With the UEFA Champions League back in action, it is time to make some predictions on how each group will finish up. TWSN analyst Christian De Block breaks down Group A-D and predicts who he has moving onto the knockout stages.
1: Bayern Munich– The reigning champions in this competition are prepared for another deep run. Robert Lewandowski has become one of the best players in the world, and the rest of the team is playing at a top level. The departure of Thiago Alcântara will be a big loss for the midfield, but Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, and Corentin Tolisso will be able to bring a lot of versatility to that position. Manager Hans-Dieter Flick has helped the club return to the top of the European stage, and they will win this group with ease.
2: Atlético Madrid– After a disappointing finish to their run in this competition last year, manager Diego Simeone will look to erase what happened against RB Leipzig in the quarterfinals. Portugese youngster João Félix had a very tough start to his time in Spain, so there should be some optimism that more consistent gametime will help him replicate the potential he had at Benfica. Also, Luis Suárez made a shocking move to the club after it was clear his time at Barcelona was over. With Álvaro Morata going back to Juventus on loan, Suárez will be relied on in the final third. The team still has some holes in the defense, but they will still be good enough to finish second in this group.
3: RB Salzburg– The Austrian side was one of the best young teams in the competition last season. Even though they were not able to get out of their group, guys like Erling Braut Håland and Takumi Minamino put on an attacking show. Those great performances led to Håland getting a move to Borussia Dortmund, and Minamino going to Liverpool during the January transfer window. Salzburg also lost South Korean forward Hwang Hee-chan to RB Leipzig in the summer. American manager Jesse Marsch will continue having his team playing an attacking style, but it won’t get them enough points against the experience of Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid.
4: Lokomotiv Moskva– For the third straight season, the Russian side are back in the Champions League. In the last two campaigns, the team has only managed to win two of their twelve group fixtures, so they will be looking for better performances this time around. There are definitely concerns going forward, as starting forwards Eder and Fyodor Smolov are going into this campaign above the age of 30. I believe Lokomotiv will pick up a few points along the way, but it won’t be enough to advance out of this group.
1: Inter Milan– After finishing third in their group last year, manager Antonio Conte will look to bring his club back to the final 16. Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have formed one of the best striker duos in the world, giving them two legitimate threats in the final third. The signing of wing-back Achraf Hakimi will give Inter another established option with plenty of overlapping runs. The club managed to retain the services of Ivan Perišić and Radja Nainggolan when many expected both to leave in the summer. It is also important to mention that Alexis Sánchez looks more comfortable and confident after his disappointing stint with Manchester United. With all that being said, I think the Italian side will have enough to win this group.
2: Real Madrid– The winner of this competition in four of the last seven seasons will be looking for another deep run. Last year, Real Madrid departed from the Champions League in the quarterfinals at the hands of English side Manchester City. In the second leg of that matchup, central defender and captain Sergio Ramos was suspended for a red card, and his absence played a key part. Winger Eden Hazard has gotten off to a tough start in his Real Madrid career, and those questions will continue to arise as the Belgian is starting the season off injured. While the team isn’t playing at their best to begin the season, the talent all across the field will be enough to get out of this tough group.
3: Borussia Mönchengladbach– Under manager Marco Rose, the German side has become one of the best teams in the Bundesliga over the last couple of seasons. French internationals Alassane Pléa and Marcus Thuram are part of an attack that scored 66 goals in the league last year. Also, goalkeeper Yann Sommer and central defender Matthias Ginter are great leaders from the back who provide plenty of stability. While I believe this team could finish ahead of Inter Milan or Real Madrid, the lack of experience Mönchengladbach has will come back to hurt them in the end.
4: Shakhtar Donetsk- The Ukrianian side only missed the knockout stages of this competition by one point last year, so they will be looking for better results this time around. Things could not have gotten better when they managed to go to Spain and take all three points against Real Madrid last Wednesday. Players like Taison and Marlos will be relied on to show their creativity on the ball. Sitting back and hitting on the counter is something that worked against Madrid, and I expect manager Luis Castro to employ a similar system moving forward. The club is leading the group after Matchweek 1, but I don’t see this team having enough to get out of this group.
1: Manchester City- One of the favorites going into this competition always seems to be Manchester City. Manager Pep Guardiola has had the great opportunity to coach some of the best attacking talent in the world in his time at City. Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne, and Raheem Sterling are just a few of the guys who are always dangerous in front of the net. Watch out for youngster Phil Foden this year, as I wouldn’t be surprised if the English international has a breakout Champions League campaign. The signings of Nathan Aké and Rúben Dias were made in hopes of solidifying a very shaky defense from the last couple of seasons. There are definitely questions about whether or not this team can win big games in the knockout stages, but I have no doubt in my mind this team will cruise through this group.
2: Olympiacos– Mathieu Valbuena and Rafinha are both above the age of 35, but will provide plenty of experience and leadership. Manager Pedro Martins will look to get his team to the knockout stages for the first time since the 2013-2014 season. Portugese winger Bruma (who is on loan for PSV Eindhoven) will offer plenty of pace on the wings. Midfielder Youssef El-Arabi has already scored five goals in the Greek league, so he could provide some output in the UCL as well. The second spot in this group is up for grabs, and I believe the Greek side will have enough experience and talent to advance to the knockout stages.
3: Marseille- The French side is another team who will be reliant on their experience to be successful in this group. Dimitri Payet is over four years removed from his sensational first season with West Ham United back in the 2015-2016 campaign. He has regressed with age, but there is no denying that he can pop up with another spectacular performance. The squad also includes Florian Thauvin and Steve Mandanda, who will look to lead this team to the Round of 16. Midfielder Michaël Cuisance is someone that people should watch out for, as the Bayern Munich loanee could be the spark that gets this team out of the group.
4: FC Porto- The Portugese side has almost been a guaranteed lock to be a part of the competition every year, but they will be looking to do more in Group C. A majority of their best players have left the club in the last couple of years, leading the squad to be far less talented. The departure of Alex Telles, Éder Militão, and Héctor Herrera has really depleted the depth of the team, which will continue to show in this campaign. Central defender Malang Sarr and winger Felipe Anderson have been brought in on loan from the Premier League, but it won’t be enough to overcome a squad that is in transition.
1: Atalanta- The Italian side was one of the most surprising teams we got to witness in the competition last year. They scored eight goals in their Round of 16 matchup with Valencia before losing to PSG in the quarterfinals. Manager Gian Piero Gasperini has employed a system that gives his players plenty of opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net. Papu Gómez, Duván Zapata, and Luis Muriel will have the freedom to go forward. One x-factor will be the health of Slovenian forward Josip Iličić, who can be sensational when injuries don’t sideline him. The only consistent starter who departed the club was Belgium international Timothy Castagne, joining Leicester City in the summer. Regardless, this team has plenty of talent across the board and will do enough to win this group.
2: Liverpool- The reigning Premier League champions will look to have a deeper run in this competition after their disappointing loss to Atlético Madrid in the Round of 16. The headline for this team is the long term injury of defender Virgil van Dijk, who will likely be out for the rest of the season. His impact over the last two seasons has been insurmountable, and this will be a big test for how the team can cope without his services. With all that being said, the team still has plenty of talent all over the field. Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane have formed one of the best front threes over the last few years. When new signing Thiago Alcântara returns from injury, he will offer a different level of creativity and dynamism to their midfield. The absence of their best defender will be a big blow, but manager Jürgen Klopp will still get his team to the knockout stages.
3: Ajax- Many will remember the Ajax team that managed to get to a Champions League Semi-final two years ago, but most of their key players from that team are gone now. Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, and Hakim Ziyech are three of the guys who left for bigger clubs across Europe. Things got even worse when midfielder Donny van de Beek departed the club for Manchester United towards the end of the summer window. It was only a matter of time before their most talented players left the club, but the team still has quality. Dutch winger Quincy Promes has played all over Europe and forward Dušan Tadić is a veteran that the rest of the squad relies on. Goalkeeper André Onana was heavily linked to English side Chelsea throughout the summer, but the deal was never completed. Manager Erik ten Hag will give his team every chance to earn points in this group, but they will come up a little short in the end.
4: Midtjylland- The Danish side will be making their first ever appearances in the group stages of the Champions League this year. Midtjylland will be the underdog in every fixture, but winger Pione Sisto will be an outlet the team can look for in the attacking third. The Danish international returned to the club after four seasons with Spanish side Celta Vigo. 22-year-old midfielder Evander is another guy that can provide creativity for this team as well. It will be very interesting to see how manager Brian Priske sets his team up against these European giants, but they will not have enough quality to get out of the group.
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