The Champions League is back with some mouth-watering clashes in the group stage. But which clubs were lucky enough to get an easier road to the knockouts and which teams will be worried about the group stage?
Football doesn’t stop for anyone! After a memorable World Cup in Russia, the football fans will be treated with another spectacular season of the UEFA Champions League. With all the teams trying to get the best out of the transfer window, the European competition keeps getting better and better every year.
This season will be no different as no one team is favored to win the competition. In fact, there are a number of clubs which can dethrone Real Madrid as the champions of Europe. But first, all the 32 teams will have to go through the league stage – and the group stage is not as easy as it was a few years back.
With the pairings like PSG-Liverpool, Juventus-Manchester United and a lot more, some clubs went home happy after the draw while some must have cursed their luck. So without further ado, let us take a look at the winners and the losers of the Champions League Draw:
The official result of the #UCLdraw! ?
Toughest group? ? pic.twitter.com/G6rPKtQuU8
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 30, 2018
Yes, they did not have the transfer window to remember. Most of their players are still sulking in the disappointment of the World Cup, but Bayern’s hunger for the Champions League glory is still the same as they chase their first European title since 2013. There are a few more things that are not in Bayern’s favor – a manager with no European experience, ageing squad. But they have got one big thing in their favor – a comparatively easy group to sort things out in the first half of the season.
The Bavarians will face Benfica, Ajax and AEK Athens in group E of the Champions League. And with all due respect to the other three teams, they’ll have to pull out a miracle to keep Bayern away from the number one spot. Why? Because all the three teams had to play Champions League qualifiers to enter the competition while Bayern crushed everyone in Bundesliga to qualify as the German champions.
Niko Kovac, the new manager of Bayern Munich will hope to cruise past their opponents in the group stages. It will also allow the manager to decide his best squad for the later stages of the competition. The Bavarians will also hope to be a little lucky in the qualifies this time around, after being knocked out due to a silly goalkeeper error or referee’s mistakes in the last few seasons.
Pep Guardiola broke a number of records in the Premier League last season as he led Manchester City to the title without any problems. But the Spaniard has set his standards so high that people expect him to lead the Citizens to first ever Champions League glory. And after two unsuccessful attempts, he has another shot at the trophy, with a fairly easy group stage.
The Citizens are paired with Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, French side Lyon and Germans Hoffenheim. Lyon finished 3rd in Ligue 1 last season as did Hoffenheim, ahead of Dortmund. So both the clubs are definitely capable of giving Manchester City a great fight in the group stage, but it will be really difficult for them to stop Pep’s men from finishing the group at the top.
Manchester City has one of the most balanced squads in Europe right now. So much so that, talented Leroy Sane has to start on the bench most of the times. And the games will definitely get much difficult for the English champions in the later stages as they will have to avoid messing up the knockout stage like last year, but for the starters, Manchester City can breathe a sigh of relief until the end of December.
Everyone in Group D:
? Our first @ChampionsLeague group since 2003 is settled ✌?
— FC Lokomotiv Moscow (@fclokomotiv_eng) August 30, 2018
While the Champions League draw has gifted us with some mouth-watering clashes, it also saved four clubs from getting hammered in the group stage itself.
Lokomotiv Moskva, Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray are some of the finest clubs in Europe with a history of competing in the Champions League year after year. But let’s be honest here. What if Lokomotiv were paired with Napoli or Spurs? Or what if Porto, the Portuguese champions were thrown in the group with Barcelona and Inter? So one has to accept that all four teams in Group D were lucky to avoid the European giants in one way or another.
Even if Group D is not the most decorated group in the competition, it gives all four clubs a fair shot at finishing in the top two of their group. Sure, Porto and Schalke will be favorites to go through but underestimate Lokomotiv and Galatasaray at your own risk.
Lokomotiv Moskva are the champions of Russia while Galatasaray clinched the title in Turkey ahead of Fenerbahçe. Both the champions will look to make it difficult for Porto and Schalke, who impressed everyone to finish second in Bundesliga last season.
It is game on in Group D!
After spending more than 130m Euros in the transfer market, everyone in Barcelona has one common wish – Winning the Champions League. And it is not wrong at all. In a club like Barcelona which has one of the best players in the world – Of course, Messi, the best youth academy and financial strength to break club’s transfer record twice in the same season, the fans will expect them to deliver the Champions league year after year. Especially when their arch-rivals are doing it with some ease.
But the Catalans have somehow failed to succeed in Europe after their title in 2015. They won two league titles after that, three Copa Del Rey and a few more trophies, but they finished the last three seasons of the Champions League as the quarter-finalists of the tournament. So everyone expects them to deliver the Champions League this season and even Messi has promised that.
Messi’s promise and the hopes of millions of fans were slightly dented after the Champions League draw. The Catalans are paired with high-flying Tottenham, PSV, and a new look Inter Milan. Spurs beat Real Madrid in the same competition last season and are one of the most attacking teams in England. Inter are back in the Champions League after six years and have done everything possible in the transfer market to light up the tournament.
Of course, it will be a great test for Barcelona in the first half of the season itself, but the margin of error is really small for Messi and co. as even one wrong step will end their competition even before the knockouts.
Ohh PSG, we feel for you, we really do.
The Parisians are so drunk on their wish of winning the Champions League that nothing else interests them. But destiny has not been their very good friend in the last few years when it comes to the European competition. How many teams manage to screw-up the 4-0 advantage? How many teams are drawn against Real Madrid in the Round of 16 after winning the group ahead of Bayern Munich? Not many. But PSG has managed both the things in the last two seasons.
And the football Gods are not really in the French side’s favor once again as the Parisians were given a difficult group in the draw. Neymar and co. will face Napoli, Liverpool, and Zvezda in Group C as their battle for the first ever Champions League start here.
Liverpool are last season’s finalists as we all know. But for Klopp and co. that night in Kiev is long gone and they have strengthened their team even more. The defense which has not leaked a single goal, a midfield which looks ready for any battle and an attack which scored 30 goals between them in 2017-18 Champions League, will give PSG sleepless nights for sure.
And as if that wasn’t enough, last season’s Serie A runner-ups Napoli are also paired with PSG. And to add to Parisian’s problems, Napoli’s manager for the season is 3-time Champions League winner, Carlo Ancelotti. Talk about bad luck.
PSG definitely has the squad which can make it to the knockouts of the competition. But with Liverpool and Napoli in the same group, it is far from a cakewalk for them.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 30, 2018
Manchester United was having enough problems with Jose Mourinho’s situation and their worst start to the season in 26 years. But for UEFA, that wasn’t enough as they decided to send United’s very own Cristiano Ronaldo back to the Old Trafford. And not for the reasons which will thrill the Red Devils.
United have drawn Juventus, Valencia and Young Boys in Group H and given their form, The Red Devils will be lucky to go through. Juventus are favorites to win the Champions League after signing Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer. And United fans are well aware of what the Portuguese can do but what they might not know is, the Champions League has become his favorite competition after he left England.
While it will be difficult for Manchester United to fight with Juventus for the top spot in the group, the second spot won’t be very easy as well. Valencia, who finished fourth in La Liga last season, is one of the most exciting clubs in Spain with a quality attack. The Bats have Rodrigo and Michy Batshuayi in front of the goal. And with Goncalo Guedes and Denis Cheryshev and Daniel Wass, the team will definitely trouble United’s defense in the coming months.
So with life already difficult in England, Manchester United’s overall season might just keep sliding downhill after the Champions League.