesse Marsch, they have been dominant so far this season. Having already played seven games in their league, they have seven wins with 34 goals for and only six goals against. With a ton of young talented players, including shining star Erling Braut Håland, they will be looking to prove themselves worthy of being in this competition. They are all fighting to prove they’re good enough for a move up in the RB ladder to RB Leipzig, or even better teams in Europe. Erling Braut Håland is a 19-year-old Norwegian forward who is lighting it up for Salzburg. In eight games for Salzburg, he totals 14 goals and four assists. No doubt eyes will be on him to steal some points and help his team try to advance to the round of sixteen.
Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter Milan all will be fighting to advance out of this group of death.
All three teams could be contenders to top this group, or any other group if you were to move them around.
Barcelona has had some injury troubles recently with Messi missing the first few La Liga games as well as Suarez missing a few and Ousmane Dembélé also sidelined. However, the youth players stepping up have been great. Ansu Fati, at the age of 16, has shown so far he is able to compete. He has three appearances for Barcelona this season in Messi and Dembélé absences on the wing, and he has two goals and one assist. Barcelona have also brought in some great acquisitions in the off season, including Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann. Messi and Dembélé may not be available right away for Barcelona in the Champion’s League, but they still have a capable squad that can top the group, and once those two return fully, they will get even stronger.
Dortmund and Inter Milan both have the capacity to top the group if Barcelona are off pace for a game or two; however, it is more likely that these two will be battling for the second seed placement for the round of sixteen. Both teams have history in this competition and both teams have made some big changes in the off-season, so it will be interesting to see what comes of it.
These three teams will have some exciting matches throughout the group stages. Poor Slavia Prague will just try not to get embarrassed every game.
Zenit, Benfica, Lyon, Leipzig round out Group G.
This group doesn’t have any current huge European giants, but everyone can stake a claim at the top seed in this group. Zenit is generally around the top of the Russian League. Benfica generally around the top of the Portugese league, Lyon normally top half of the French league and RB Leipzig has been proving themselves worthy in the German league.
These teams are all great teams and will be fighting to advance to the Round of 16.
Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, LOSC Lille form Group H.
Again, any of these four teams can finish in the first seed.
Ajax made it to the semi-finals last year. They will want to go far again but have lost some key players like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong. It will be interesting to see how they handle losing a club captain and keystone player in the center midfield.
Chelsea have had a rough time as of late. They received a transfer ban, but not before transferring in United States young superstar Christian Pulisic. They brought in, team legend, Frank Lampard as their new coach. They lost some players like Eden Hazard and David Luiz. Also, they have been leaky on defense so far this season. On the bright side, they are still winning and finally, their academy products are leaking into the first team thanks to Lampard. So far this season all their goals have come from youth products of their own academy.
Valencia have also made some roster changes, including the acquisition of Jasper Cillessen from Barcelona. They will be wanting to stake a claim in advancing from the group stages, but haven’t looked so hot in La Liga thus far.
LOSC Lille finished high in Ligue 1 last season, coming second to PSG. They return to the Champions League after a seven-year absence. After making some good signings in the off season, they may be able to compete in this competition and advance from the group stages. Renato Sanches and other United States young rising star Timothy Weah will look to show they can compete for a top team in this competition. Weah will come up against his national team teammate when Lille face Chelsea and Pulisic.
Overall, the Champions League has a ton of great matchups as always. Sometimes, there can be unexpected upsets that change the outlook on the competition. Despite some teams not being mentioned for some groups, there is always the possibility of a major collapse or huge upset letting some of the smaller teams in the competition advance further than anyone expects. Hopefully, at least one group will have a story like this- similar to Ajax making the semi-finals last season. Otherwise, let’s hope for some exciting games along the road to the final.
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