2017-18 UEFA Champions League Preview

The final 32 of the Champions League has been decided, one of these teams will stand atop of Europe at the end of the season, tears in their eyes and streamers in their faces. Each group will be covered and each team will receive a pot ranking based on their strength in their respective pot.

Group A

Benfica, Manchester United, Basel and CSKA Moscow make up group A, which ranks at 6th, 3rd, 6th and 4th respectively.

Benfica benefit greatly from the champions pot as they end up as a number one seed and the draw has been kind to them. Benfica will have been one of the teams that most were hoping to draw out of pot one, yet they have received a fairly fortunate group. I thoroughly expect Benfica to go through in this group but I can’t see them doing much in the knockout stages unless they receive a very favourable draw.

Utd got the draw which dreams are made of, picking up two very favourable teams in Benfica and Basel and a tricky away leg in Moscow but overall a team that you’d expect them to handle comfortably. I expect Utd to win the group with relative ease, they have good squad depth and the competition in the group isn’t the strongest, Mourinho knows how to get the job done and in reality it will likely be with ease. The question for Utd will be how deep they can go in the competition, if the draw is very kind they could go deep, however you get the feeling if they come up against the best teams they will struggle. It’s a team which is close but isn’t quite there yet, I think making the semis would be a big achievement for this season.

Basel have found themselves in a group which will give them a slim chance of making the last 16 and a good chance of making it into the Europa League. Basel can be a tricky team and have caught sides short on more than one occasion, I doubt it will happen here but you never know.

If CSKA want to do anything this season they will need a fabulous home record, however they don’t seem up to it. They are an ok team, who play in a difficult place to go and play on a pitch which is less than ideal, if it wasn’t for the last two they wouldn’t really be in consideration to do anything. CSKA will have a chance of the Europa place with Basel but they are the worst team in the group by quite a margin in my opinion.

Group B

Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht and Celtic are together, which is 2nd, 4th, 7th and 3rd respectively.

Bayern are one of the favourites this season and will comfortably make it through this group, the issue they will have is that their margin for error is very small if they want to finish top of the group. Bayern should be a good shout this year because they have arguably the best squad in the world, they have quality at every position and a top notch manager, yet for whatever reason the noises out of the club aren’t positive. Their record in the Champions League isn’t what it should be for a squad breaming with this much talent, this year everything seems a little more unstable and that is so unusual for a team which for a top side likes to give the impression of stability. The good thing for Bayern is that they’ve received a group which they will definitely get out of, whether it’s first or second, by the time the knockout stages come around you’d think everything would have settled down. The quality of the team says they should be right there, I’ve been more confident in previous seasons about Bayern’s ability to deliver.

PSG managed to stretch the rules of what is right and wrong this summer and it was all to try and become the champions of Europe. They’ve ended up in a group which is tough but they should progress with relative ease. The question for them is whether they can finish above Bayern and the two games against the German champions are going to be their first real test as to what this team can do. PSG are second favourites heading into the start of the competition and I don’t really understand why, it feels like people have got caught up in the hype of the big transfers. I’m not saying that PSG won’t win the Champions League, but they still look fragile to me. The problem previously wasn’t scoring the goals, it was being able to handle the pressure of the situation, controlling games and their lack of defensive quality. Ultimately playing in the French league is both a blessing and a curse for PSG, they get to rest their players more than any of the other top challengers, however the lack of quality opposition on a consistent basis hurts them badly in games which are really tight and ultimately when it comes down to it I don’t think they’ll have enough.

Anderlecht got a draw which has three nice travelling games for the fans and a good chance of making the Europa League, I’d be amazed if they got through to the next round. The two games against Celtic will be where Anderlecht will get their true test and it should be interesting to see how they compete against the two top teams.

What I said about Anderlecht is almost identical to what I’d say about Celtic, a draw which has nice easy away games for the fans, a couple of big home games against glamour sides and a real chance of making the Europa League which should really be their end game. I don’t think there will be too much between the two sides but I would give the edge to Celtic due to the form they have shown over the last year.

Group C

Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Roma and Qarabag make up group C which ranks at 3rd, 2nd, 4th and 7th respectively.

A very interesting group which Chelsea have found themselves in, probably the second hardest group of the draw. Chelsea have a very good first eleven but their squad is lacking, if they are to challenge for the league and in Europe I’m not sure they’re good enough, however if they concentrate on one, in this case the Champions League, then I think they could be a great outside bet. Chelsea should make it through the group, although with Roma being there it is by no means a given. I’m sure they’ll have enough to get through, will they have enough to challenge for the title? That’s yet to be seen but I don’t see why they couldn’t fly under the radar.

Atletico are one of the most consistent teams in the Champions League, they aren’t glamorous but they get the job done and they do it in a professional manner. Atletico are the team that nobody really wants to face, they stifle opponents and have the class to punish you at the other end of the pitch. They’ve pulled Roma and Chelsea in a group which isn’t particularly flattering, however they should have more than enough to get through. The question for Atletico is whether they will be able to pip Chelsea to the top spot, I assume they will as they will probably get the slight better of the Londoners in the two big games. Similar to Chelsea there is no reason that Atletico can’t win the competition, I doubt that they will as it feels they aren’t the team they once were, however with the likelihood of them not challenging for the league they could concentrate more on Europe and it could pay dividends.

Roma probably couldn’t have asked for much worse, they’re one of the best third seed teams yet have managed to draw two of the best teams from the top two pots. Roma will need to take advantage of their home games if the hope to get through to the next round, I doubt it will matter. They should finish third fairly comfortably, which in itself is something, based on last seasons Europa League and how many unexpected teams did well I don’t see why Roma couldn’t do something.

Qarabag are making up the numbers and are totally out of their depth here. They got a nice draw with lovely trips to Rome, London and Madrid, I’m sure all five of their fans will have a great time visiting Europe’s great cities.

Group D

Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon rank at 4th, 1st, 8th and 2nd respectively.

Juve will be disappointed to pull the best team out of pot 2 in their group because quite simply they aren’t as good as Barcelona. Juve made the final last year but aren’t the team they were after losing some big names in defence they aren’t quite the team they were. I have no doubt that they will get through the group, although Sporting could pose a sneaky risk (I doubt it), but finishing second will leave them open to playing pretty much every seeded team available (Barca excluded) and that will leave them very vulnerable heading into the next round. Of course Juve are an outside bet to win the Champions League this year, much like they were last season, however I think when it gets down to the very end they won’t have enough again.

Barca were on the wrong end of the worlds biggest ever transfer, yet I’m not sure that the loss of Neymar will be as big a hit as it would seem on the face of things. I don’t think Neymar is as good as people seem to think and Barca are still very much Messi’s team. If Neymar was that damn good he would be the king of Barca by now, the fact he had to tuck his tail and leave tells you that he is weak mentally and personally knows that he can never reach Messi’s level. Barca overall are a better team than last season and don’t have nearly as much pressure on them to go all the way. The one thing that is concerning at Barca is what is happening upstairs and the lack of stability at the club and some questionable transfers. Barca along with Real are probably the two teams who are most likely to win the Champions League at the end of the season, Messi has something to prove after Ronaldo and Madrid’s years of dominance, he’ll know that this Barca side don’t have many top years left in it so it’s now or never.

Olympiacos haven’t got very much out of this group in what is a pretty horrific draw, pulling two massive teams out of the first two pots and one of the best teams out of the fourth pot. Olympiacos are one of the weakest third pot teams and although they will have a shot at finishing third, I just don’t see it.

Sporting similarly to Olympiacos have got a stinking group which gives them little to no chance of making it through to the next round. The aim for them will be to finish third and give themselves a run at the Europa League, it’s not a great prize for Sporting but it’s their punishment for being away from the top competitions for so long.

Group E

Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool and Maribor are your group E teams, ranking at 8th, 7th, 3rd and 8th respectively.

Spartak shouldn’t really be making it to the next round, however with this group they have a really good chance. The only bad team they’ve drawn is Liverpool and even then Liverpool are the sort of team who can drop cheap points. If Spartak are to get to the next round they will need to beat Maribor twice and take advantage of their oppositions tricky trip to Moscow. I’d be surprised if Spartak do manage to get through, however they’ve got the type of group which gives them a slim chance and they’ll be hoping for one of the more established teams to slip up.

Sevilla will be praying to all the gods about this draw, yes Liverpool isn’t what you’d call ideal but you can’t really complain about the other two teams. Sevilla have a great European record but their Champions League record is average at best. In a different group they’d be under real pressure, in this group they’ll be wiping the sweat off their head.

Liverpool will be rejoicing to more gods than Sevilla as they picked up the almost perfect draw for a third pot team, they genuinely couldn’t have got a much better group than this. Liverpool like all good third pot team could have been in real trouble if they received a bad draw, instead they’re looking really good in the group. I think if Liverpool are able to make it to the quarters then they’ll have done really well and with group they’ll have every chance, they should be looking to try and win the group ahead of Sevilla to give themselves the best chance.

Maribor are just making up the numbers, they didn’t receive the glamour group that they were probably hoping for and I doubt they’ll have a chance at third. The best they can hope for is a respectable run and maybe a sneaky couple of points.

Group F

Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli and Feyenord are group F’s teams which rank at 7th, 5th, 2nd and 5th respectively

Shakhtar have found themselves in a very interesting group, I would say they are the third of the four teams in the group, so I wouldn’t expect them to go through, however with their tendency to show up in European competition they shouldn’t be counted out. I don’t think they’ll finish above City, so the question will be how well they compete against Napoli and Feyenord, they’ll have to hope that teams are taking points off each other to give them the best chance of progressing.

City will be pleasantly pleased with this group, a soft first seed and fairly tough but manageable third and fourth seeds, they should get through top of the group with relative ease. It won’t be a walk in the park as all four teams could give them a game if they aren’t on it, but I would be very surprised if they didn’t progress. City have a strong chance of challenging this season, they have one of the best attacks in world football and a manager who knows how to get the job done. It’s not too dissimilar to Utd’s situation, if the draw is kind to them then I think they could do well, but ultimately I don’t think they’ll be good enough. The issue which City have is that defensively and in the centre of midfield they don’t have the quality necessary to not be punished by the big teams and when it comes to the very end they won’t be able to be carried by their potent attack.

Napoli got a draw which should allow them to progress but will require them to be at the top of their game if they want to do so. I don’t imagine they will do much against City who are the class of the group, so if they want to progress they will need to get the better of Shakhtar and beat Feyenord twice. If Napoli can’t get through the group it will really beg the question about the quality of Serie A, with only Juve likely to go through if Napoli don’t.

Feyenord aren’t a great team but they’ve been handed a group which they are unlikely to do anything in. Their chances of making the Europa League aren’t even very good either as all three teams are clearly better than them. I guess Feyenord will hope they can sneak a few results but the quality of the three teams above them is too much for them to realistically overturn.

Group G

Monaco, Porto, Besiktas and RB Leipzig make up the worst in terms of quality and most competitive group, ranking at 5th, 8th, 5th and 1st respectively.

Monaco could have had a solid chance of challenging for the Champions League this season if they hadn’t lost half their squad, however they ended up losing half their squad and didn’t come close to replacing them, which is a shame. They’ve got a group that I still think they’ll get through but it won’t be a given, I imagine they’re the type of team most other teams would be happy to draw in the next round.

Porto really aren’t at it to the level they once were, they snuck into the second pot but aren’t anywhere near that quality when you look at the other teams you could get. They’ve fallen in a group which will allow them a really good chance of progressing, something which oddly happens every single year. Porto may well progress and they may well finish fourth, the group is open for them if they have the quality to take advantage of it, I doubt they do.

Besiktas aren’t a great team, it’s the sort of place where players go to end their career, however that doesn’t make them a terrible side. Like everyone in the group they have got lucky with the draw as it gives them a legitimate chance of progressing to the next round. Besiktas will be strong at home as Turkey is always a difficult place to go and that could prove vital if they want to get to the next round.

Leipzig have only been a top tier side for one season and they are already in the Champions League, it is quite an achievement and although they are the best fourth seed team and I would say the second best team in this group, however quite often what you find are teams don’t perform as expected in their first season of Champions League football. The ability and conditioning to play two games in a week with lots of travelling shouldn’t be scoffed at and it is something which is hard to adjust to. Leipzig definitely have the quality, however many teams before them have had similar or better quality and not been able to make that switch, it will be interesting to see how they do.

Group H

Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur and APOEL have been drawn together in what is definitely the toughest group of the draw ranking at 1st, 6th, 1st and 6th respectively.

Real have the most complete first eleven in football, with quality at every position they are the two time defending Champions League champions and they couldn’t have got much worse of a draw. Real should get through, they are the best team in the group by quite a distance, however if they aren’t at it then they could be in trouble. Spurs and Dortmund are both top sides, both of whom are knockout stage quality, to have both in their group is very unfortunate. If you look at the positives it will give Real really competitive games to set them up for later in the year, if you look at the negatives it isn’t a walkover, they should be fine but it will be interesting as Real tend to get hot as the season goes on. Real will look to win their third straight trophy and they have a great chance of doing so. They’ve broke the hoodoo of a team never retaining the trophy and have hence taken the pressure off of the next team who tries to repeat the feat. The big positive for Madrid is that I don’t feel there are many teams who feel like they’re at the level to win the Champions League, there are a lot of teams on the maybe if they get a good draw level (primarily teams in transition) and then their two biggest rivals (Barca and Bayern) seem to be in a bit of a boardroom mess, it’s very much set up for Real to possibly retain once again. Will they? I’m inclined to think no, it’s fallen very well for them the last two years, I struggle to see them doing it again as their luck is likely to run out at some point, they will certainly be there.

Dortmund couldn’t have asked for much worse than this a team which is better than them and a team which is at the same level. It will be a straight shoot-out between Dortmund and Spurs for second place. I’m writing this after Dortmund and Spurs have played at Wembley, so I know that they’ve lost the first leg of the head to head. With that being the case the pressure is very much on Dortmund in their final five games. They’ll need to beat Spurs in the reverse fixture, do the double over APOEL and maybe take some points off of Real, it’s a tough ask. Prior to the tournament starting I’d have given the edge to Dortmund, after losing their first match they’re going to need a good run to save their campaign.

Everything I wrote about Dortmund could be said about Spurs as well, unlucky with the draw and it will come down to the head to head with the other. I think Spurs’ record in Europe leaves a lot to be desired and their record at Wembley is even worse, so I thought they’d probably come out on the wrong end of the battle against Dortmund. Having said that I was surprised to see that they managed to win the first match between the two. Spurs should now go through from this group and they’ve given themselves a great chance of doing so, I’d be surprised if they were capable of going past the quarters (same can be said of Dortmund).

APOEL can be a tricky side but they’ve been handed a shocking group and will be lucky to get more than a point, in fact if they do get a point they’ll have been doing very well. On a positive note they’ve got three good games at home against fancy sides to enjoy, a very small positive in a sea of negatives.

Going Through

I wrote most of this prior to the Champions League starting, however the last group I wrote after the first round of matches, hence when writing who I thought would go through I had already seen some of the results. So because of that these predictions are from who I thought was going to go through prior to the first round of matches, rather than the sixteen I thought would go through after the first round.

Group A- Man Utd & Benfica, Group B- Bayern & PSG, Group C- Atletico & Chelsea, Group D- Barca & Juve, Group E- Sevilla & Liverpool, Group F- City & Napoli, Group G- Monaco & Leipzig and Group H- Real & Dortmund.

Conclusion

I feel there are three elite teams in the Champions League this season and they are Real, Bayern and Barca, with Real currently being the best of the three. There is then a next rung of teams who could do something if things went their way and that includes Chelsea, Utd, City, Juve and PSG.

I don’t know who I think will win the Champions League this year, my head tells me Real are the best team in the tournament and they’re a team who get hot at the right time and get the job done when it’s required, yet for whatever reason I’m just not feeling the pick. Don’t ask me why but I have this sneaky suspicion that Chelsea could be the team to watch this season, partially because I don’t think they’re going to compete in the league and they definitely have the quality in their first eleven. Conte’s European record isn’t the best and their squad doesn’t have the best depth, however I feel we’re due a shock winner because there hasn’t been one in a while and I feel Chelsea are best suited for that.

So what are your thoughts of the 2017-18 Champions League? Are you excited to see if Real can enter the realms of history by becoming a treble winning European champion? Who will be the big surprise to progress through the groups? Or are you just wondering how Porto managed to get a shitty group again? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts.

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Author: bm23reviews

I watch TV and sports then write stuff.....that's about it.

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