On Tuesday, the Champions League will kick off its Group Stage campaign. 32 clubs vying for the biggest prize in club football, with a billion viewers worldwide watching every move, have made the UEFA Champions League, one of the biggest sporting competitions on the planet. Always unpredictable, the Champions League will provide thrills and entertainment to a vast global audience. Here is a look at the individual groups.
FC Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb
While not the most marquee group, it is an intriguing one. Porto were champions of Portugal last season, but were a disappointment in Europe, failing to get past the group stage. The Dragoes will be motivated to do better this season. Paris St Germain have plenty of money to spend, and have stated that a Champions League title is the main goal. Dynamo Kiev are a tricky opponent that will cause difficulties. Dinamo Zagreb are longshots at best. Porto and PSG go through. Dynamo Kiev go to Europa.
Arsenal, Schalke 04, Olympiacos, Montpellier
Arsenal are the clear favourites in this group. The Gunners have been extremely impressive in the early part of the English Premier League season, scoring 8 goals while conceding only 1 goal in four matches. Could this be the breakout season Arsene Wenger has dreamed of since he took over the North London side? Schalke play some of the most eyecatching football in Europe and will be a formidable test. Montpellier were a huge surprise winning Ligue 1 last season, but will have their work cut out for them. Olympiacos just don’t have enough talent to see the knockout stage. Arsenal and Schalke go through. Montpellier will go to Europa.
AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga
There is little doubt, Italian powerhouse AC Milan are the favourites. But their play so far in Serie A has been anything but powerful. In fact, it has been downright dreadful. Supporters are claiming that Milan are saving themselves for Europe, but that is a risky proposition. Malaga have ability, but will need to fend off the distraction of an owner who might be heading to bankruptcy. Zenit St Petersburg has experience in European play and are a sturdy side. Anderlecht are a team on the rise and will be tough. Milan and Malaga barely go through. Taking a hunch and picking Anderlecht to see Europa action.
Real Madrid, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax Amsterdam
The Group Of Death. The Champions of Spain, England, Germany and Holland are in this powerful group. Real Madrid are expected to challenge for the European title, but are off to a skiddish start in La Liga. A contentious point in the Spanish capital is the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a brilliant player, but is feeling “sad” at this time. Rumours are swirling that Ronaldo may go to Manchester United on a transfer, so Los Blancos will be dealing with drama during the Group Stage. Manchester City are an excellent side that are attacking threats from all corners of the pitch. Borussia Dortmund are very stylish and will be a considerable threat. But they will be tested in this group. Ajax have a legendary history, but Johann Cruyf won’t be coming out of retirement. Man City and Real Madrid survive the group. Dortmund are off to Europa for the second straight year.
Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Nordsjaelland
The defending champions headline this group. Chelsea were surprise winners of the Champions League in 2012, and have carried that over to a tremendous start in the English Premier League. The Blues are bolstered by Fernando Torres finding his scoring touch after a couple of lost seasons. Juventus won Serie A last season and return to the Champions League after a lengthy absence. Juventus play quality football and are a sleeper team in the competition. Shakhtar Donetsk have experience in Europe and won’t be intimidated. Nordsjaelland are praying for a miracle. Chelsea and Juventus go through. Shakhtar Donetsk will go to Europa.
Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov
If early season is any indication, Bayern Munich are the team to beat in Europe. Die Roten have been nothing short of brilliant in their Bundasliga campaign and are itching to begin their Champions League account. Bayern were oh so close in winning the European Cup for the fifth time last season and feel that this is their year. Valencia are a solid side, that always seem to be in the mix. Lille are tricky, but may not have the depth to see the knockout stage. BATE Borisov will be hard pressed to see further play. Bayern and Valencia go through. Lille will go to Europa.
Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic
It begins and ends with Barcelona. There is no club like them on the planet. Any competition they are in, they will be favoured to win. No side plays more attractive, thrilling football than Barcelona when they are on top of their game. They could very well win their third Champions League title in five years. Benfica are a quality side, but a lack of scoring depth up front will be their undoing in later rounds. Nice to see Celtic back in the Champions League. The Scottish champions are never easy to play against, but a lack of quality in the midfield is a major concern. Spartak Moscow have a slim chance of going through, but will need to be at their absolute best, to see the knockout stage. Barcelona and Benfica go through. Celtic goes to Europa.
Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj
On paper, Manchester United are the clear-cut favourites. That was the case last season as well. United were shockingly dismissed in the Group Stage last season and it didn’t sit well with Sir Alex Ferguson. While United haven’t been sterling in early season play, they will be ready for Europe. Braga were a surprise team in Portugal last season and have more than earned the right to play in the Champions League. They won’t be an easy out. Galatasaray have an amazing home field advantage, but don’t have the quality to sustain the action away from home. CFR Cluj are happy to receive the exposure. Man United and Braga go through. Galatasaray go to Europa.
If I had to pick a winner in the Champions League, I would select Barcelona to win their fifth European title. However beware of Bayern Munich. This side has been devastatingly good early on. That is my dream final. Enjoy the fixtures.
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