With the turn of the new football year comes the return of the most elite European competition – The UEFA Champions League. The completion of the group stage draw has sparked fiery debates as to who will survive the many mouth-watering fixtures and come out on top. Let’s take a look at each action packed group as we build up to another year of entertaining football.
We begin group A with French champions PSG who are drawn together with the La Liga titans and UCL mainstays Real Madrid. They are joined by Belgian heavyweights Club Brugge and Turkish champions Galatasaray to complete the first group.
After much speculation, Neymar – the world’s most expensive player, remains at Paris Saint Germain and will surely come up against Real Madrid, a club he may well have joined over the summer transfer window.
Besides that, the immense talent on display in both these world class teams is enticing.
With Brugge and Galatasaray also having battled well in the competition before, this group promises to have some fascinating fixtures.
Group A: Paris St-Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray
A much-changed Bayern side with a host of new arrivals and high profile exits are drawn in this group alongside last year’s UCL finalists Tottemham Hotspur.
Tottenham will see a familiar opponent in Coutinho who completed a loan move to the German champions over the summer and will be eager to impress after his disappointing time at Barcelona.
Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade defeated Liverpool last year in the group stages and will definitely be fighting for third place in this group alongside Olympiakos who have the veteran Mathieu Valbuena as a new addition to their squad. They welcome Champions League football after a year spent in the Europa League!
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade
Manchester City will face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third consecutive season and having beaten them comprehensively last year they will be pretty confident heading into this group.
They’re accompanied by Dinamo Zagreb who beat Arsenal the last time they were in the group stages four years ago. The final team in this group is Atalanta who have made it here on merit with some great football last season and have Martin Skrtel in their ranks this time to provide some help in defending from the other team’s firepower as they make the step up to this elite competition.
Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
Another team coming from a busy summer will be Juventus who have seen Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot arrive on free transfers. With the capture of former Ajax captain Matthijs De Ligt and the return of Italy legend Buffon, they will be raring to go all the way in this year’s competition which will be one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chances to add to his five UCL titles.
Spanish giants Atlético Madrid are drawn in group D as well and will be looking for revenge after a 3-2 aggregate defeat against Juventus during last year’s Round of 16. The other teams in the group include Bayer Leverkusen, weakened by the loss of Julian Brandt to Dortmund and Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow who will most likely find it difficult to compete in this group.
Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Highly entertaining European champions Liverpool are drawn in Group E and will be looking to reach the final for a third year in a row. Their players Sadio Mané and Naby Keïta, if fit, will face their old club Red Bull Salzburg – the Austrian Bundesliga winners. Another interesting addition to this group is Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli and their new Mexican forward Hirving Lozano with former Roma defender Kostas Manolas who will be looking to help their new side get through the group stages.
Genk, the final team in the group who last appeared in the UEFA Champions League back in 2011-12, will be relishing the chance to play against some of the best teams across Europe.
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, Salzburg, Genk
Group F, also being termed the ‘Group of Death’ due to the sheer quality of teams like FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan drafted together with probably the exception of Slavia Prague who will be ruing their luck with the seemingly unfavourable draw from their point of view.
But at the same time, the Czech First League Champions will be honoured to welcome some of these European giants to their home stadium. Speaking of giants, Barcelona and their under pressure manager Ernesto Valverde will be looking to put their recent failures in the competition aside and impose themselves on what could be a make or break group stage campaign for them. Likewise, Dortmund and Inter Milan will be confident of progressing after both teams boasting a successful transfer window.
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague
A surprisingly tricky one with Zenit, Benfica, Lyon and Red Bull Leipzig all together, Group G is a difficult one to predict. Lyon, having shocked Manchester City in last year’s Champions League, enjoyed a decent season in Ligue 1 and will surely be the ones to watch in this group.
Portuguese champions Benfica can also be considered one of the favourites to go through even after losing one of their main stars Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid for $130M. Having won their first three opening Bundesliga games in Germany, RB Leipzig will be looking to improve in Europe and certainly be competitive with their lethal striker Timo Werner leading the line for them.
The group is complete with last year’s Russian Premier League winners Zenit St Petersburg who will be looking to put up a fight as well.
Group G: Zenit St Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig
The last group ‘H’ is an exciting one with Europa league winners Chelsea and one of last year’s Champions League’s pleasant surprises and Eredivisie champions – Ajax, coupled together with Ligue 1 runners up Lille and La Liga club Valencia, the latter being probably the only one not to lose key players in the summer.
Chelsea lost Hazard and David Luiz and Ajax lost their captain De Ligt, while Lille sold talented winger Nicolas Pépé to Arsenal. Even with these key players missing, this quite evenly-matched group has more than enough quality to produce tasty Champions league encounters with each other.
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille