Thu. Nov 15th, 2018

Champions’ League Group Predictions Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, and Real Madrid high on Aidan McGinn’s Radar

By Aidan McGinn

With the groups set for UEFA Champions League let’s take a look at what each team will need to do to advance past group play, and what my predictions are for how each team will finish within their respective group.

  • Group A
    • Atletico Madrid

After failing to make it out of group play last year, Atletico Madrid look to return to former glory this year with an improved squad. Thomas Lemar joins from Monaco (who is also in this group) and Rodri joins from Villarreal, both helping to strengthen the squad in the midfield. With Diego Simeone leading this squad don’t be surprised to see them finish at the top of their group.

  • Borussia Dortmund

Last year Dortmund were very unlucky with their group, drawing both Tottenham and Real Madrid. They finished third in the group with only two points. Things will be different this year. Group A is a strong group, but with a heavily improved squad they look to challenge for a first-place group finish and a Round of 16 appearance.

  • Club Brugge

After a one-year absence from the Champions League, Club Brugge make their return to the highest stage of European football. Their return will most likely be short lived though, with the other three teams in their group all boasting stronger squads with more depth. It would take a miracle for Club Brugge to make it to the Round of 16.

  • AS Monaco

Monaco will be the team to watch in this group. They could either be really good or really bad, with a squad that has a lot of talent, but is relatively young. Gone are Thomas Lemar, Fabinho and Joao Mountinho, all first-team players who were critical to the squad last year. Most likely an early exit for this squad.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. Borussia Dortmund
  2. Atletico Madrid
  3. AS Monaco
  4. Club Brugge

 

  • Group B
    • FC Barcelona

Barcelona will have some trouble this year after being drawn into the Group of Death. While they have a very strong squad that only improved during this summer’s transfer market, Inter Milan and Tottenham will both be tough to beat, and PSV Eindhoven is no roll over either. If Barcelona want to advance, they can’t have a lapse in concentration like last year’s quarter-finals.

  • Inter Milan

Inter Milan will be a hard squad to beat this year. They bring in Radja Nainggolan from Roma to strengthen the midfield, as well as Stefan de Vrij and Kwadwo Asamoah on free transfers to add to their depth in the back four. Bringing in Lautaro Martinez and Keita Balde to strengthen the attack, only reinforces the notion that Inter Milan means business this year.

  • PSV Eindhoven

The last time PSV Eindhoven made it out of the group stage was in the 2015/16 season. Don’t expect that to change this year with them being the bottom-feeders of this year’s Group of Death. They won’t go out quietly though, and will be more than willing to cause some chaos for all the other teams in their group.

  • Tottenham

Tottenham became the first team in the Premier League to not bring any player this past offseason and that raises a bit of concern. Sure, they finished top in a group with European powerhouse Real Madrid, as well as Borussia Dortmund, but they didn’t advance any farther than the Round of 16. Without any new faces in their squad it will be difficult to gauge how well they will fare this season.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. FC Barcelona
  2. Inter Milan
  3. Tottenham
  4. PSV Eindhoven
  • Group C
    • Red Star Belgrade

After making it past the qualifying rounds, Belgrade will see their journey end in the group stage. With three of the top teams in Europe in their group, it will be difficult for them to even get a draw out of game. Maybe they can make some noise once they get knocked down to the Europa League

  • Liverpool

Liverpool are one of the few teams that look like they could win it all this year. After advancing to the final last year they will look to do the same this year with an even stronger squad that has more depth than last years. With Fabinho, Naby Keïta and Xherdan Shaqiri all coming in to help the midfield and world-class keeper Allisson replacing Karius between the post Liverpool will be the team to beat in Group C.

  • Napoli

Napoli will make this group an interesting one. Despite being one of the better teams in the Serie A the past few years, they have translated that to European play the past few years. The made it out of group play in the 2016/17 season, but they struggled in a group that was considered to be one of the weakest in recent years. They have the ability to create some drama if they can beat either PSG or Liverpool, but that will be a difficult task.

  • PSG

PSG are the other team in this group that will most likely advance with Liverpool. They have two of the world’s best players in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and those are just two of the many stars that are in this squad. They brought in Gigi Buffon on a free transfer, and Edison Cavani, Ángel di María, and Julian Draxler round out one of the most potent strike forces in all of Europe.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. Liverpool
  2. PSG
  3. Napoli
  4. Red Star Belgrade
  • Group D
    • Galatasaray

Galatasaray are the underdogs in this group. They have often been a wild card in Europe sometimes being very successful, but other times not so much. If they can win or draw all their home games, and manage to keep their loss total under two, then they might be able to sneak into the Round of 16.

  • Lokomotiv Moscow

Lokomotiv Moscow are the bottom-feeders of this group. They have been very underwhelming in Europe, barely winning any games, and never making it past the group stage. This year looks to be the same.

  • FC Porto

Porto will look to top this group after making it the Round of 16 in each of the last two seasons. They have been one of the most consistent teams in Europe, always competing within their group and usually making it past at least the group stage. While Galatasaray and Schalke will be challenges of their own, neither of them have the experience that this Porto team does.

  • Schalke

It’s been awhile since Schalke last participated in the Champions League. They last played in the 2014/15 season, making it into the Round of 16, and even beating Real Madrid in their second leg of the round. With a relatively easy group, they should definitely make it out of their group.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. FC Porto
  2. Schalke
  3. Galatasaray
  4. Lokomotiv Moscow

 

  • Group E
    • AEK

Both AEK and Ajax had to go through several qualifying rounds to determine whether they would play in the Europa League or Champions League. While Ajax dominated in their games, AEK barely got along, winning both of their series by one goal. They will need to step up their game if they want to compete with this group.

  • Ajax

Ajax will most likely be one of the two teams to come out of this group. They field a team with a nice blend of youth and veterans, and will look at this as an opportunity to showcase the talent they have on hand. If they can keep up their nice run in Europe, then they might be able to sneak into the quarter-finals.

  • Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich are the favorites to win this group and it’s not hard to see why. Not only do they have one of the best lineups in all of Europe, but they also have some of the best squad depth in all of Europe. They could start their bench players for all their games in the group play, and still come out on top. The only question for Bayern, is can this be the year they finally put it all together?

  • Benfica

Benfica will hope to compete with Ajax for the second spot in this group. While they have been dominate in the Portuguese league, that hasn’t exactly translated to Europe. The failed to pick up a single point in group play last year, and only scored once, while allowing their opponents to rack up fourteen in only six games. They will need to shore up the defense if they want to take any step towards getting out of the group stage.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. Bayern Munich
  2. Ajax
  3. AEK
  4. Benfica

 

  • Group F
    • Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim will be challenged this year in Europe. Last year they played in the Europa League and finished last in their group with only one win to their name. That shouldn’t happen again; especially not with Julian Nagelsmann leading their squad. The young manager has proven to be one of the best in the game, and with another year of experience under his belt, as well as his returning players more used to the European schedule, they should be looking at a spot in the Round of 16.

  • Manchester City

Manchester City look to win their group for the second consecutive year. They run away with the Premier League last year, and while they only added one immediate contributor in the offseason (Riyad Mahrez), that won’t slow them down from making a push to the final. The injury to star player, Kevin de Bruyne, could though. Pep Guardiola has been known to rotate his lineups frequently but he was quoted saying that KDB would not be rotated if he were healthy. They shouldn’t need him to get out of the group stage, but they can’t hope to get to the final without him.

  • Lyon

Despite their being much speculation on whether team captain Nabil Fekir would be moving to Liverpool, he stayed on board for another year with the French powerhouse. They bring in highly touted forward Moussa Dembélé from Celtic and will look to challenge for a spot in the Round of 16.

 

  • Shakhtar Donetsk

The 11 time Ukrainian League champions have become a mainstay in Europe over the past few years. Last year they came second in a group with both Manchester City and Napoli, two of the best teams in Europe. While the transfer of midfielder Fred to Manchester United hurts, it won’t slow them down. They will battle it out with Hoffenheim and Lyon for the second spot in the Round of 16 from this group.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. Manchester City
  2. Lyon
  3. Hoffenheim
  4. Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Group G
    • CSKA Moscow

CSKA Moscow will be a dark horse candidate to make it out of this group. Despite not having as much talent as Real Madrid and Roma they always show up to play, and they should be tough to be at home. If they can win or draw all their home games and steal a game at Plzeň or Roma, then they could surprise a few people and advance to the next round.

  • Real Madrid

Real Madrid will look to top their group with a relatively easy draw. Roma is the only other notable team within this group, but no one comes close to Madrid’s amount of talent and depth at each position. Despite the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, Read Madrid will look to capture their 4th consecutive European title.

  • Roma

Despite getting to the quarter finals last year, Roma is still considered by many to be a middle tier team in Europe. They lost three key players in Alisson, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman, but they brought back more than enough talent to replace those three with the additions of Steven Nzonzi, Javier Pastore and Justin Kluivert, just to name a few. If they can be as successful as last year, then critics will be forced to look at Roma as a team to be reckoned with.

  • FC Viktoria Plzeň

Plzeň will be hard pressed to even draw any of the games in the group play. The Czech league does not have the type of competition they will be facing in Europe. They have to travel all over for each away game, and they simply don’t have the amount of depth or talent that each other team in the group has.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. Real Madrid
  2. Roma
  3. CSKA Moscow
  4. FC Viktoria Plzeň
  • Group H
    • Juventus

Juventus are going for glory this year. All teams in this competition are, but Juventus are one of the few that look like they could win it all. With the addition of four-time Champions League winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus has (in my opinion) become the favorites to win it all this year. With a relatively easy group besides Manchester United, their path to the cup has only gotten easier.

  • Manchester United

Not a bad group draw for United, who will look to make it to the Round of 16 for the second year in a row. Juventus is their main adversary in this group, but both teams should have no trouble getting out of the group. The only question will be is if United can challenge for the top spot and get a more favorable draw in the Round of 16.

  • Valencia

Unfortunately for the Valencia, they will most likely be looking at a group stage exit this year, after returning to the Champions Cup for the first time since the 2015/16 season. That’s what happens when you draw two European powerhouses in the group stage. They should be looking to keep a good home record, and try and secure a good place in the Europa League knockout rounds after they exit the Champions League group stage.

  • Young Boys

Young Boys are in the same boat as Valencia, and will most likely be looking at a group stage exit. They will be battling Valencia to try and not finish last in the group.

Predicted Group standings:

  1. Juventus
  2. Manchester United
  3. Valencia
  4. Young Boys
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