The final 32 have finally been narrowed down for the Champions League proper and it’s a real mixed bag. Each group will be covered in the preview and each team will have a pot ranking attributed to them.
PSG have benefited massively over the years from being a part of an incredibly weak league, allowing them to have a well-rested squad when it comes to important Champions League ties. The funny thing for PSG is that despite apparently being this massive team, who will eventually win a Champions League (according to many pundits) they still haven’t ever actually looked like doing anything, only being able to make it to the quarter finals. If PSG were legitimately good enough to win the Champions League, they would have by now, but they have been hurt by the lack of competition in their league, meaning they struggle to raise their game when they require. Sadly for PSG their team this season is weaker than their team last season, they will get through the group because it is fairly weak, however quarter finals will be as good as it gets again.
Arsenal have got a nice group this year, they’ll be able to do their Arsenal thing and finish second, getting to the last 16 and giving their fans hope of actually doing something, only to go out convincingly straight away. I’m being flippant, however Arsenal really have a good chance this season because PSG are one of the more accessible first seed teams. If Arsenal were to finish second again, then they would likely run into the exact problem which they’ve been suffering from for the past number of seasons, hence if they want to do better this season then finishing top is a must.
It’s a weird draw for Basel, they could have got much easier teams in the draw but they could also have got much harder ones, it’s a middle of the road draw. Basel are one of those tricky teams, who most big teams are pleased to see but could cause an upset. They have a history of overachieving in the Champions League and if PSG or Arsenal aren’t up to it, then Basel could punish them, albeit highly unlikely.
Ludogrets did well the last time they were in the Champions League; I can’t say that I honestly know that much about them beyond that. They had a tough route through the qualifiers to get to this stage, beating some solid teams and have won the last five Bulgarian titles. Bulgaria will be a tough place to go and based on their previous run, they could cause some headaches but will likely finish bottom.
Benfica, Napoli, Dynamo Kiev and Besiktas make up group B, which ranks at 6th, 5th, 6th and 2nd respectively.
Sometimes you get a stinker of a group thrown up and that is sadly exactly what we have here. Benfica would have been one of the top seeds which everyone was looking to draw, yet they ended up getting one of the weakest groups. Benfica are a solid side and they tend to do a professional job. With a stronger group I would have seen them struggling, with this group I imagine that they will be going through with reasonable comfort.
Italian teams have a tendency to underachieve, Napoli have got themselves a group where they could easily go through or fall flat on their face. I find it tough to rank Italian teams because on one hand you have Juve who over achieve and on the other hand you have Roma who go out to Monaco. Napoli are the second best Italian side and should get through this group, but their margin for error will be very tight as Istanbul and Kiev will be two hard trips.
Most of the third seed teams are much of a muchness in my opinion, so Kiev being ranked sixth makes them seem worse than they actually are. I think it is unlikely that Kiev will actually go through this group, however it depends how well they take their chances. Last season they took advantage of a weak Chelsea and Porto to get through to the last 16, this group will give them a chance to do the same. They have a slim chance of going through.
Besiktas are one of the strongest fourth seed teams and Turkey is a tough place for everyone to go, but despite that I don’t think they are particularly strong. In the context of the group, much like Kiev they will have a chance if either of the top two seeds aren’t on their game; however I see Kiev as being the better team. They are Turkish champions; however I see that more as an indictment of the quality of the Turkish league currently than of how good they are.
Group C consists of Barcelona, Man City, Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic which ranks at 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 4th respectively.
It’s by far the hardest group of the draw; it’s an incredibly hard draw for all four teams. Despite that Barcelona should make it through and I doubt they will have any real problems. I’d be quite shocked if they didn’t finish top as City have a tendency of fucking up and they are quite a bit better than the other two. Barca kept the fine tradition of not retaining the Champions League last year, they don’t have that hanging over them this season, they are one of a handful of teams who I feel will be right there at the end.
City never seem to get very lucky with the group stage draw, and this year has kept with that trend (a group of trends!). I find it very difficult to judge how City will do this season in the Champions League; traditionally you know what you’ll get (a limp performance); however under Guardiola it’s really hard to say what we will see. City should really make it through the group, the big issue which they will suffer from is that they are unlikely to finish top and both Monchengladbach and Celtic won’t be pushovers, if they aren’t careful they could well be punished.
Monchengladbach will be gutted with the group draw; they will need to hit the ground running if they have any hope of going through. Monchengladbach were in the group of death last season and managed to finish bottom, this season they have Champions League experience and finishing bottom would be a failure. Monchengladbach should be pushing City for second, I doubt they will get it but I think they could potentially put a real fright in them.
When you are a club who just by getting to the group stages is an achievement, it begs the question what kind of group do you want? Do you want a glamour group with three great matches or a group with lesser teams but which will give you a chance to make the last 16? Ultimately Celtic won’t make it through the group; they could however give some of the better teams a tough showing at home. Celtic traditionally have a very good home record in the Champions League, but their away record is terrible, this group is way too strong for them to do anything, third would be a massive achievement.
Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV and Rostov make up group D which ranks at 1st, 1st, 4th and 3rd respectively.
Another really tough group, Bayern couldn’t have asked for a worse second seed team that Atletico, the team who every wanted to avoid. The funny situation here is that we will end up with either Bayern or Atletico being unseeded in the last 16, despite that fact that both are in the top five teams in Europe. Bayern will definitely go through; however the bigger question is in which position. As far as the tournament as a whole, I like Bayern’s chances; they’re in a better position than they were last season.
Atletico much like Bayern couldn’t really have asked for a much worse draw, their draw is made all the worse when you consider they couldn’t draw Barca or Real. Atletico will go through, however I think second isn’t as bad for them as it is for Bayern. The assumption would be that Barca and Real will win their groups, they also can’t get Bayern, and with that being the case Atletico will avoid three of the best seeded teams in the competition, which isn’t really too bad considering. Atletico should have won the Champions League last season, however they suffered another soul destroying loss to Real. They are a team which is built to win cup competitions, nobody wants to draw Atletico because they know they are going to have a really hard game, they will be there or there about.
PSV did really well last season, almost eliminating Atletico in the last 16. The unfortunate situation for PSV this season is that they have drawn a group with the two of the best teams in the competition, neither of whom are likely to make an arse of it the way which Utd did last season. They are very unfortunate and will sadly be fighting it out with Rostov over third.
I don’t know what to make of Rostov; I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen them play. The fact that they were good enough to finish second in the Russian league tells you that they are no pushovers; they also have the benefit of being on the eastern side of Europe. They will battle it out with PSV for the privilege of finishing third in the group, which would be a good achievement for their first ever season in proper European competition.
Group E has CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur and Monaco which ranks at 7th, 7th, 1st and 1st respectively.
Definitely the most interesting group in this year’s draw, where any of the four teams could actually go through. CSKA will be disappointed with the draw, picking up Spurs and Monaco in the bottom two pots is very harsh on anyone but especially on them as they are one of the worse top seed teams. CSKA haven’t really been doing very much in the Champions League in recent seasons, however no team really wants to go to Moscow and their pitch is plastic. They have a chance of making it through but they are arguably the weakest team in the group.
Bayer are in a similar position to CSKA, happy with the bigger seed draw but gutted about the bottom two seeds. The positive thing for Leverkusen is that generally when they are in the Champions League they get through the first stage, they tend not to go much further than that but to get through is an achievement in itself.
Spurs will be ecstatic about this draw, with the top two seeds being almost as weak as they could possibly get. Spurs have the best side in this group; however the question is whether or not they will be able to balance the Champions League with the Premier League. It has been a number of years since Spurs were last on this stage and often the first experience can be too much for players who haven’t experienced it before. Spurs don’t have the biggest squad, so injuries may play a part; however they’ve been gifted a group where I think they should be favourites.
Most of the fourth seeds aren’t particularly strong, and although I don’t think Monaco are a great team, in comparison to the other teams you could draw they are incredibly difficult. I don’t expect Monaco to go through this group, however they do tend to over achieve in the Champions League. When most fourth seed teams don’t have a hope in hell of making it to the next round, Monaco are certainly the most likely to do exactly that in a weak group.
Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw are in group F which ranks at 3rd, 3rd, 5th and 7th respectively.
Real will be moderately satisfied with the draw, they don’t have anyone who will legitimately challenge their chances of going through and also don’t have any long trips involved. Dortmund is the only bad part of the draw for Real as their style of play could give Madrid problems. Real will go through and it will probably be in first as well. For the tournament as a whole Real will take the challenge of being the first team to retain the title, something which surely has to happen eventually. I don’t think this Real team is good enough to finally breach this record, they probably shouldn’t have won it last season and I wouldn’t put them in my top four teams to win it this year.
Dortmund had a year out of the Champions League last season and it’s good to see them back. Sadly for Dortmund another year has passed where they have been decimated in the transfer window, losing big names like Hummels, Gundogan and Mkhitaryan, with those players they could have been a real threat to go deep in the competition, without them I doubt they will. As far as the group goes, Dortmund could push Real all the way but their margin for error will be very small.
Sporting will be disappointed with how difficult the draw has turned out, with a weaker draw they could really have done something, with this draw I think they’ll be aiming for third. I would write more about Sporting but I can’t see a situation where they actually get through from this group, their best chance is to win their two games against Legia and to get a win at home in one of the other games and hope for the best.
Legia are pretty much there to make up the numbers, actually making the Champions League is the real achievement for them. I imagine that the atmosphere in Warsaw will be absolutely fantastic and they’ll make it as hard as possible for the away teams. If they managed third then it would be a great achievement.
Leicester City, Porto, Club Brugge and Copenhagen make up this group which ranks at 8th, 8th, 8th and 8th.
I really wish I was joking but I genuinely believe that you couldn’t have put four worse teams together to make a group under this seeding. I felt that Leicester could really struggle in the Champions League and they were definitely the team who everyone wanted to draw, however with such an easy group they really do have every single chance of making it to the next round. Leicester don’t really have the strength and depth to do well in the Champions League, they also have no experience of this stage and seem to have lost their momentum from last season. I think that Leicester will probably get through this group, but the only reason they are getting through is because they couldn’t have handpicked a softer group stage.
They’ll be celebrating in the streets of Porto after this draw was made; it is the stuff of dreams. Porto aren’t the Porto of a number of years ago, they’ve slumped and their success in the Champions League has dropped also. The fact that they’ve fallen into a group where they are now favourites to go through top is absolutely remarkable. I struggle to see a situation where Porto don’t finish top of this group, they have the experience required and the other teams are all pretty weak for this level of football.
Club Brugge are unlikely to go through the group, however the chance is very much there for them to cause an upset. They will need to take advantage of a lacklustre Porto team and an inexperienced Leicester side, but if they take their chances they may well have a chance of doing the remarkable. I asked the question about what kind of group would you prefer glamour or a chance? Personally I would always prefer the chance of going through and that is exactly what Club Brugge have received, they will never get a better chance than this.
I think Copenhagen are probably the easiest team left in the competition, it’s harsh but Denmark isn’t a tough place to go and they don’t really have a history of success in this competition. It’s highly unlikely but much like Brugge they have been given a unique chance of getting to the next stage.
Group H has Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb which ranks at 4th, 6th, 3rd and 5th respectively.
Juve will be fairly satisfied with this draw; they won’t be expecting to do anything other than finish comfortably top of the group. Juve will be looking to go deep in this year’s competition which I think is unlikely if they were to come up against one of the better sides, however if Juve were to get a soft run to the final (a la Real last season) then they could be very dangerous. It’s a big ask but Juve have the talent to potentially cause a shock.
Sevilla will be moderately satisfied with the draw; it will give them a strong chance to not get the opportunity to defend their Europa League title. For whatever reason, Sevilla seem to never really do anything in the Champions League, but then turn that around and are incredibly consistent and lethal in the Europa League. The draw has been kind to them, if they don’t get through to the next round this year, then there is something wrong with the clubs mentality.
Lyon will battle it out with Sevilla to achieve the second spot for the last 16 and they’ve got a really good chance, I don’t see that much between the two teams. Lyon have a strong home record and they will need to lean on that if they are to put pressure on Sevilla, the double header against them as well as the two must win games against Zagreb will define how Lyon’s campaign will go.
Zagreb showed last season that they could cause a problem or two if teams weren’t careful. I think it would be a big ask if they wanted to get out of the group. Zagreb will be hoping that both Lyon and Sevilla continue their poor form from last season’s Champions League into this year, if that were the case then they could well cause a shock, it is a long shot though.
Group A- Arsenal & PSG, Group B- Napoli & Benfica, Group C- Barca & City, Group D- Bayern & Atletico, Group E- Spurs & Leverkusen, Group F- Real & Dortmund, Group G- Porto & Leicester, Group H- Juve & Lyon
It is very hard to pick who I think will win the Champions League because without knowing the draw it is really like picking a name out of a hat. If I were to pick a team to win then I would go for Bayern and my second choice would be Barcelona, I know those two massive underdogs…
The quality of the Champions League feels poor again, which makes me wonder if that is the reason why they have decided to guarantee more places to the top four leagues (not a decision I agree with). Some of the groups are really terrible (Group G springs to mind) and there is really only a couple of good ones, I do wonder if they would be better off expanding the tournament to 64 teams and getting rid of the group stages all together.
So leave a comment and share your thoughts about how you think the Champions League will go. Maybe I’ve made a complete arse of judging someone or maybe my rankings are totally wrong, leave a comment and share those thoughts!