Europe’s most glamorous competition, the UEFA Champions League held its draw for its 2017/2018 group stages yesterday with some fantastic draws and matchups expected, here is a group by group analysis and likely teams to go into the next round.
Group A: Benfica, Man United, FC Basel, CSKA Moscow
Manchester United make a return to the elite stage of European football and are grouped alongside three teams they are quite familiar with, especially Basel who knocked them out 6 years ago but this is a draw that will gladden Jose Mourinho as on paper it looks like a easy start to their campaign. Benfica have lost a few of their star players during the transfer window but still have a decent team to put up a strong showing and see them out of the group stages.
To qualify: 1. Manchester United 2. Benfica
Group B: Bayern Munich, Anderlecht, Paris St-Germain, Celtic
There is a new powerhouse in Europe and that is Paris St- Germain following the signing of Neymar from Barcelona, they have started in the league like a house on fire but it is Europe that they seek to conquer, all eyes will be on them as pundits will be curious as to how far they go. Bayern Munich are perennial contenders, have strengthened their squad fairly well and have an experienced head like Carlo Ancelotti as coach who once led PSG to a league title. Celtic had a fantastic 2016/17 season and would be keen to transfer their unbeaten league run into Europe whilst Anderlecht really just completes the group.
To qualify: Bayern Munich 1. PSG 2
Group C: Chelsea, Roma, Atlético Madrid, Qarabag
English Champions Chelsea also make a return to the big stage and it will be interesting to see how Antonio Conte deploys his 3-4-3 formation in Europe, they could be facing a familiar face in Diego Costa if he is able to complete his return to Athletico Madrid on time, Diego Simeone’s men despite a transfer ban have maintained the spine of their squad but with two finals in the last four years and how resolute the team can be, it is hard to look beyond them as favorites to win the group. Roma are dark horses and could cause an upset whilst Qarabag become the first team from Azerbaijan to play in the group stage of the Champions league.
To qualify: Atletico Madrid 1. Chelsea 2.
Group D: Juventus, Olympiakos, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon
Barcelona may have lost Neymar, they may have lost their tag as the best team in Spain and Europe to Real Madrid, they may be struggling to get recruitments but they still have Lionel Messi and that is all that matters at this stage. Last year losing finalist, Juventus have also lost a key member of their team in defender Leonardo Bonucci but have added players like Federico Bernerdeschi and Blaise Matuidi to their ranks. Sporting Lisbon and Olympiakos are expected to battle for the third pace that will see them drop to the Europa League.
To Qualify: Juventus 1. Barcelona 2.
Group E: Spartak Moscow, Liverpool, Sevilla, Maribor
Liverpool sealed a good win over Hoffenheim to complete their return to the group stages of the Champions League, a competition they last won in 2005 and Jurgen Klopp would be keen to make an impact in this year’s competition. Sevilla have signed some decent players with Jesus Navas and Nolito also making a return, Spartak despite winning their league last season have had a poor start to the 2017 season whilst Maribor have only won one Champions league match in 12 outings.
To qualify: 1. Liverpool 2. Sevilla
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, Manchester City, Feyenoord
Many have called this as the Pep Guardiola VS Maurizio Sarri’s group battle, the latter coach of Napoli who until few years ago was still working in a bank up against a Guardiola who has been into football almost all his life. Both coaches are well known for how they set up their teams tactically and it will be interesting to see how they outwit the other. Both teams also parade some interesting attacking talents and goals are expected to rain in this group.
To qualify: 1. Manchester City 2. Napoli
Group G: Monaco, Besiktas, Porto, Leipzig
Arguably one of the weakest group pairings and depending on how the transfer window ends for Monaco if they still end up losing the duo of Kylian Mbappe and Fabinho, they may be weakened but are still strong enough to ease through this group whilst Leipzig are making their debut after a fantastic season in Germany.
To qualify: 1. Monaco 2. Porto
Group H: Real Madrid, Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund, Apoel Nicosia
Back to back Champions of Europe and favorites to retain the title for the third straight time, Real Madrid look like an unstoppable force and with players like Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos still at the peak of their powers, a possible 18 points could be achieved in the group stage, Borussia Dortmund under new manager Peter Bosz will be looking forward to quickly settle the uncertainty around teen forward Dembele so they can focus on the players in the squad and build a formidable challenge. For Spurs, they will be seeking to do better than last season but may yet again have the disadvantage of playing at Wembley which may play into the hands of teams like Madrid and Dortmund who parade players used to playing on grounds like that but will be counting on the experience gained from last season to bring out the best in star players like Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
To qualify: 1. Real Madrid 2. Borussia Dortmund
**Pictures Courtesy Getty Images, AP