Champions League Preview

Written By: Brian Ludden

Europe’s premier club competition is back as the UEFA Champions League group stage returns on Tuesday. The 2019-20 edition went longer than expected due to the Covid-19 pandemic and concluded in August, with German giants Bayern Munich taking down PSG by a score of 1-0. Now it’s a new season with new teams and new players. Let’s take a look at how these teams got here and what the outlook for each group is.

Group A:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Bayern Munich (2019-20 Champions League winners, German Bundesliga champions)
  • Atlético Madrid (La Liga 3rd place)
  • Red Bull Salzburg (Austrian Bundesliga champions)
  • Lokomotiv Moscow (Russian Premier League 2nd place)

Outlook:

Looking at the teams in the group, Bayern and Atletico look like they should be able to easily qualify. Despite that, you can’t count out Salzburg or Moscow, as both teams were in this situation last year. Moscow was drawn into a difficult group last season with Juventus, Atletico, and Bayer Leverkusen, and they finished at the bottom of the group.  Salzburg finished third in their group with Liverpool, Napoli, and Genk, accumulating 7 points in the process. In the end, Bayern and Atletico should be able to overpower the two smaller clubs, while Salzburg should be able to edge out Moscow for third place.

Prediction: 

  1. Bayern Munich
  2. Atletico Madrid
  3. Red Bull Salzburg
  4. Lokomotiv Moscow

Group B:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Real Madrid (La Liga champions)
  • Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine Premier League champions)
  • Inter Milan (Serie A 2nd place)
  • Borussia Mönchengladbach (Bundesliga 4th place)

Outlook:

In what will be a very interesting group, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and Borussia Mönchengladbach will fight for top two, but one of them will exit the competition earlier than they will hope for. Real Madrid is coming off of a great season after they took down Barcelona and won La Liga, while Inter Milan had a solid season, finishing behind Juventus in Serie A. Borussia Mönchengladbach snuck into the Champions League on the final Matchday, edging out Bayer Leverkusen. Shakhtar Donetsk will likely have some trouble in this group, but we can never be too confident in the Champions League where we have seen crazy things happen. In the end, Real Madrid and Inter Milan should be able to hold off Borussia Mönchengladbach here, and advance to the knockout round.

Prediction: 

  1. Real Madrid
  2. Inter Milan
  3. Borussia Mönchengladbach
  4. Shakhtar Donetsk

Group C:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • FC Porto (Primera Liga champions)
  • Manchester City (Premier League 2nd place)
  • Olympiacos (Greece Super League champions*)
  • Marseille (Ligue 1 2nd place)

Outlook:

In what is likely the easiest group, Man City fans are definitely in a good mood, as they are licking their lips thinking about advancing easily into the knockout round. Despite the power of Manchester City, we can’t count out FC Porto, who won the Primera Liga last season. Despite this, Man City will be able to run away with the group and FC Porto should end up in second. It’s a toss-up for third place, but I’m going to give the advantage to Marseille here.

Prediction: 

  1. Manchester City
  2. FC Porto 
  3. Marseille 
  4. Olympiacos 

Group D:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Liverpool (Premier League champions)
  • Ajax (Eredivisie champions)
  • Atalanta (Serie A 3rd place)
  • Midtjylland (Danish Superliga champions)

Outlook:

You can’t help but feel bad for Danish champions Midtjylland. As of now, it’s a bleak outlook for them as they have been drawn into one of the hardest groups in terms of quality. Liverpool dominated the Premier League in 2019-20, while Atalanta made a cinderella run in their first ever appearance last season. Ajax had their own miracle run 2 years ago when they made it to the semifinals of the 2018-19 edition and “won” their 2nd straight Eredivisie title. Midtjylland won their second title in the past three years, but it looks unlikely that they will cause a big upset here, although anything is possible.  It will surely be interesting to see the battle between Atalanta and Ajax, but I like Ajax’s chances at home if it comes down to the final matchday.

Prediction: 

  1. Liverpool
  2. Ajax
  3. Atalanta
  4. Midtjylland

Group E:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Sevilla (Europa League winners, La Liga 4th place)
  • Chelsea (Premier League 4th place)
  • Krasnodar (Russian Premier League 3rd place)
  • Stade Rennes (Ligue 1 3rd place)

Outlook:

The two most recent Europa League winners, Sevilla and Chelsea, look like they will control this group against the newbies in Rennes and Krasnodar. Rennes and Krasnodar are making their first ever appearances in the group stage. But… We can’t count out the new kids around, as Atalanta proved to us last season. Although the inexperienced teams always have a shot, I don’t expect Rennes or Krasnodar to make a huge impact as Chelsea had arguably the best transfer window in Europe. In turn, that brought in big names such as Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. Chelsea should be able to win the group, while Sevilla should comfortably slide into second place.

Prediction: 

  1. Chelsea
  2. Sevilla
  3. Rennes
  4. Krasnodar

Group F:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Zenit St. Petersburg (Russian Premier League champions)
  • Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga 2nd place)
  • Lazio (Serie A 4th place)
  • Club Brugge (Belgian Pro League champions)

Outlook:

On paper, it looks like Dortmund and Lazio should be able to take care of things and finish in the top two. But, we cannot count out Russian champs, Zenit St. Petersburg or Belgian champs, Club Brugge. Both of those teams were in this competition last season but Zenit finished bottom of their group, just missing out on a Europa League knockout round spot by the tiebreaker. Club Brugge finished third in their group which meant that they were moved to the Europa League knockout round, where they ended up falling to Manchester United, 6-1 on aggregate. There is no reason to think that Dortmund will struggle, as they have Erling Haaland, Gio Reyna, and Jadon Sancho up top, along with new addition Jude Bellingham in the midfield. Dortmund figures to be one of the most exciting teams to watch, while Lazio should be able to do enough to finish as group runner-up. 

Prediction: 

  1. Borussia Dortmund
  2. Lazio
  3. Zenit St. Petersburg
  4. Club Brugge

Group G:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Juventus (Serie A champions)
  • Barcelona (La Liga 2nd place)
  • Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine Premier League 2nd place)
  • Ferencvaros (Hungary Nemzeti Bajnokság champions)

Outlook:

Juventus and Barcelona. Ronaldo and Messi. Now, Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest. The matches everyone is looking forward to are in October and December, as two of the most iconic players to ever step on a soccer field will go head-to-head for possibly the last time in their careers. The two sides figure to run away with this group and their meeting on the final matchday will likely decide who finishes at the top of the group. For Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros, they both made it to the group stage by winning in the qualifying rounds, as Ferencvaros played five matches to get to the group stage. I do think they will likely be fighting for 3rd place, and the advantage here goes to the Ukraine side.

Prediction: 

  1. Juventus
  2. Barcelona
  3. Dynamo Kyiv
  4. Ferencvaros

Group H:

The Teams (method of qualification):

  • Paris Saint-Germain (Ligue 1 champions)
  • Manchester United (Premier League 3rd place)
  • RB Leipzig (Bundesliga 3rd place)
  • Istanbul Basaksehir (Turkish Super Lig champions)

Outlook:

Group H looks like it will be the most competitive group, with three of Europe’s top teams. Man United is looking good with their combo of Paul Pogba and new signing, Donny van de Beek in the midfield. Although Man united has a feared duo, PSG still has Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, a duo that no team will want to face. For RB Leipzig, they lost their top scorer, Timo Werner, but have American youngster Tyler Adams, who will likely be an important part of the team this season. As for Istanbul Basaksehir, they are in a tough situation. It is highly unlikely that they would be able to sneak into 3rd place and into the Europa League, but don’t be too surprised if they manage to grab a point or two.

Prediction:

  1. Man United
  2. PSG
  3. RB Leipzig
  4. Istanbul Basaksehir

For more of Brian’s content, visit his Instagram here – https://www.instagram.com/collegesoccersource/

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