The UEFA Champions League Preview.


The final 32 of the UEFA Champions League has been decided and they have been drawn into 8 groups of 4 teams (yay arithmetic!).  Thanks to UEFA’s (how can I say this nicely) interesting co-efficient, which seeds teams that made it to the final last year in the 3rd pot (I know how it works, but it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous) and rubbish Portuguese teams in the 1st pot.  The idea that the seeding should be over a shorter period of time than 5 years and the Europa League shouldn’t count for as much as the Champions League would seem sensible to anyone else, but we are dealing with UEFA, and organisation that makes a simple draw of 32 teams last for about 2 hours (or it certainly felt like that).

Anyway onto the draw itself, we had the Lisbon Lion great and captain extraordinaire Billy McNeill up first to draw the first seed teams (I won’t comment on his performance although I felt sorry for him and have to wonder why his family allowed him to be put in that position), followed by the enigmatic Johann Cruyff, for some reason Michael Owen (not what I’d describe as a European legend) and Paulo Sousa to draw out the diddy teams.  We also had Portuguese great Luis Figo drawing the balls for the actual groups the teams would play in.  As I have already said, the draw lasted way too long (as always) but it finished eventually and we knew how each group would line up.

As a side note Franck Ribery picked up the UEFA European player of the year for 2012/13.  I don’t think I am the best person to judge this because I didn’t see very much Bundesliga football last season, but I did see a lot of Bayern in the Champions League and I have to say, not only is he not a top 3 player in the world, but I don’t even think he is the best player in the Bayern team.  Messi should have of course won, even though he didn’t have a great season he was still better than Ribery.  I imagine Ribery won it despite his actual play but rather because Bayern won the Champions League and it seems they tend to favour the winning team with the award (unless of course you are Chelsea, the worst Champions League winning team ever [not that it takes away from the fact they won it]).


Group A

There are many groups of death in this year’s Champions League, and this is one of them; with Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad.  If I were to put a ranking on it (based on their pots, 1st-4th) I would say the 4th, 6th, 3rd and 2nd best in their respective pots, so quite a tough group.

Regardless of how strong the opposition is Man Utd should make it through without much bother.  However it is by no means a guarantee, which is probably a good thing for Utd who have, in recent years, found themselves playing rather lacklustre football in the group stages.  Obviously this is the first Champions League where Utd do not have the legendary Alex Ferguson in the dugout and instead have new manager David Moyes, who has no previous Champions League experience.  It will be a quick learning curve with such a hard group for Moyes, and he will have to rely heavily on the experienced Utd squad that he possesses (appeared in 3 out of last 6 finals), but due to the toughness of the group it will keep him on his toes (and up at night) which can only be a good thing because to relax in this situation may spell trouble.  I don’t see Utd as winners by the end of the tournament, because their midfield isn’t good enough, however you never know unless you go to the dance, and the dance begins at the last 16.

Shakhtar Donetsk find themselves in the unenviable position of being the worst team in the group.  It isn’t that they are a bad team, but they as a club have lost so many players this past year (Willain, Fernandinho, Mkhitaryan) that they aren’t the same club that played very well in the group stages last year and made it to the last 16.  Fourth is more than likely, given such a hard group.

Bayer Leverkusen are another resurgent German team and (like many other German teams) have an exciting young squad, that are hungry for success.  Bayer finished 3rd in the Bundesliga (Behind Champions League finalists Dortmund and Bayern) and have already started the Bundesliga very strongly (3 wins out of 3).  Leverkusen could be the dark horse in the Champions League this year, because there is undoubted potential in that squad and their young manager (ex-Liverpool player) Sami Hyypia has so far done an excellent job at the club.  In many ways I see parallels between Leverkusen and Sociedad, but I think Leverkusen has the slight edge and I think they will take 2nd.

Real Sociedad have continued their resurgence since being relegated from La Liga seven seasons ago with a place in the Champions League group stages, a remarkable recovery of Borussia Dortmund proportions.  Sociedad dispatched Champions League mainstays Lyon (who are a patch on the team they used to be) with relative ease in the qualifying round.  Sociedad lost possibly their best player in Illarramendi to Real Madrid this summer, and haven’t really replaced him.  Sociedad are a good team (and a very strong 4th seed team) but I think they will come up just short and finish 3rd.


Group B

Another really strong group which has three quarterfinalists from last year’s Champions League; with Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray and Copenhagen.  The rankings of each team from their respective pots would be 3rd, 1st, 4th, and 4th respectively.

Real Madrid are looking much stronger than they did last year; they’ve added Isco, Illarramendi and (although not yet complete) Bale.  Ancelloti is a man with plenty of European experience (2 time winner as manager) and I imagine will be able to bring the squad together better than Moruniho did last season (because he was falling out with everyone).  I think Real are setting themselves up for a big year and will finish 1st here.  Obviously it is too early to decide who I think is going to win (because the draw out of the last 16 is so vital) but just now I really like Real Madrid to win the Champions League, they are my favourites.

Juventus snuck into the 2nd seeded teams and were still the worst team you could have drawn from that pot (go figure).  Juve are a team back on the up, they have dominated Italian football the past two seasons and the Old Lady is back at the pinnacle of club football.  I like Juve as well, but I think there are teams that are better than them in the competition, but in two years this team could be a major threat (if they stay together and add to it).  Juve will finish 2nd in this group, because Real are better than them and the other two aren’t, simple as that.

Galatasaray somehow made the quarterfinals last year, and they won’t be repeating that feat this year.  They were handed two glamour ties in Juve and Real, but realistically they aren’t going to be able to break through and finish in the top 2.  3rd is where they are heading, and could be a threat in the Europa League.

Copenhagen…..I don’t mean to be disrespectful to any Kobenhavn fans, but they don’t have a hope in hell of making the last 16.  At least there are some exciting ties to watch for the fans, 4th it will be.


Group C

A really poor group (although not the worst), the kind of group that when you look at it you wonder if this is a Europa League group or a Champions League group; what makes it worse is when you look at some of these groups with lots of good teams in it and then you look at this and you will be getting a team that doesn’t belong to make it to the big stage.  Anyway, the teams from the rubbish group are Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympiacos and Anderlecht.  In terms of their rankings in their pots; 8th, 2nd, 7th and 5th respectively.

Benfica were the team that everyone wanted, God knows how they managed to become a 1st seed team, because they aren’t even close to being the 8th best team in the competition.  The funny thing is if you were to ask me which 1st seed team I thought wouldn’t make the last 16 (before the draw) I would definitely say Benfica.  The funny thing is that instead of getting one of the ridiculously hard 3rd seed teams, they picked up Olympiacos, who are mince.  Anyway I think they will finish 2nd in the group, but they are very fortunate with their draw.

PSG are for me one of the most over rated teams in Europe.  You can’t throw money at over rated players (Ibrahimovic) and then think that you have a capable enough squad to challenge or even win the Champions League.  Yet I have seen many pundits put them in the semi-finals, something which they are nowhere near just now.  PSG will win this group and were one of the stronger 2nd seed teams (although the 2nd seeds were oddly weak) but much like Benfica they are very lucky they got such a generous draw, otherwise they would have been in trouble.

Olympiacos have a chance because they have such a weak group, but I don’t think as a team they are very good.  When I looked at their squad it was funny to see some of the players they have (Javier Saviola, Roy Carroll, Miguel Torres, Vladimir Weiss) none of whom make you think ‘wow they’re good’, but rather ‘wow they get about’.  It just isn’t a great squad, and to win the Greek league is hardly something worth bragging about.  They’ll have an outside chance of pushing Benfica but they’ll ultimately finish 3rd.

I don’t really know that much about Anderlecht, but I doubt they will have much of an impact on the group stages because they haven’t had an impact for a while.  Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t really know because it must have been like 6 years since I last saw them play.  If they are to do something then they have a soft enough group to do it in, but I doubt they will and will probably finish 4th.


Group D

The Champions League champions’ group and it couldn’t get much simpler than this; with Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City and Viktoria Plzen.  Their pot rankings would be 1st, 5th, 2nd and 7th respectively.

Bayern Munich for me are the best team in Europe just now, however I think they have moved backwards under Pep Guardiola.  I have watched them a few times this season already, and this isn’t a patch on the side that won the competition last year, even though they have a better squad.  I think they will finish 1st in this group, but I don’t think that they will win the competition, because no team has done it before (not Messi’s Barca, not the Galactico’s, not Fergie’s fledglings).  I think Bayern have a chance (best squad in Europe), but I think their manager will make it unlikely.

CSKA’s major benefit over other teams in the group is that they play in Russia, and Russia is a hard place for teams to go to.  CSKA also play on a plastic pitch which the other teams in the group may find it awkward to play on.  To go through they are going to have to win their home games against Plzen and City, as well as winning away at Plzen as well as either drawing at City or at home to Bayern.  It isn’t beyond them, but they got a hard draw with two teams that are much better than them and are likely to finish 3rd.

Man City have finally landed themselves a group that they could realistically get out of on the third time of trying.  If City doesn’t get through this group, then serious questions will have to be asked about the City squad.  City should finish 2nd in the group at relative ease.  It’s probably a step too far to think that City could win the competition, because I don’t think they are good enough defensively, but they should be aiming for quarterfinals, anything beyond that is a bonus.

Viktoria Plzen don’t have a chance, questionable whether they will get a point, 4th position is waiting.


Group E

Here we go the worst group in the Champions League this season by a country mile (and they’re longer than a regular mile in case you are wondering).  If group C was total mince, then group E would be the shit that they couldn’t sell and just threw out.  This group is rotten.  The group contains Chelsea (who I am sure couldn’t have handpicked an easier group), Schalke, Basel and Steaua Bucharest.  Their rankings respectively would be 5th, 8th, 8th and 6th.

Chelsea will walk this group; they will win 4 games in a row with ease and be the first team through.  The biggest question mark is how well they will do in the competition, I imagine much like Utd and City they should be aiming for the quarterfinals and anything beyond that is a bonus, because Chelsea don’t have a good enough defence or strike force to win the competition, but then again I have said that before about Chelsea and look what happened.

Schalke aren’t an awful team, it is just that they aren’t as good as they were last year.  They have good players (Papadopoulos, Howedes, Draxler, and Huntelaar) but I just get the feeling that they don’t have enough to do anything in this competition.  Schalke were the team that everyone was wanting to draw, not only because it meant you avoided the other German sides but also because they were the weakest 2nd seed team.  Schalke were lucky that they drew such an easy group because otherwise they would be in serious trouble of going out.  I think they will probably finish 2nd but there really is very little separating them and Basel.

As I have already said, I think Basel have a very good chance of finishing 2nd in this group because it is fairly easy.  When you consider that the 3rd pot had teams like City, Dortmund and Leverkusen in them, Basel is a gift.  Again I think they will push 2nd but will ultimately finish 3rd.

Steaua haven’t been good for years and that trend will continue as they finish 4th in this group.  Like many of the smaller teams I haven’t watched Steaua in years but I doubt they will have any impact on the group.  However they couldn’t have picked a better group to be in and you never know maybe they’re better than I am giving them credit for.


Group F

For me the most competitive group and probably the group of death contains Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli….ouch.  To rank them in their respective pots 6th, 7th, 1st and 1st.  That is what makes this group so exciting; the top two seeds are at the low end of quality from their pots, whereas you have the best teams from both the 3rd and 4th pots.

Arsenal were probably licking their lips when they saw Marseille placed in their group, happiness soon turned to despair when they then managed to receive the two best teams in the next two pots.  The only way Arsenal could have received a worse draw is if they had gotten PSG instead of Marseille.  Arsenal almost always seems to get through the group stages but I think this is the first time in 15 years that it isn’t going to happen.  This will of course only heap more pressure on Arsene Wenger, maybe a run in the Europa League will relieve it but 3rd place is where I see Arsenal heading.

Marseille couldn’t have gotten much unluckier than Arsenal; similar to Arsenal they were probably rather pleased when they were drawn into Arsenal’s group, but that changed soon after.  I feel sorry for Marseille because (although I doubt it will happen) they could feasibly gain no points in this group, because it is so tough.  4th is where Marseille is highly likely, 3rd would be an achievement or a punishment depending on their outlook.

Borussia Dortmund are in my opinion the 4th best team I Europe (maybe 3rd, it’s tight between them and Real), so any team who picked them up as the 3rd seeded team must be crying themselves to sleep.  I think they will win the group with relative ease because the team has actually improved on last season despite losing Gotze (adding Aubameyang, Sokratis, and Mkhitaryan).  The Champions League runners up last season are looking good to go one step further, and naturally depending on the draw in the knockouts, they are currently my second favourites and will start their campaign with a nice 1st place in group F.

The last time Napoli were in the Champions League (2 years ago), I had a bet on them as my outsiders (had Bayern to win, somehow they didn’t) and I was feeling really smug about myself after they made it through a group stage everyone had written them off for and then took a 3-1 lead over Chelsea after totally out playing them in their first leg.  However often things don’t go your way and somehow (I still don’t know) Chelsea went on and beat them to progress to the quarterfinals.  After a year’s hiatus, Napoli are now back in the big leagues, but not with the same team they had 2 years ago.  They sold their best player in the summer (Cavani) but are probably overall a better side because of the investment they then had after he left.  Napoli are by far the best 4th pot team and I expect them to pip Arsenal to 2nd and once again get back into the last 16.


Group G

Another incredibly week group (that’s three if you’re counting), this one contains Porto, Atletico Madrid, Zenit St. Petersburg and Austria Vienna.  To put them in their respective pot rankings 7th, 3rd, 5th and 8th.

Porto are well past their best, they are the Greece of European club football (high ranking because of past exploits leads to high seeding all the time, meaning they always do ok despite being very average).  Once again Porto has picked up a top ranking, and once again they are one of the teams that all the other lower ranked teams were hoping to draw.  It doesn’t help the cause when you sell your two best players to Monaco in the summer.  Quite frankly, Porto aren’t that good (for a 1st seed team) and this year they manage to not get out of the group stages again in what is a very easy group, it’ll be 3rd this year and a trip to the Europa League which we all know Porto love to play in anyway.

Atletico have fallen into the perfect group for themselves, I have said it about some of the other teams, but Atletico would have struggled to handpick an easier group.  I think they are the group winners and although Monaco also bought Atletico’s best player, it won’t hamper them getting out of this really easy group.

Zenit managed to make it into the last 16 the only time they were previously in the Champions League (ironically in an easy group with Porto [who got knocked out]), I expect them to do it again.  This is a solid Zenit side that has been drawn in a soft group; they have the trip to Russia which nobody likes plus the second best squad in the group.  It is funny to note that Zenit have almost as many Portuguese players in their squad as Porto do (bit awkward).  Zenit will take 2nd behind Atletico and head back into the last 16.

Austria Vienna are the worst team in the competition and they didn’t even manage to pick up a glamour tie, gutted for them.  They will take 4th because they haven’t got a chance.


Group H

When the word glamour group was invented, it was made to describe a group like this; Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Celtic.  Sit and look at that for a moment, imagine the prestige in those four clubs combined, it is incredible.  Each team has won the Champions League at least one time (16 titles between them; wow) and each team is full of glamour and prestige that most other clubs can only dream of.  Think of the venues that will be visited in this group; the Nou Camp, the San Siro, the Amsterdam Arena and Celtic Park (the best atmosphere in Europe on a European night).  Each venue is truly special but Celtic Park is that little bit more special than the rest.  Scotland is a football country through and through and Celtic Park is the pinnacle of that.  The Celtic fans are renowned for being some of the best fans in the world and if you watched the Celtic-Barca game last year you will instantly understand why.  Leo Messi and Xavi said that playing at Celtic Park was an experience they would never forget and that it was one of the greatest atmospheres they had ever played in (yes the two Barcelona guys that are pretty good).  Anyway enough gushing over the Celtic crowds and the rest of the group.  Their rankings respectively would be 2nd, 4th, 6th and 3rd.

Barcelona should walk this group because to be honest the other three teams aren’t really that good.  Barca are the second best team in Europe and shouldn’t really struggle in this group (although Celtic did beat them last year).  Barca showed last season that they aren’t the force they once were in Europe when they were humiliated by Bayern.  It’s been coming for years and it finally happened, you can’t ignore your defence for so long without being punished.  Barca still hasn’t fixed the defence and for that reason I don’t think they will win the competition.

AC Milan aren’t really that good, but to be fair are still a team in transition.  They have a very young squad and have potential but it is still a number of seasons before they will be able to make any kind of major impact.  They have however managed to draw a fairly easy group and should still be able to finish in 2nd.

Ajax are the sleeping giants who seem like they will never wake up again.  I don’t really know what to say about Ajax beyond they haven’t made it past the group stages since 2006 and I don’t imagine they are going to do it this season either, in fact I think they are going to finish 4th because I think that Celtic are just a little bit better than them.

The Celtic team that made it to the last 16 last season against all the odds is not the same Celtic team that has made it to the group stages this season.  They have lost 3/11 first team players and haven’t actually replaced them.  Celtic traditionally have an awful away record (although they did win in Moscow last year) so that combined with needing to win all their home games (unlikely) makes me think that they don’t really have a chance of making the last 16 and instead will finish in 3rd place.


Going Through

The teams I have going through are (in order); group A: Man Utd & Leverkusen, group B: Real Madrid & Juve, group C: PSG & Benfica, group D: Bayern & Man City, group E: Chelsea & Schalke, group F: Dortmund & Napoli, group G: Atletico & Zenit and group H: Barca & AC.



Naturally I don’t think it is worth making predictions of who is going to win the competition because everything changes in the knock-out stages.  If I were to pick my favourite I would choose Real Madrid and would put Borussia Dortmund as my second team.

I think it is frustrating to see that there are three groups in the Champions League which are quite frankly not the class required for the Champions League (C, E & G), I am not saying that there aren’t clubs in those groups who don’t deserve to go through to the next round (Chelsea, PSG & Atletico are last 16 teams) but I am saying that you are going to get at least 3 teams that don’t belong in the last 16, whereas other teams are going to miss out because their groups are actually difficult (Arsenal for instance).  I know it is a random job, but this surely shows that there is a problem with the co-efficient, because the last few years this has happened too often and everyone wants to see the best teams in Europe play each other in the knock-out stages not the group stages.

I would also like to point out that why the fuck do the Spanish and Germans demand that Dortmund and Bayern and Barca and Real are separated from each other?  You don’t see the English demand that the Manchester clubs are separate or the London clubs, so why are other countries allowed to do this?  It essentially means that they can fix the draw to suit themselves, which is surely unfair for every other country that doesn’t roll UEFA in such a manner.  Anyway rant over.

The draw has worked out quite nicely for me as a fan because I want to watch the Utd games and the Celtic games and they turned out on either side of the draw, so that’s pretty sweet, no need to watch on two screens like in previous seasons.



So leave a comment on the Champions League draw.  What’s the best or worst group?  What team do you think is going to be left out in the cold when it comes to the last 16 draw?  Let me know and leave a comment.