With all of the domestic leagues finally up and running, it seems hard to believe that there is more soccer still to come. In just two weeks, the group stages of the UEFA Champions League will join the ranks, giving us something to watch Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
This year’s Champions League looks to be a little different from previous ones. For starters, Manchester United and Chelsea both failed to qualify, opening the door for Tottenham and Leicester City to shine. Additionally, this could be the last year before the format of Champions League drastically changes: It has been rumored that UEFA wants to include four teams from each of the major leagues, instead of basing it on previous performances.
Group A is made up of Arsenal, FC Basel, Paris Saint-Germain, and PFC Ludogorets from Bulgaria. This is a very fortunate draw for Arsenal, who really only face competition from PSG for that first-place spot. I would be absolutely shocked if the Gunners do not make it through, and I can only imagine that the anti-Wenger movement would grow stronger in this event. Basel always puts up a good fight, while Ludogorets are notable for knocking out Liverpool a few years ago. All in all, this is a pretty decent group.
Group B is a little more interesting, including Besiktas, Dynamo Kiev, Benfica, and Napoli. Besiktas’ notable players include Ricardo Quaresma and Adriano. For Benfica, Andreas Samaris, Júlio César and Jonas are perhaps the players you may have heard of. Dynamo Kiev is always a powerhouse in Ukraine, with only six players not being of Ukrainian descent. Napoli made headlines this summer with the departure of Gonzalo Higuaín for an astonishing €90 million, due to tensions between the striker and the team management. Any one of these teams could conceivably make it out of this group, but I am picking Besiktas and Napoli.
Celtic FC, FC Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach make up Group C. This is arguably one of the toughest groups in the field. Notably, Pep Guardiola will face off against his old team while new Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers will try to improve upon his last Champions League experience. Barcelona, obviously, is going to advance, but it could be a tough battle between City and Celtic for second place.
Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, FC Rostov of Russia and PSV Eindhoven of Netherlands are drawn together in Group D. Bayern is pretty much always a virtual shoo-in to move on, even with a new coach. Rather surprisingly, Atlético has gotten off to a bit of a rough start in La Liga this year after finishing as the runner up in last year’s Champions League. As good as Eindhoven and M’ are, though, it is hard to not see Atlético and Bayern moving on.
Group E is made up of AS Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen, CSKA Moscow and Tottenham. This will be Tottenham’s first Champions League appearance since 2010, when the Spurs actually made it all the way to the quarterfinals. The much-maligned Radamel Falcao rejoins Monaco this year, but it is hard to see him drastically improving and leading his team onwards. Javier Hernández, formerly of Manchester United, has rediscovered his scoring form over at Leverkusen, and it should be very interesting to see what this German team can accomplish. CSKA Moscow is one of the best teams in the Russian league, so this could really be anyone’s group.
Borussia Dortmund, Legia Warszawa, Real Madrid, and Sporting of Portugal round out Group F. As the defending champion, it is inconceivable to think that Real Madrid will not move on. Dortmund should finish in second, thanks to the readdition of Mario Goetze, so this is a pretty easy group.
Group G is made up of Brugge, Kobenhavn of Denmark), Porto and everyone’s favorite Leicester City. It appears that the soccer gods are smiling down upon Leicester once more, because this seems like an easy group on paper. Granted, the Foxes will need to rediscover the electric form that led them all the way to the Premier League title last season, but I am fully confident that Leicester will advance to the next round.
For the final group, we have Juventus, Dinamo Zagreb, Olympique Lyonnais, and Sevilla, who gained a berth thanks to winning Europa League. Arguably Juventus should win this group, and it is difficult to bet against Sevilla with the way that the Spanish club dominates in Europa League.
So there you have it: my early predictions for who will advance onwards in Champions League. While we wait for this tournament, we can focus our attention back on the thrilling Premier League, where Hull City appears to be the new Leicester.