The Uefa Champions League returns this month and already hopes are high that 2018/19 will offer some variety from the Spanish dominance in recent years.

Uefa Champions League Preview

GROUP A SUMMARY

  Atletico Dortmund Monaco Brugge
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 3rd (2017)

1st (2015, 2016)

3rd (2017)

1st  (2016)

DNQ (2015)

4th (2017)

1st (2016)

3rd (2015)

4th (2016)

DNQ (2015, 2017)

 

Odds Atletico Dortmund Monaco Brugge
Group Winners 0.45 2.60 5.25 33.00

 

Group A features a trio of recent Champions League overachievers – Atletico (semifinalists in 2017), Monaco (semifinalists in 2017) and Dortmund (quarterfinalists in 2017). All three sides crashed out early in last season’s competition. It’s one of the most difficult groups to call in this year’s edition.

Fact of Interest:

Atletico’s failure to pass the Group Stage in 2017/18 ended a run starting in 2013/14 where the Spanish club was eliminated in two finals, one semifinal and one quarterfinal by rivals Real Madrid.

Scheduling Considerations:

Dortmund’s scheduling poses some relative complications. After their visit to Madrid against Atletico, they’ll face Bayern, while their trip to Monaco is preceded by the Ruhr derby against Schalke. 

Key Fixtures:

Dortmund vs Monaco – the French side managed to beat the Germans in 2016/17’s knockout round, but both teams have changed personnel considerably since then. Crucially for Monaco, the final deciding fixture of the Group Stage is at their home ground against Dortmund, giving them a slim advantage should there be a deadlock to break by the last matchday.

Our Prediction:

The quality in Atletico’s side remains largely intact, and a season away from the Champions League knockout round would have driven expectations upwards to win a fairly accessible group. With Club Brugge expected to struggle to the bottom, it’s largely left to Monaco to prevent Dortmund’s robust squad (especially after their astute signings) achieving a 2nd place finish.

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GROUP B SUMMARY

  Barcelona Tottenham PSV Internazionale
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 1st (2015, 2016, 2017) 1st (2017)

3rd  (2016)

DNQ (2015)

DNQ (2017)

4th (2016)

2nd (2015)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017)

 

Odds Barcelona Tottenham PSV Internazionale
Group Winners 0.45 2.70 36.00 5.75

 

Group B features giants Barcelona, who’ve failed to make it to the final four in the last three seasons. Tottenham make only their 4th Champions League appearance. The Italian side make their first appearance in Champions League football since 2011/12. Dutch side PSV round out another competitive group.

Barcelona Players

Fact of Interest:

Tottenham and Internazionale met back in 2010/11’s Group Stage, where the sides enjoyed two thrilling encounters. Spurs produced a solid 3-1 win at White Hart Lane, while the return fixture in Milan featured a dramatic hat-trick from Gareth Bale as Inter held on to win 4-3.

Scheduling Considerations:

Inter’s trip to London to face Tottenham is the first match in a trio of difficult away fixtures, with journeys to Rome (Roma) and Turin (Juventus) after the crucial Spurs tie. 

Key Fixtures:

Barcelona vs Tottenham – It’s been some time since Barcelona failed to win a Champions League group (2006/07), but given that Spurs’ rigid defences managed to contain both Dortmund and Real Madrid in group fixtures last season, it would be hard to discount a similar possibility repeating itself, even if it does mean having to stop Lionel Messi somehow.

Our Prediction:

FC Barcelona’s quality makes them heavy favourites to win the group, but Tottenham are a seductive option to upset the heavily favoured Spanish in such a group. PSV and Internazionale make for considerably enticing reading in a group given their history, but these sides will likely find themselves jostling for the consolation prize of a drop to the Europa League knockout round, rather than ousting Barcelona or Spurs for the top two spots.

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GROUP C SUMMARY

  PSG Napoli Liverpool Red Star
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 1st (2017)

2nd (2015, 2016)

DNQ (2015, 2017)

3rd  (2016)

1st (2017)

DNQ (2015, 2016)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017)

 

Odds PSG Napoli Liverpool Red Star
Group Winners 0.80 5.25 1.35 114.00

 

Group C is a considerably tricky group, featuring under-achieving French behemoth Paris St. Germain, paired together with last season’s runners up Liverpool, and Italian side Napoli. Rounding out the group is 1991 European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade, who make their debut in the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Fact of Interest:

Liverpool have only ever played Red Star, PSG and Napoli each on one occasion. Red Star won both legs in 1973’s European Cup knockout round to win on aggregate 4-2, PSG bested Liverpool 3-2 on aggregate in one of 1997’s Cup Winners’ Cup semifinal, and Liverpool beat Napoli at Anfield following a draw in Naples in 2010’s Europa League Group Stage.

Scheduling Considerations:

Liverpool’s European scheduling is full of rotational concerns; Around matchday 2, they face Chelsea at home (League Cup), Chelsea away (league), Napoli away, and Manchester City at home. Around matchday 5, the Merseyside derby follows the trip to Paris, while matchday 6’s crucial encounter at home to Napoli is followed by the visit of Manchester United to Anfield. 

Key Fixtures:

Liverpool vs Napoli – even though Napoli’s record isn’t impressive in Champions League respects, they pose a considerable danger which Liverpool would do well to be considerate of. Much hinges on the first game in Naples; the result of which could go some way to making the final group fixture at Anfield a decider for 2nd place.

Our Prediction:

PSG’s squad depth and favourable scheduling should see them win the group; by contrast, Liverpool do not have the easiest of schedules, but their quality is considerable enough to deliver the required results and see them to 2nd place in the group ahead of Napoli.

GROUP D SUMMARY

  Lokomotiv Porto Schalke Galatasary
Record in Last 3 Group Stages DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017) 2nd (2016, 2017)

3rd  (2015)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017) DNQ (2016, 2017) 3rd (2015)

 

Odds Lokomotiv Porto Schalke Galatasary
Group Winners 4.75 1.30 1.65 5.25

 

What Group D lacks in glamourous names, it makes up for in competitiveness. Galatasaray, Lokomotiv Moscow and Schalke return after mixed terms of absence from the Group Stage, while Portuguese champions Porto enjoy a rare position of being Group favourites, largely off the back of their consistency in getting to this stage of the competition.

Fact of Interest:

Given the expectation over them in this year’s edition, Porto last managed to win their Group back in 2008/09, leading a group including Fenerbache, Dynamo Kiev and Arsenal.

Scheduling Considerations:

Schalke arguably have the worst of the scheduling constraints, with the home tie against Bayern following their opener against Porto, and the final group game against Lokomotiv Moscow being contested not long after the Ruhr derby against Dortmund. 

Key Fixtures:

Schalke vs Lokomotiv Moscow – the Russian side has a fairly solid team with a number of reliable veterans to contrast beautifully against the younger, more dynamic team in Schalke’s ranks. Placing 2nd in the group may not be a foregone conclusion for the German side.

Our Prediction:

Porto’s Champions League experience should see them through the group with relative ease, but it’s the battle for 2nd place that is most compelling. Schalke’s youthful ranks seem enticing, but don’t be surprised if scheduling advantages and experienced veterans help Lokomotiv pip the Germans and Turkish side to the knockout round of the competition.

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GROUP E SUMMARY

  Bayern Benfica Ajax AEK Athens
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 2nd (2016, 2017)

1st (2015)

4th  (2017)

2nd  (2015, 2016)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017) DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017)

 

Odds Bayern Benfica Ajax AEK Athens
Group Winners 0.14 6.50 8.25 51.00

 

Group E features three former European winners; Bayern and Benfica continue their extensive appearance streaks in the competition, while Dutch side Ajax feature for the first time since 2014/15. Greek Champions AEK Athens make their first Champions League showing since 2006/07.

benfica

Fact of Interest:

Benfica’s opponents in the Group Stage of 2017/18 were Manchester United, FC Basel and Spartak Moscow. Despite being fancied for 2nd place, the Portuguese side lost all 6 matches to finish bottom of the group.

Scheduling Considerations:

Benfica’s trip to Athens is preceded by a trip to spirited mid table side Chaves, and followed by a home match against defending champions and fierce rivals FC Porto; coach Rui Vitoria isn’t known for rotating his side very much, but he may be forced to in this week. Ajax face a 4 match away streak in November, starting with Benfica and ending with AEK Athens. 

Key Fixtures:

Benfica vs Ajax – the youthful ranks of the Dutch side will contrast well against the experience in the Portuguese club’s lineup, but as last season proved, Benfica cannot take anything lightly. If Ajax manage to win in Amsterdam on Matchday 3, expect the nail to be firmly set in Benfica’s coffin for qualification.

Our Prediction:

Bayern are well placed to make a 1st placed finish for the first time since 2015/16. The key battle resides in Portugal and the Netherlands; if Ajax manage to win both of their first home games against Athens and Benfica, they should hold position to claim 2nd place. Failing which, the logic suggests Benfica, but the former Portuguese champions remain a little off-colour compared to two season ago.

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GROUP F SUMMARY

  Man City Shakhtar Lyon Hoffenheim
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 1st (2015, 2017)

2nd (2016)

2nd (2017)

DNQ (2016)

3rd  (2015)

DNQ (2017)

3rd (2016)

4th (2015)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017)

 

Odds Man City Shakhtar Lyon Hoffenheim
Group Winners 0.18 13.25 8.50 13.50

 

Group F features a repeat showing of Manchester City vs Shakhtar, who each won on their respective home grounds in last season’s group stage. French side Lyon make a return after missing out in 2017/18 while Hoffenheim make their debut in the Group Stage.

Manchester City

Fact of Interest:

Manchester City are unbeaten in their last eight Champion League group stage home matches, while Shakhtar have won their last four Champions League home matches.

Scheduling Considerations:

In both their matches against Shakhtar, Lyon face difficult fixtures to follow; after hosting Shakhtar, they travel to PSG, while their trip to Ukraine is followed by a home match against Monaco. 

Key Fixtures:

Shakhtar vs Lyon – the Ukrainian side will be intent on repeating or bettering their round of 16 showing last season, but Lyon are highly fancied to progress from this group. The French side are flush with international talent, and if they can address their inconsistency, they’ll be a difficult prospect for Paulo Fonseca’s team to contain.

Our Prediction:

Manchester City should manage to top the group fairly comfortably. Lyon’s squad holds enough quality to give them the advantage over Shakthar and Hoffenheim, leaving the latter two sides to battle it out for the Europa League knockout spot.

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GROUP G SUMMARY

  Real Madrid Roma CSKA Moscow Viktoria Plzen
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 2nd (2016, 2017)

1st (2015)

1st (2017)

DNQ (2016)

2nd (2015)

3rd (2017)

4th (2015, 2016)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017)

 

Odds Real Madrid Roma CSKA Moscow Viktoria Plzen
Group Winners 0.20 3.85 23.00 41.00

 

Group G features two of last season’s final four; defending champions Real Madrid, and under-rated Serie A side Roma. The group is rounded up by CSKA Moscow, equaling a Russian record for Champions League appearances, and Czech champions Viktoria Plzen.

Fact of Interest:

Real Madrid and Roma have met 6 times in group stage fixtures, with the Spanish side winning 4 times, and losing once. Real Madrid last topped a group in the Champions League in 2015, ahead of PSG, Shakhtar and Malmo.

Scheduling Considerations:

Real Madrid’s trip to Russia to face CSKA comes after what is expected to be a highly contested Madrid derby, while their crucial away match in Rome is the 4th match at the end of four away matches in November. 

Key Fixtures:

Real Madrid vs Roma – A Ronaldo-less Real Madrid without the charisma of Zinedine Zidane on the touchline may seem like a strong opportunity for Roma to surprise the odds and leverage their industrious squad to top the group. That said, Real’s veterans have hardly started poorly with impressive performances already from Benzema and Bale in La Liga thus far.

Our Prediction:

Roma will believe in their prospects to upset the apple cart and finish above the defending champions, but quality tends to hold out and even without their top scorer from the past seasons, Real Madrid are highly unlikely to fail to close out the group at its summit. CSKA should find themselves in Europa League knockout competition once again.

GROUP H SUMMARY

  Juventus Man United Valencia Young Boys
Record in Last 3 Group Stages 1st (2016)

2nd (2015, 2017)

1st (2017)

DNQ (2016)

3rd (2015)

DNQ (2016, 2017)

3rd (2015)

DNQ (2015, 2016, 2017)

 

Odds Juventus Man United Valencia Young Boys
Group Winners 0.50 2.65 5.75 63.00

 

Group H features Swiss champions Young Boys, who make their debut in the Group Stage alongside Valencia, who return for the first time in two seasons. Manchester United and Juventus are the heavyweights in the group, with pressure on the latter and its newest recruit – Cristiano Ronaldo – to finally bring the Champions League back to Turin.

Juventus

Fact of Interest:

Despite the odds, Manchester United have lost their last two matches in Switzerland, on both occasions to FC Basel (2017, 2011). Favourably, they’ve won their last three meetings with Juventus, albeit in 2003 (two wins) and 1999 (one win). They’re enjoying unbeaten streaks against Juventus ( last four matches) and Valencia ( last six matches).

Scheduling Considerations:

Jose Mourinho’s team faces some challenges around the crucial Juventus ties; a trip to Chelsea precedes the home game against the Italian champions, while the away trip to Turin is followed by the Manchester Derby. 

Key Fixtures:

Juventus vs Manchester United – the high profile visit of Ronaldo to his former club notwithstanding, it will be up to the English side to elevate their standards to meet those of Allegri’s team who hold considerable ambitions to win the tournament.

Our Prediction:

Juventus should find they have more than enough depth and quality to handle all the surprises the group can throw at them. The only outlier will be Valencia who possess enough weapons to surprise Manchester United, but might lack enough to steal 2nd place from them in the group.

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