The Champions League Groups
After last year’s heartbreak when they were only a minute away from the title, Atlético Madrid will be aiming to go one better this season. They face Italian powerhouses Juventus, Greek side Olimpiacos and Swedish side Malmö. The Spanish side should qualify along with Juventus but Malmö have reached a European Cup final before albeit way back in 1979, while an away date in Athens is never an easy prospect.
Group B is made up of holders Real Madrid, five-time winners Liverpool, Swiss side Basel and underdogs Ludogrets. It seems fairly straightforward for Real and Liverpool, though Basel have been impressive in recent Europa League tournaments which probably means Liverpool’s two games against them will be pivotal.
Whereas the first two groups seem fairly easy to call, group C is very competitive. All four teams can be confident of progressing. Bayer Leverkusen have a new coach and have started well in the Bundesliga, Benfica have a strong European track record, but mostly in the Europa League, Monaco have the resources, and Zenit have some exciting players, Like Brazilian forward Hulk. You really might as well toss a coin for this group.
In group D, Arsenal and Dortmund will be favourites for the top two spots, but the order in which they finish is difficult to predict because they have met each other so many times in the last three years. While they are favourites, Turkish team, Galatasaray will be no push overs, especially at home with their fearsome support. Anderlecht, from Belgium, have history in Europe, but back in the 1970s and 80s.
Possibly the most difficult group this year with Bayern Munich and Manchester City being reunited in the Champions League after being in the same group last year. No one will enjoy visiting CSKA Moscow for the away legs, especially in winter, while Roma, coming from pot 4 with the so called weaker teams, have a solid team. Expect Munch and Man City to go through, but they can’t afford any slip ups.
This group has a lot of pedigree with Ajax and Barcelona, both of whom have won Europe’s premier competition four times. They met last year at this stage as well, with Barcelona hammering Ajax at home, but being overturned 2-1 when they visited the Dutch side. Paris Saint Germain have the money and the players to beat anyone on their day, and Zlatan Ibrahimović will be their key player. APOEL FC make up the numbers and will be lucky to get a point in this group.
Chelsea will fancy their chances of topping group G without breaking sweat. Their only real rivals will be Shalke 04, although they have only managed a draw on four encounters with the London side, losing three times. Sporting Lisbon, so strong in the domestic league, will probably find the step up in quality too much, and Maribor from Slovenia are the minnows in this group.
Group H is intriguing, as three teams will really fancy their chances of finishing in first place. Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Athletic Bilbao all have their strengths and matches between them will be competitive. Shakhtar may have to contend with off the field problems, given the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which may mean the two to watch are Bilbao and Porto. BATE Borisov complete the group, but the team from Belarus will struggle.
an underdog: a team not expected to do well; a weak side
pivotal: key; very important
toss a coin: rely on chance for a prediction; spin a coin to decide
a push over: an easy team to beat
at the helm: in charge; managing; leading
pedigree: history of success
to hammer: thrash; beat comfortably
without breaking sweat: with little effort; without trying too hard; easily