UEFA Champions League Group Stage Draw – Reaction!
You know what I love about the UEFA Champions League? It’s the passion. I’m not going to pretend that all of that passion stems from players keen to prove themselves, or from clubs that want to demonstrate why their fans are proud of them. Let’s face it – a lot of that passion stems from the monetary rewards from competing in such a big tournament. However, whatever it is, the hunger for each team to do well at this level is very apparent, and has been in every round of the competition to date, so I’m pleased that the world’s most prestigious club tournament is back in town!
So, let’s take a cursive glance at the groups, shall we?
Group A – Arsenal, Basel, Paris Saint-Germain, Ludogorets Razgrad
It’s nice to see that Arsenal have been handed their customary “relatively easy to get out of, but will unquestionably make it much harder than it is” group with PSG being too good for them, but the others not being good enough to challenge them. I don’t envision PSG having any issues with winning this group; they look the real deal. Arsenal’s fans are crying about a lack of transfer activity, but it’s never hindered Wenger’s team from progressing from the UCL groups before now, and I doubt it’ll be any different this year. I think Basel will take third place relatively comfortably, and Ludogorets will bring up the rear. I don’t want to paint this as an easy group for the top teams, because I don’t believe that to be the case. The simple fact of the matter is that this is the best Basel side (well, in attack, at least) that I’ve seen since the days of Gross, Gimenez, and Rossi. Basel are very experienced in Europe, and are terrific at home; all that goes against them is their defence, and that’s why I believe Arsenal will finish above them. I don’t see there being much in it, though – this really is a very impressive Basel side. Ludogorets are no mugs either, though. They don’t get to play “at home”, which is a pity, and they’re exceptionally bad in defence too, which is really going to hurt them in this group. However, their attack is really very strong, and they will definitely score goals in this group. They don’t like being pressurised, but their pace and skill going forward is virtually unmatched in Eastern Europe. This should be a very entertaining group, and although I think that the final positions are fairly predictable, I don’t think it’ll be comprehensively so.
Group B – SL Benfica, Besiktas JK, SSC Napoli, Dinamo Kiev
Group B easily has the worst away games for all of the teams in it. Everybody knows that playing in Turkey is a pressure cooker, just waiting to go off, and I don’t think that any of the Super Lig sides are supported more fanatically than Besiktas JK are. The same can be said of SSC Napoli at San Paolo, too. Italian and Turkish fans are notorious for violence, and when they actually meet one another? Be somewhere else! I expect fireworks both on and off the pitch in games between SSC Napoli and Besiktas JK. SL Benfica away is tough, too, as is the long trip east to Ukraine, particularly in winter. Quality-wise, this should be a fairly predictable group, but there’s no standout, dominant team here, in my view. All of the teams in this group have lessened in ability and/or cohesion pre-season, so this should be a very close group. I fear for Dinamo Kiev, though. Nobody wants to move to Ukraine to play football for them any longer, so every time they lose a player, their ability in Europe drops significantly. I think that this will be an interesting group to an extent, and that some results may just surprise people, although the eventual placings shouldn’t.
Group C – Borussia Moenchengladbach, Barcelona, Celtic, Manchester City
This is easily the most fascinating group of the lot. Gladbach and Barcelona are all out attacking teams, and they’re both extremely good at it. Celtic are going to play mega defensively here, or they’ll get smashed to pieces, and they’re good at defending, particularly at home. City mix it up with both, but are capable of playing well in open games if they take their chances. There is far more firepower in this group than defensive power, and there should be plenty of very interesting affairs. I do have to sympathise with Manchester City, though – they consistently get some of the hardest UCL groups that I’ve ever seen! Still, I’m really looking forward to seeing what transpires in this group. Guardiola should know Barcelona very well by now, and even Gladbach too, but City still need to dance to his tune so it should be really interesting to see how they fare here. Gladbach are a real test for them, because Gladbach are better on the ball than they are. Gladbach can’t defend, but they know how to hurt teams, and I expect them to show that. Although I am sure that Celtic will outfight every team in this group, I am also certain that they’ll get beaten by every team in this group on at least one occasion, and thus should go out. The battle to make the next stage has piqued my interest, though, because I can’t call it.
Group D – Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Bayern Munich, FK Rostov
I expect Group D to contain the tightest games in this competition. Atletico Madrid are ridiculously solid when it comes to defending and being hard to beat. They frustrated the hell out of Bayern Munich last season in the knockout stage, so it’ll be fascinating to see them face one another again. PSV Eindhoven aren’t as good as their peers, but they’re experienced in Europe, and as they amply demonstrated last season, they’re more than capable of causing problems for teams. They work hard as a unit, you see. Individually, they’re weak defensively, but collectively, they look very solid. Bayern Munich are the best team in the group, but are they incisive enough to break through such solid teams? After all, FK Rostov are entirely tactical too, and they’re good it, particularly if Berdyev keeps being their “advisor”. In the end, I don’t think that the placings will be surprising, but I doubt anyone will finish convincingly in this group, if that makes sense!
Group E – CSKA Moscow, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, AS Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur
No matter what year it is, poor CSKA Moscow always seem to end up facing somebody in Germany. Nothing wrong with that, mind you – lovely country to visit – but they must be sick of it by now! They’ve got a really testing group this time around, too, because two of their three opponents play the same way as they do – but better. Leverkusen can mix it up, but they prefer to play cautiously, because they know that they can hold leads. Spurs are exactly the same, and although they’ve hardly set the world alight thus far, you know that they’re capable of reaching another level. AS Monaco are the wildcard of the group because they prefer to attack, and that makes this group slightly more interesting. CSKA Moscow prefer to face teams that attack them; it allows them the possibility to counter-attack well. They’re not going to have much opportunity to do that, though, and that makes this is a very hard group for them. To be fair, it’s a very hard group for all of the teams in it, because there’s not much between them, all things considered. I can’t call this group.
Group F – Legia Warsaw, Bv09 Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, Sporting Clube de Portugal
Poor Legia Warsaw, eh? They’ve waited so long to be back in the UCL group stage, and now that they are, they’ve been put in a group that they’ll be lucky to get a single point from. Hell, they’ll do well to concede under eighteen goals; let’s be honest. Dortmund and Real specialise in taking teams apart, and if Dundalk can cause Legia problems, then those two European heavyweights can. Sporting can too, to be fair – just not to the same extent. There will be some cracking games of football in this group, though, with three teams only being able to attack, and none of them look capable of defending. Ronaldo gets to face his boyhood club, which will be special for him, and I’m expecting plenty of special football to boot. This should be one of the more goal-filled groups, and although I think that the placings will be fairly straightforward, I still think it’ll be good to watch.
Group G – Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen, FC Porto, Leicester City
Leicester City got away with murder in their first UCL group, didn’t they? No disrespect to any of the teams in it, but looking at who Leicester could have got, they’ve done very well for themselves. I still think that they’ll find it ridiculously hard to even get out of this group, though. They’re not used to playing with the ball, and that’s what the European game is all about. Even “lesser” teams like Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen can keep the ball well, so this is going to be a really interesting challenge for the English Premier League champions. Club Brugge’s home games are particularly hard to play in because of their noisy fans, and they’re an experienced side. This is the best FC Copenhagen side that I’ve seen for a long time, even without Jorgensen, and although I’ve seen much more consistent and efficient FC Porto sides than this one, they’re still a formidable side to face in Europe, particularly with their impressive home record. This will be a real eye-opener for Leicester, and I think that they’ll find it very hard to qualify. With Porto’s dominance somewhat ebbing away, though, I expect a very interesting group to develop here, and I don’t want to call who will progress and who won’t.
Group H – Dinamo Zagreb, Juventus, Sevilla CF, Olympique Lyonnais
The ruthlessly efficient beasts that are Juventus get to try their hand with quick ‘n’ slick duo Lyon and Sevilla, do they? That should be very interesting. Sevilla move the ball very quickly under Sampaoli, and that might just throw Juventus out of their rhythm. Lyon do the same, but less consistently than Sevilla. They both look very dubious at the back, though, so I can’t see beyond Juventus winning this group. After that is anyone’s guess, though, because Sevilla and Lyon match one another fairly well, in my opinion. I’m going to write Dinamo Zagreb off because they’re already lost too many key players this season, and are going to lose more in the next couple of weeks. Additionally, Dinamo have zero capacity for handling pacey attackers, and guess what all of their opponents have in this group? Yep, you got it – pacey attackers. I’m expecting an interesting group with interesting tests here, though.