Having examined groups A-D in this year’s Champions League, it’s now time to look at groups E-H.
Group E – Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor
Like Manchester United, Liverpool have been handed a relatively easy and straightforward group, and it would be a failure if Liverpool weren’t to finish top.
The attacking threat that Liverpool possess should be able to cope with the defences of their group rivals. With Salah and Mane on the wings, Firmino through the middle, Emre Can and Wijnaldum in the midfield, it’s a formidable attack for any European team.
Again, it seems that second place in the group will be a tightly fought contest. Sevilla are not the team they were last season. Their influential manager Jorge Sampaoli has left to become manager of the Argentinian national team. The departure of Sampaoli means that Sevilla aren’t likely to be the same free flowing attacking side they were last season.
They’ve bought in Eduardo Berizzo, who’s coming off a very successful season with Celta Vigo, but it seems Berizzo has turned Sevilla back to a rather defensive side, and this is reflected in their first couple of results in La Liga and their Champions League playoff with Istanbul Basaksehir.
Transfer-wise, Sevilla have lost their director of football, Monchi, to Roma. Yet, this hasn’t hampered their transfer dealings. They’ve bought in the likes of Luis Muriel, Ever Banega, Nolito and Simon Kjaer to name just a few.
Spartak Moscow, on the other hand, are coming off their most successful season for 17 years. After surprising many pundits by beating the likes of CSKA Moscow and Zenit to the Russian League title, this will be Spartak’s first season in the Champions League for 5 years.
They have many talents in their squad. Quincy Promes, their starman, has been linked in many recent transfer windows with a move to Liverpool. They also possess the talents of players like Luiz Adriano and Mario Pasalic.
Though their start to the season suggests that teams have adopted a way to stop them from playing their attack minded football, and if their opposition do their homework, then second place will go to Sevilla.
The final team in the group is Maribor of Slovenia. They are coming off a very impressive victory over Israeli champions Hapoel Beer-Sheva in the play-off round. Though they are likely to finish bottom of the group, they do have some dangerous players to look out for.
Their Brazilian captain Marcos Tavares has been at the club since 2008 and has been named the Slovenian League’s player of the year 5 times. They also have Jasmin Handanovic in goal, the cousin of Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
It will be a good experience for Maribor to be part of this year’s competition, I don’t think they are good enough to get out of this group.
Group F – Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord
Group F may be one of the most open groups in this year’s competition. Though many British pundits in particular are saying that Manchester City are easy winners in this group, I couldn’t disagree more.
Like Liverpool, Manchester City’s attack is one of the most feared in Europe. Gabriel Jesus, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, the list is endless! But, the problem is the defence.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Vincent Kompany, when fit, is the best defender in the Premier League. When he’s not fit, they have one of the worst defences in the Premier League.
If Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Eliaquim Mangala aren’t really good enough for a team like Manchester City in the Premier League, they certainly aren’t good enough for the Champions League, and this could be a problem.
I truly believe that Napoli will finish top of this group. The job that Maurizio Sarri has done with the club from Naples is remarkable.
He’s turned them from a team who were competing for the final European place to a team who many are predicting may beat Juventus to the Scudetto this year.
Like Manchester City, their attacking talent is endless. The likes of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon, Lorenzo Insigne, Arkadiusz Milik and club captain Marek Hamsik have all turned Napoli to an Italian powerhouse again.
Like all Italian clubs, Napoli’s defence is strong and powerful.
The centre-back trio of Kalidou Koulibaly, Raul Albiol and Lorenzo Tonelli form a formidable defence who have stopped many great attackers in Serie A. Add to this the fortress that is the San Paolo, they will be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Shakhtar are also a difficult team to play against. Famed throughout the years for developing young talent from South America, they are always linked with a fast style of football that is free flowing and full of flair.
Like Napoli and Manchester City, Shakhtar’s attack is endless. Marlos, Taison, Bernard, Fred and Facundo Ferreyra will cause problems. Add to this club legend Darijo Srna commanding the right wing, they could be a darkhorse for this year’s competition.
The only negative that could go against Shakhtar this season is the fact that they are not playing in the Donbass Arena due to the terrible war in Crimea. Now playing in Kharkiv, Shakhtar will have to find a way of making it work in their advantage.
Dutch champions Feyenoord will be again a challenge for all teams in the group.
They are a very balanced team, which could go their way, especially in such an attacking group like this one. The likes of Nicolai Jorgensen and Jens Toornstra helped Feyenoord to the top last season, while at the back, Sven van Beek and Eric Botteghin were warriors at the back.
Like Shakhtar and Napoli, Feyenoord’s stadium, De Kuip, will be a cauldron of noise as Champions League nights return to Rotterdam.
Will Manchester City’s atmosphere at the Etihad hamper their chances this season?
Group G – Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig
This is the most open group in the competition. Every club in this group is of the same stature and the quality is the same throughout.
Monaco have had a very eventful summer. Many of Monaco’s stars from last season have left to go to their European rivals, but Monaco have rebuilt well.
They’ve bought in the likes of Terence Kongolo, Rachid Ghezzal, Keita Baldé, Youri Tielemans and Stevan Jovetic. Players which will fit seamlessly into the attacking mindset of Monaco.
Plus, their start to the Ligue 1 season suggests that the departures at the club hasn’t affected Monaco too much, but I don’t think they will be able to emulate their Champions League run from last season.
Porto, for the first time in a few seasons, haven’t had an exodus of talent. Yes, they’ve lost the likes of Ruben Neves, Willy Boly and Juan Quintero, who have featured heavily in the past for the Portuguese club. Yet, they were rarely used last season.
Most importantly, they’ve kept their important players like Alex Telles, Yassine Brahimi and Ivan Marcano. Add to this the returning players. Vincent Aboubakar, who was on loan at Besiktas last season, will be able to replace Andre Silva. While Ricardo Perreira has come into the squad after a breakout season at Nice last season.
Besiktas, I believe, can go far into the competition this year. Asserting themselves at the top of the Super Lig for a couple of seasons now, they’ve managed to attract some big players to Istanbul.
Through their very well run social media team, using the #ComeToBesiktas, the club has signed the likes of Pepe, Gary Medel and Alvaro Negredo, who all have European pedigree. Plus, we’ve seen last season what they are capable of on a European stage, with impressive performances against Benfica and Napoli. Last season’s campaign will have taught them a lot, and it will help them massively this season.
This will be RB Leipzig’s first ever season in the Champions League. The East German club shocked many in the Bundesliga last season, by finishing second ahead of well-established clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen. They played exciting, attacking football like Monaco did last season.
But unlike Monaco, RB Leipzig have kept all their players.
Though the likes of Emil Forsberg, Timo Werner and Naby Keita have been wanted across Europe, they’ve all stayed at Leipzig this season. With Keita joining Liverpool next season, RB Leipzig will want to put in a very good performance in this season’s Champions League, and maybe make him regret moving to Liverpool.
Group H – Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, APOEL Nicosia
This group, in my opinion, is very easy to predict.
Real Madrid are far and away the best team in Europe and will finish top of the group.
Keeping most of the squad together and breeding in some youngsters like Marco Asensio, Dani Ceballos and Jesus Vallejo. One thing Madrid will want to do this season is beat Dortmund this season.
In last season’s competition, Madrid and Dortmund drew both their games in the group stage last season, and if they want to show Europe that their better than ever before, beating Dortmund twice this season will be one of their top priorities.
I find it laughable that many British pundits think that Tottenham can finish above Dortmund. BVB are far and away a better team than Spurs. Peter Bosz has bought a feel-good factor back to Dortmund. They are playing more attacking style of football than they did under Thomas Tuchel, and yes they’ve lost Ousmane Dembele, but Dortmund have started the season well without him.
Christian Pulisic has stepped up and is playing well on the right wing, while Nuri Sahin is back to his best form, playing in front of the back four.
Plus, Dortmund have spent their money very well. Andriy Yarmolenko and Jeremy Toljan have all joined since the departure of Dembele, and they’ve managed to keep Aubameyang. Dortmund are a team to be feared this season.
The fact that Spurs are playing at Wembley is a real problem. We saw last season that they were defeated by a very good Monaco team, a below average Bayer Leverkusen team and a poor Gent team.
This season’s they’ve already dropped more points ‘at home’ then they did last season. A saving grace for Spurs is that they’ve made good signings in Serge Aurier and Davinson Sanchez. Aurier will command the right wing, while we saw Sanchez’s quality throughout Ajax’s Europa League run last season. Yet, this simply won’t be enough for Spurs to get out of this group.
Unfortunately for APOEL, this might be a long Champions League campaign for them. Beating Slavia Prague marginally in the play-off round, the depth and quality of the squad can’t compete with the other three teams.
But, like Qarabag, the fact that they are based in Cyprus could play into their advantage. Travelling this far could mess with the logistics of the other three teams, and the fatigue this could cause can play into APOEL’s hands.
Written by Sion Misra
Follow Sion on Twitter @sionmisra
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