It’s Champions League group stage time – from now until the beginning of December Europe’s elite clubs will be going up against each other trying to reach the knockout stages and of course the money that playing in the later stages brings. The group stages are often criticized for being boring, with few upsets and the big teams going through as a formality. Looking at last year’s Champions League group stages, this seems to be true to a certain extent – with all the fancied sides going through. Will it be the same this year – probably – but let’s take a look at the groups anyway. Which one is the group of death? Which team is a dark horse? And which big teams have the easiest rides?
There’s vocabulary support at the bottom of the page, and words highlighted in blue and red have explanations too!
The Group(s) of Death
Most pundits are picking group A as the toughest. German giants, Bayern Munich, Italian outfit, Napoli, Spanish side Villarreal and the richest club in the world, English side Manchester City, all must fancy their chances of getting one of the two top spots. Surely, City’s squad of superstars and their collective European experience can help overcome the club’s relative inexperience at this level. On paper it’s City and Bayern, but look for Napoli to put up a fight.
Prediction – Manchester City top, Bayern Munich second
Group A is tough, but group F should also be a challenge for Arsenal, Dortmund, Olympiakos and Marseilles. Arsenal, of course, are going through a mini-crisis of sorts, losing some of their key players Cesc Fabregas and Nasri to Champions League rivals Barcelona and Manchester City respectively. They’ll be hoping their new signings will bed in quickly. If they don’t they could end up in a scrap for the second spot. Bundesliga Champions, Dortmund, will hope they can top this group, while Olympiakos and Marseilles are no pushovers.
Prediction – Dortmund top, Arsenal second
What about dark horses?
Well, in group B, little Lille, last year’s Ligue 1 winners, could easily find themselves through to the knockout stages, and then anything is possible. Especially if they keep hold of Hazard, their Belgian striker, in the January transfer window. You would expect Inter to top the group but CSKA Moscow might find it difficult to join them, and Trabzonspor – a late replacement for disqualified Fernebache, may just enjoy the experience.
Predictions – Inter top, Lille second
Another club with a decent chance of upsetting the odds is Ajax in group D. Real Madrid have this group sewn up, although they have struggled against Lyon before, but with Dynamo Zagreb out of it, Ajax will hope to sneak past Lyon and make it to the last 16.
Predictions – Real Madrid top, Lyon second
When we talk about easy groups, we mean easy for the ‘big’ team. These groups can also be very open, with three teams vying for the second spot.
The easiest group seems to be Group C, with Manchester United, Swiss team, Basel, Benfica and Otelul Galati from Romania. United will breeze through this group with Basel and Benfica fighting it out for the scraps.
Prediction – Top, Man United, and second, Benfica
The other English team finds itself in a pretty easy group, too. Chelsea, in Group E, face Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Genk. This shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for the Blues.
Prediction – Chelsea top, Valencia second
What about the other groups, G and H. Porto and Shaktar Donesk should come out top and knock out Zenit and APOEL in group G, and the two European giants, Barcelona and AC Milan will overshadow BATE and Viktoria Plzen in group H.
upset: a surprise result, when a big team is beaten by an unfancied side
formality: a routine game, a match when only one team is expected to win
outfit: another word for ‘team’
on paper: looking at the statistics only, logically
bed in: to become used to, to fit, to grow into, to adapt
scrap: a fight, a struggle
pushover: an easy side to beat, a team that does not put up a fight
upset the odds: to surprise people, to get a result that most people bet against
vie: to compete, fight against, be in competition with
breeze through: comfortably qualify, easily win