Connect in the back of the net

After a long drawn out ceremony in the centre of Monaco, we now finally know the fate of the remaining 32 clubs in this season’s Champions League.

So, who now are the favourites, and which clubs are going to find it tough?

 

Group A – Benfica, Manchester United, Basel, CSKA Moscow

Out of all the British clubs, Manchester United have been given the easiest draw in my opinion. The quality that United possess in every part of the field is far better than the other 3 teams in their group.

I fully expect United to finish top of the group, anything less than that will be regarded as a failure.

The battle for second place in the group will be a close one. Many pundits are putting Benfica as the favourites and it’s easy to see why.

Benfica have been a Champions League club for many years and know exactly what it takes to get into the knockout stages. And they have the likes of Konstantinos Mitroglou, Jonas and Pizzi which can hurt any defence.

Basel and CSKA Moscow are certainly underdogs. Basel are a very strong team at home, as Manchester United found out a couple of seasons ago.

The spine of the team is very strong with Marek Suchy at the heart of the defence, Serey Die commanding the midfield and a rejuvenated Ricky van Wolfswinkel up top, who will love to prove a point in England after is rather unsuccessful spell at Norwich.

CSKA are like Benfica, not a stranger to the competition. They will know exactly what to expect, having faced numerous British teams in past seasons.

But, their veteran manager Leonid Slutsky left in the summer to join Hull, and with a new manager at the helm, who doesn’t have much European experience, I see this as a transition season for CSKA and I don’t see them springing too many surprises this season.

Prediction

  1. Manchester United
  2. Benfica
  3. Basel
  4. CSKA Moscow

 

Group B – Bayern Munich, PSG, Anderlecht, Celtic

It already looks like that the top two spots in the group have been sealed. With the greatest of respect to Anderlecht and Celtic, Bayern and PSG are far stronger sides, and the question is, which one will finish top?

I think top spot will go to PSG. The signing of Neymar has given new life to PSG and they already look like an entirely new team. They’ve already beaten teams like Toulouse, St.Etienne and Guingamp, teams that they couldn’t beat last season.

Not to mention the signing of Dani Alves and the imminent signing of Kylian Mbappe. Yes, they’ve lost Blaise Matuidi to Juventus, but I would say that Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot are better midfielders than Matuidi, and I fully believe that PSG will finish top of the group.

As for Bayern, it’s a different Bayern to seasons gone by. With the loss of Xabi Alonso and the influential Philip Lahm, Bayern are looking a bit shakier at the back.

Though they’ve bought in the likes of Niklas Süle, Sebastien Rudy, Corentin Tolisso and James Rodriguez, it will be difficult for Bayern to replicate what they have done in seasons gone by, and I can see them going into games with a ‘we will score more than them’ mentality, which could hurt them in the Champions League.

I believe that Celtic will finish third. Brendan Rodgers has done brilliantly at Celtic Park ever since his arrival, and he would have learned a lot from his previous European campaign with Celtic, and this will help him this season.

We all know about the advantage of playing at Paradise, and it will certainly intimidate every team, and with the likes of Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair, they might surprise a few teams this season.

Anderlecht will find it difficult. The loss of their talisman last season, Youri Tielemans, to Monaco has hurt them, and this is reflected in their poor start to the season in the Belgian Pro League, and I can’t see things getting any better for them in the Champions League.

Prediction

  1. PSG
  2. Bayern Munich
  3. Celtic
  4. Anderlecht

 

Group C – Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Roma, Qarabag

I can see Group C playing out like Group B. Chelsea and Atletico Madrid are far stronger than Roma and Qarabag, and it will be a matter of who will finish top of the group.

I believe that Atletico will come out on top. They are so used to European football now and know exactly what it takes to get to the later stages of the competition.

The way Simeone has organised them will cause every team problems, and with the likes of Griezmann, Saul and Carrasco attacking you, it’s incredibly difficult to stop, and I think they’ll come out on top.

Chelsea will finish second. I don’t think they are in any danger of being in contention to finish third, as they are a far stronger team than Roma and Qarabag.

The only question mark is how Conte will rotate the team. He surely can’t play the same team in the Champions League and the Premier League, and it’s due to this reason why I believe that Atletico have the edge.

This will be a difficult campaign for Roma. It’s a transitional season for them. With the loss of their legend Francesco Totti and the departure of former manager Lucianno Spaletti, not to mention key players being lost to bigger clubs, Roma will find it difficult.

New manager Eusebio Di Francesco hasn’t had much European experience, having only had one season in the Europa League with Sassuolo, and new director of football Monchi not doing his magic, the Roman club will have to settle outside the top 2.

But let’s not write off Qarabag. Beating FC Copenhagen over two legs takes some doing for a club of their stature, so they must be applauded for that.

Plus, they’re based in Azerbaijan. None of the clubs will want to travel there as it will disrupt their league preparation. Yet, I believe that the other teams are far stronger than Qarabag.

Prediction

  1. Atletico Madrid
  2. Chelsea
  3. Roma
  4. Qarabag

 

Group D – Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos, Sporting Lisbon

Juventus will finish top of this group.

I know many pundits are saying the loss of Leonardo Bonucci will hurt Juventus a lot, but they still have a good defence with the likes of Chiellini and Barzagli. Plus, their close to signing Schalke defender Benedikt Höwedes, who will fit in brilliantly into that defence.

Not to mention their attacking talent. Dybala and Higuain up top, Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa on the wings, Khedira and Matuidi in the middle, it’s such an impressive line-up, and I believe that they can reach the final in Kiev again this year.

Barcelona however will finish second. The signing of Ousmane Dembele is needed and will heel some of the wounds that have been opened this summer. But if he doesn’t kick on straight away, then Barcelona simply won’t have enough to compete with Juventus.

Barcelona also need a lot more signings. There is talk that they might activate Jean-Michel Seri’s release clause at Nice and that they are in talks to sign Angel di Maria from PSG, but Barcelona need an entire rebuild, and this will hinder their performance in the Champions League this season.

You could toss a coin and still disagree with it about who will finish third between Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon, but I think the Greek side will come out on top.

They’ve made some good signings this summer, the likes of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, who’s coming off the best season of his career at Legia Warsaw, and Emmanuel Emenike will give Olympiacos the edge over Sporting.

Though Sporting put in an impressive second half display in their play-off match against FCSB (formally known has Steaua Bucharest), I think that Olympiacos will be a bit stronger than them. Plus the atmosphere at the Karaiskakis stadium is incredibly unique, and will give the Greek champions the edge.

Prediction

  1. Juventus
  2. Barcelona
  3. Olympiacos
  4. Sporting Lisbon

 

Written by Sion Misra

Follow Sion on Twitter @sionmisra

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