The draw for the UEFA Champions League group stage took place in Monaco on Thursday and, as ever, threw up some intriguing story lines. Mark Ogden picks his highlights and makes some predictions.
Jump to: Group A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H
English clubs get it easy
It is the luck of the draw, but while the likes of Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid got groups with heavyweight rivals, the Premier League’s quartet will all be happy with their outcomes.
Tottenham landed Bayern Munich, but will expect to overcome Olympiakos and Red Star Belgrade, while Liverpool and Manchester City will expect to coast through as group winners and Chelsea are favoured to take Group H.
Another year, another Man City vs. Shakhtar clash
The two clubs were paired together in the group stage for the third successive season, so it might take an imaginative publicity campaign to tempt supporters to turn out for this fixture again. City’s executives will be happy to land yet another group lacking big-name glamour, but their fans might have wished for a bit more star quality.
Group F is the most difficult
Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter were drawn together in Group F, alongside Slavia Prague, whose cheerful directors chuckled at the prospect of three huge games in the Czech capital. It will be different for the hierarchy at the other three, however, with concerns over missing a top-two spot due to the strength of competition.
Messi and Ronaldo get along
In recent years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have sat stony-faced with each other, as they wait to discover who has won the Player of the Year and Forward of the Year awards. This time around, the pair were laughing and joking — mainly at Eric Cantona’s speech — before the prizes were announced. Messi claimed best forward, but both missed out to Virgil van Dijk for the big one.
Having been given the UEFA President’s Award, convention dictated that Cantona give an acceptance speech. Dressed in jeans, creased shirt and flat cap, the former Manchester United forward made the most of his moment by quoting Shakespeare and discussing science and the ageing of cells, before closing by saying “I love football.” All of which left the audience utterly bewildered.
Group A: PSG and Real Madrid go through
Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid meet in heavyweight clashes and while both will expect to progress to the round of 16, the story of this group is likely to be about which team finishes top and earns a seeding in the knockout stages. Finishing second could lead to a nightmare draw against another Champions League big-hitter. Galatasaray and Club Brugge, meanwhile, will enjoy a tough battle for the Europa League spot that comes with third place.
B: Bayern Munich and Tottenham go through
Bayern and Tottenham will be favourites to qualify, but both must be wary of slipping up in hostile arenas when they travel to Athens and Belgrade for clashes with Olympiakos and Red Star. Red Star beat Liverpool 2-0 at home last season and are the dangerous outsider in this group; they could upset Spurs if last season’s runners-up fail to rediscover consistency. Olympiakos can be tough to beat at home, though they are something of a soft touch on the road.
C: Man City and Dinamo Zagreb go through
This group is basically a case of who will finish runners-up behind City, who are many observers’ favourites to win the Champions League. Shakhtar have the most recent pedigree in the competition, but Dinamo Zagreb and Atalanta will believe they can reach the knockout stages. Champions League debutants Atalanta may suffer from losing home advantage by playing at the San Siro in Milan rather than their 21,000-capacity stadium in Bergamo.
D: Juventus and Leverkusen go through
Juventus and Atletico Madrid, who met in last season’s round of 16, are the two to beat in this group, but Bayer Leverkusen could separate them. Juventus have strengthened in the summer, but questions hang over Atletico following the departures of Antoine Griezmann, Rodri and Diego Godin. Diego Simeone remains at the helm and has signed Portuguese wonderkid Joao Felix, but Leverkusen will be a tough nut to crack; Lokomotiv Moscow could also challenge for second.
E: Liverpool and Napoli go through
Reigning European champions Liverpool meet Napoli again, having played out two big encounters in last season’s group stage. Salzburg and Genk look to be making up the numbers, so Liverpool’s encounters with Napoli should decide who tops the group. Only a last-minute save by Alisson at Anfield stopped Napoli from dumping Liverpool out at the group stage a year ago, so the Italians will fancy their chances.
F: Barcelona and Inter go through
The most eye-catching group of all features three previous winners — Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter — slugging it out for two places. Barca will expect to finish top, but Dortmund could beat them. Inter, meanwhile, are still an unknown quantity under Antonio Conte, but the nerrazzuri have plenty of quality so don’t take your eyes off this group. Slavia Prague make up the numbers.
G: Lyon and Leipzig go through
Zenit St Petersburg’s Twitter feed joked prior to the draw that the Russian champions were the top seed that everyone wanted to get. Benfica, Lyon and Leipzig were the lucky clubs in each pot and while this group might lack glamour, it is perhaps the most competitive, with all four teams having a chance to qualify. Lyon made it to the knockout stages last season and will be favourites.
H: Chelsea and Valencia go through
Europa League winners Chelsea will be delighted to get an Ajax team weakened by the departures of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie De Jong, as well as a Valencia outfit that scraped in as Spain’s fourth qualifier and Lille, who finished a distant second to PSG in France. Chelsea, with Christian Pulisic signed to replace Eden Hazard, are in transition under Frank Lampard, but should top this group.