Group A: Paris St-Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray
The first group has two obvious teams who will make it through to the knockout stages. What matters more is which of the high-spending teams will be in the winner’s bracket. Paris St-Germain, in spite of the surrounding controversy for Neymar’s transfer, still is a force to be reckoned with. An unlikely hero in the form of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has been regularly scoring for Thomas Tuchel’s side in the absence of Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe.
It is an incredible story of determination for Choupo-Moting, who was deemed a surplus to requirements by Championship side Stoke City, just 12 months ago. The Cameroonian has jumped from club to club but for the first time in his career, is leading the line at one of Europe’s biggest.
Real Madrid on the other hand, is struggling to hand down starting positions to their new additions to the team. In the first few matches of the La Liga season, Zinedine Zidane opted to stick to the old squad whom he has won three Champions League with. Eden Hazard, the $100 million acquisition, has yet to feature competitively for Madrid. With their injury crisis worsening, Zidane may find it hard to rotate the players during weeks with Copa Del Rey, La Liga, and the Champions League group stages.
If everything falls into place, Paris St-Germain should come out as winners of this pot, with Madrid coming in second. Belgian side Brugge should be a walk in the park for but a Radamel Falcao led Galatasaray might prove to be feisty at home and settle for a draw there.
Prediction: Paris St-Germain 1st seed, Real Madrid 2nd seed.
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade
In group B, we have Bundesliga defending champions Bayern Munich and last year’s Champions League finalist Tottenham Hotspurs as the definite two. Bayern’s depth significantly out scales Spurs, with two additions to their incredible squad in Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho, both with options to purchase at the end of the 2020 campaign. To be frank, I’m expecting a rout from the German champions, winning all six of their matches or five when the intent of qualification as first seed is clear.
The Spurs added Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, bolstering up their shrinking midfield. The London side’s Kryptonite has always and always will be injuries and squad depth. Harry Kane missed two months due to injury during the lead up to the Champions League finals. Kane was thrown back into the starting line-up against Liverpool despite not playing for more than a month prior, becoming a subject of debate. Is is however, the spark of Son Heung-Min that has been causing trouble for opponents, his pace and off the ball movement has been a sight to behold and is proven to be one of the deadliest forwards in Europe.
Red Star Belgrade proves to be a highly physical team, with air domination and set pieces the name of their game. The Serbian side might pull off an upset or two but nevertheless, Spurs should get the second nod to the knockout stages.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 1st seed, Spurs 2nd seed.
Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
Let’s just put Manchester City in the top seed, and discuss among the other three teams on who should be able to make it out of the group stages.
Shakhtar Donestsk used to be one of the leading Ukrainian clubs that nurtured Brazilians, including Alex Teixeira, Douglas Costa, and Luiz Adriano. They are the three-time consecutive reigning domestic champions, losing only once in 32 matches last season.
Dinamo Zagreb are also back to back reigning Croatian League champions and their run and gun style of play saw them lose only twice in 36 matches domestically and conceded only 20 goals.
Atalanta are the minnows of this group, but ironically, I find them the most likely to enter the knockout phase. The Serie A team qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their club’s history, after finishing third in the league. Their key player is Duvan Zapata, a beast of a striker scoring 28 goals in 37 appearances for them. Zapata is a 6’2 striker which immense strength and pace – think Didier Drogba. In the midfield, Papu Gómez, who finished with most assist in Serie A with 11.
I’m expecting City to win most of their matches with Atalanta edging out Shakhtar to the second spot.
Prediction: Manchester City 1st seed, Atalanta 2nd seed.
Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Juventus is always a threat in Europe’s premier tournament, with the depth addition of Gonzalo Higuain, Aaron Ramsey, Matthijs de Ligt and Danilo only further gives them an advantage. They are – in my eyes, guaranteed first seed.
Atletico Madrid’s acquisition of Joao Felix softened the departure of Antoine Griezmann but scoring just two goals in two matches is starting to raise critics eyebrows. Coincidence or not, Atletico met Juventus in last season’s knockout stages where they lost 3-2 on aggregate, throwing away a two-goal lead. This statement might seem ridiculous but I genuinely believe that Diego Costa is the catalyst for Atletico. At his peak, he can score from any position. His physical presence is often a distraction for his speed, and his goal scoring ability is something everyone can agree on. If Costa can control his temperament on the pitch, he will be a crucial player for Atletico.
Leverkusen is now revolving around a young core of Jonathan Tah, Leon Bailey, and Kai Havertz. All who has potential to be great Bundesliga players but will definitely move to a bigger European club in years to come. The lack of proper strikers since the departure of Stefan Kiessling and shaky defense is a call for concern.
Prediction: Juventus 1st seed, Atletico Madrid 2nd seed.
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, Salzburg, Genk
A 13-match domestic win streak for Liverpool and as reigning European Champions, there is no question that Liverpool has to be favorites to get out of the group stages as first seed.
Napoli on the other hand, added a defence deputy in Kostas Manolas, and a speed merchant in Hirving Lozano. Their key player however, is still Lorenzo Insigne. The Italian is everything you want from a winger – pace, trickery, work-rate and finishing ability. He has scored in the double digits for the past four seasons for the Naples club.
Also, Napoli possesses unusually strong in depth in both midfield and the front line, but their custodian between the stick remains a mystery. Both Alex Meret and David Ospina are not fundamentally suitable for a high octane team like Napoli. Meret conceded 13 goals in the last four matches which included two friendlies. Ospina is an Arsenal reject – enough said.
Salzburg is no pebble in the beach either. They have won the Austrian Bundesliga for six consecutive seasons. A team of hardworking individuals without a real superstar keeps them grounded and we can see them put up a fight against both Liverpool and Napoli. I do expect a draw for either one of the teams and a win against Genk for the Austrian side.
Prediction: Liverpool 1st seed, Napoli 2nd seed.
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague
Finally, the group of death. Barcelona’s performances without Lionel Messi this season has been abysmal, winning only once in their last eight games. The addition of Antoine Griezmann is likely to cushion the inevitable slowing down of Luis Suarez and with Ernesto Valverde giving more of the academy players chances in the first team, Barcelona is going to struggle early in the season.
Borussia Dortmund has always been a high-scoring team with the likes of Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho and the addition of Julian Brandt brings more explosiveness to the wings. However, Dortmund’s weakness lies in its defense. Even with Mat Hummels coming back from Bayern to take charge of the back-line, they conceded 44 goals last season, as compared to Bayern’s 32 and RB Leipzig’s 29.
Inter Milan added both Manchester United rejects Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to the squad. With two goals in as many games, Lukaku has been a menace in the Serie A. Antonio Conte has been critical to his revival, and truly Lukaku’s performances would be key for Inter to one up either of the two teams and sneak into the knockout stages. The latest update that Mauro Icardi has left Inter for PSG further explains Lukaku’s importance.
Prediction: Barcelona 1st seed, Inter Milan 2nd seed.
Group G: Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig
Group G is an all out dog fight.
Lyon sold their whole team, with Nabil Fekir, Tanguy Ndombele, and Ferland Mendy all leaving for greener pastures. With their current squad led by Memphis Depay, the French outfit is quite a hit or miss squad. Throughout their history, they have sold their best players such as Alexandre Lacazette, Corentin Tolisso, Samuel Umtiti to name a few from the past three seasons. Nevertheless, they have managed to stay relevant in Ligue 1 as well as in Europe.
Benfica’s quality should be on par with majority of the teams, although they just won their 37th Liga NOS title. Also a selling team, they sold an eye boggling three top caliber strikers in Luka Jovic, Joao Felix and Raul Jimenez this summer.
RB Leipzig is the one defined winner for this group. With two of the top Bundesliga strikers aside from Robert Lewandowski, Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen both scored 19 goals each for the club in the last campaign.
Prediction: RB Leipzig 1st seed, Benfica 2nd seed.
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille
Another group that can go either way, Group H sits the outcasts.
Chelsea in their major slump right now with Frank Lampard at the helm, has been shambolic. With only one win in their past seven league matches, Lampard has opted to emphasize the usage of young academy graduates this season. With Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham grabbing headlines in recent matches, they will seek valuable experience from the veterans in Pedro and Oliver Giroud during European matches.
Ajax also sold two of the hottest prospects in De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong. The trio of Hakim Ziyech, Donny Van de Beek and David Neres remained at the club, and proves to be still one of the most lethal teams. The team has scored 15 goals in four matches in the Eredivisie so far. The summer addition of Quincy Promes is unbelievable work by the Dutch club. Promes, who is of Dutch nationality, is an efficient winger who can score and cross evidently from his 59 goal tally at Spartak Moscow.
Valencia has been an incredible hit and miss club, sometimes performing way past expectations while at times seem like a train wreck. With no clear distinction at the club, Valencia is a true gamble. Geoffrey Kondogbia is a a crucial player for them as he is usually the initiator for offense, a modern day box-to-box midfielder. His role in France’s World Cup win really showcased his talents as a deep lying midfield general.
Lille’s second place finish last year in Ligue 1 was highly due to Nicholas Pepe’s incredible form. 22 goals and 11 assists, but the Ivorian was sold to Arsenal.
Prediction: Ajax 1st seed, Valencia 2nd seed.Leave a comment