With all the qualification and playoff games finished the UEFA Champions League can get under way with their competition proper.
32 teams remain to see who will be the champions of Europe, today marked another key date in the quest to Estadio da Luz in Portugal toward UCL glory, the group stage draw. Without any further delay here’s how the groups rank from easiest to the dreaded “group of death”:
8. Group E: Chelsea (ENG), Schalke 04 (GER), Basel (SUI), Steaua Bucuresti (ROU)
By far the easiest group especially by comparison to others, Chelsea is the unquestioned powerhouse. This doesn’t mean they’ll automatically advance, in 2011-12 they were in limbo until the 6th day in another “easy” group. However, given the quality of opponents they could have drawn this group should be fairly predictable.
The most intriguing match of this group will be Basel playing Schalke 04 on the road, dates have not yet been released as to who is playing whom on what match day, but if Basel want to advance to the knockout rounds they will need to gain at least a point from Schalke in Germany and be able to take all three in Switzerland.
Who advances? Chelsea should top the group, Schalke will survive a challenge from Basel who will place third and go to Europa league
7. Group G: Porto (POR), Atletico Madrid (ESP), Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS), Austria Wien (AUT)
Group G is a group up for grabs, but is by no mean a difficult group, every one of these teams has the ability to be porous at times and world beaters at others. With that in mind Austria Wien might unfortunately take on the role of whipping boys and the other three clubs will compete amongst themselves
The most intriguing match(es) of this group will be when the Iberian sides, Porto and Atletico, have to travel to Russia. We know they won’t play inRussia on the last match day (UEFA regulation on games in Russia due to weather) but the weather could be unpredictable and whenever they will play in Russia there’s a chance that the weather could be terrible for either team and undoubtedly favor the Russians
Who advances? If the weather is unkind in St. Petersburg, Zenit has the potential of squeaking into the second round, but as of now it will be Atletico winning the group and Porto runners up. Zenit to Europa
6. Group C: Benfica (POR), Paris St. Germain (FRA), Olympiacos (GRE), Anderlecht (BEL)
A mishmash of teams here in group C. Heavy spenders PSG will figure to be loaded with talent like Ibrahimovic, Motta and Menez playing as many minutes as possible to rack up the points. However teams like Olympiacos and Anderlecht don’t spend as much by comparison they are full of talent as well and should provide formidable competition in this group. Then there’s Benfica, even though they came from pot 1 they were the weakest team in pot 1 for coefficient rating.
The most intriguing match will be when PSG play Benfica, depending on when these two matches are played it could have a major impact on the standings, this group appears to be up for grabs for anyone bold enough and neither of the big clubs will want to drop points and possibly fall out of the top two.
Who advances? PSG wins the group and Anderlecht will just get in over Benfica in third, there is always one surprise team that doesn’t make the knockouts that should have, and Benfica appears to be that team.
5. Group A: Manchester United (ENG), Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR), Bayer Leverkusen (GER), Real Sociedad (ESP)
This group on paper should be a no brainer, Man U all the way to 18 points. If you look closer however Real Sociedad demolished Lyon in the playoff round, it appears to have the statement of we fear no one, not even the best in England. Meanwhile Donetsk and Leverkusen have become UCL regulars over the last decade or so and both of those squads should have plenty of experience when it comes to this competition.
Most intriguing match Real Sociedad home to Manchester United. Is the Spanish side for real? They bring in two of the best teams in the world every year in domestic competition, add another one in Manchester United in a larger competition and you have a true test on how good the team really is.
Who advances? Manchester United wins the group (unsurprisingly), and Shakhtar Donetsk gets through in second, Leverkusen will finish in third. Sociedad will be the Cinderella story that never got a chance in 4th.
4. Group B: Real Madrid (ESP), Juventus (ITA), Galatasaray (TUR), Copenhagen (DEN)
Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Didier Drogba, and Cesar Santin. Which name doesn’t seem to belong? If you guesses Santin you’re right, however he’s not to be underestimated. In his time with the danish side he is averaging .41 goals per game. Not too shabby, but against this kind of company it’s tough to make a case. Needless to say this group should feature goals galore.
Most intriguing match will be Galatasaray against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. Both squads have solid teams up and down, the likes of Drogba and Sneijder for the Turks and Ronaldo, and Ozil for Madrid, what will make this game interesting though is the defensive side of the pitch. Iker Casillas is still working towards being the stand alone keeper for Madrid. For Galatasaray, Fernando Muslera has recently come into his own as the top choice keeper, will he thrive with seemingly no threat behind him and help Gala advance? This match will provide a great test for him, Madrid has the ability to score goals at will.
Who advances? Real Madrid and Juventus will tie on points, goal difference will decide who wins officially. Galatasaray will provide a threat to squeeze into the top 2 but they’ll ultimately fall short.
3. Group H: Barcelona (ESP), AC Milan (ITA), Ajax (NED), Celtic (SCO)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Milan will play Barcelona in Champions League competition. Seems there is a football God somewhere who wants to see these two sides become rivals. They aren’t exactly paired up with pushovers though. Ajax and Celtic are legitimate opponents and should not be taken lightly. In each teams respective country they are the most polarizing team in the domestic league (arguably) so here in group H every game should see some amazing crowd support.
Most intriguing match, I am tempted to say all of them, but in last year’s UCL Celtic defeated Barcelona at home 2-1 in group play, and were able to advance because of it. Did Barcelona take the Scottish side too lightly or do Celtic have a system that can beat the seemingly unbeatable Barcelona, we’ll see if last year was or wasn’t a fluke.
Who advances? Barcelona should be expected to win the group, and then you could flip coins to decide the last spot for the knockouts, AC Milan will probably get second though and then Ajax and Celtic in last
2. Group D: Bayern Munich (GER), CSKA Moscow (RUS), Manchester City (ENG), Viktoria Plzen (CZE)
Most people are calling this group the “group of death” and rightly so. Munich are the title holders but City and CSKA do possess the talent to be able to beat them, and while Plzen would appear to be another whipping boys type team consider that the last two years Plzen have played in European football competitions, so they have experience in the heavy spotlight. Will they perform to the standard fo the other three powerhouses? Probably not.
Most intriguing match, Munich vs. City both sides have relatively new managers and both sides have fans hungry for European glory, or in the case of Munich, more glory. These two fixtures should provide a lot of clarity as to who will advance to the knockout stages.
Who advances? Munich and City advance, in my honest opinion they draw both fixtures against each other and clean house against the other two teams. CSKA will finish third.
1. Group F: Arsenal (ENG), Marseille (FRA), Borussia Dortmund (GER), Napoli (ITA)
For some reason this group hasn’t received as much respect as it should as being the “group of death” I’m calling it the GoD because any one of these teams could win the group, and that’s not something you see very often. Granted none of these teams were actual champions of their domestic leagues, the fact is they all play quality football and are very strong sides. Dortmund is the runner up from last year so you know they want to get back to the final. Arsenal have been trophy starved for nearly a decade, yet have become UCL regulars. Marseille and Napoli are both up and coming squads eager to become the pride of their country.
Most intriguing match will be Arsenal vs. Napoli, a pot 1 team versus a pot 4 team in any other group should favor the pot 1 team, but Napoli seem to be a strong enough side to be able to compete with and dispatch the Gunners, heck Aston Villa did it to start the EPL season, and they are nowhere near UCL contention.
Who advances? I literally want to pick teams out of a hat and say you two advance, because you could make a case for anyone for these teams to win and place second. For the most unpredictable group of the draw I give an unpredictable prediction. Dortmund winners, Marseille second, Napoli third and Arsenal last.
This is the third time in three years AC Milan and Barcelona will play against each other in this competition and the second time in that period where they are matched in the same group (2011-12 being the other).
Every group featuring an English team also has a German team in the same group.
Spanish giants Real Madrid face Italian giants Juventus in the same group, it’s the second edition of Spain v. Italy (Milan v. Barca being the other).
Group F features the least amount of travel between opponents