In the realm of World Football, the UEFA Champions League is one of the most important competitions in Europe. TWSN Analyst Christian De Block predicts who will advance to the knockout stages from Groups E-H.
1: Chelsea- After a fantastic transfer window in which the club brought in plenty of talent, the optimism surrounding the English side is extremely high. The addition of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz has added another dimension to the Chelsea attack, but those guys aren’t the only reinforcements that came in. Right winger Hakim Ziyech began the season on the sidelines, but his ability to cut in on his left foot and be an impact player will be huge for this team. Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell were brought in to help a defense that gave up 54 goals in the league last year.
Even with all those marquee signings, the most important one was the acquisition of Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. There is no denying that Kepa Arrizabalaga has not lived up to the hype as the world’s most expensive keeper, so adding another goalkeeper gives the team more stability. Christian Pulisic is another guy who will be extremely important if he can stay healthy, as his form towards the end of the last season showed he can play a major role for this team. Manager Frank Lampard has one of the deepest teams in all of Europe, and they will have enough to win this group.
2: Sevilla- The current holders of the Europa League will be looking to continue that success in the UCL, but their start to the season hasn’t been great. As of writing this, Sevilla are currently 13th in La Liga, and finding the back of the net is the biggest concern. In their last three games across all competitions, the Spanish side has scored zero goals. Argentinian forward Lucas Ocampos had seventeen goal contributions in the league last year, and he will need to be more dynamic if this team wants to get out of this group. The addition of Ivan Rakitić will add leadership to go along with captain Jesús Navas. One important thing to note is Sevilla managed to hold onto central defender Diego Carlos when many believed he would end up moving to a bigger club in Europe. This team has the talent to get to the knockout stages, and I believe their experience in European competitions will help them get enough points to advance.
3: Rennes- At the moment, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Ligue 1 side is French youngster Eduardo Camavinga. The 17 year-old prodigy has burst onto the scene in the last twelve months, and will look to help his team advance in the Champions League. The buzz around the midfielder has grown day by day, and Camavinga even made his debut for France in early September. The rest of the squad for Rennes is pretty young, but former Sevilla midfielder Steven Nzonzi is looking to bring some leadership at the age of 31. Another guy who could play a big role if he gets consistent gametime is defender Daniele Rugani, who is currently at the club on loan from Juventus. It would be really cool to see Camavinga and the rest of the squad make it to the knockout stages, but the lack of experience is something I believe will come back to hurt them in the end.
4: Krasnodar- The Russian side managed to find themselves in the group stages after advancing through the playoff. Krasnodar was founded back in 2008, so the club is only beginning to get an opportunity to play midweek football in Europe. The team does not have any standout players, so manager Murad Musayev will need to get his tactics right if they want any chance of picking up points. Ecuadorian international Cristian Ramirez scored a fantastic goal in the squads 1-1 draw against Rennes, turning onto his left foot and putting the ball past the right side of the keeper. It will need to be a collective effort if Krasnodar want to advance to the knockout rounds, but the lack of experience in European competitions will come back to hurt the side in the end.
1: Lazio- The Italian side is a sleeper team that many people believe could make a deep run in this competition. Ciro Immobile is one of the most underrated forwards in the entire world, and will finally get the opportunity to show his goal-scoring ability on the biggest stage. In the midfield, Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinković-Savić always find a way to make an impact in the game. Italian international Francesco Acerbi is one of the top center backs in Serie A, and has the ability to shut down the game from the back. Another positive about the squad is the experience that a majority of the older players have. Pepe Reina, Lucas Leiva, and Marco Parolo are all above the age of 33 and will provide great leadership for the younger players. Lazio is one of those teams who can make a deep run in this competition, and I believe Immobile along with the rest of the squad will do enough to win this group.
2: Borussia Dortmund- The German side is another team that has the capability to beat anyone on any given day. Retaining English international Jadon Sancho was one of the bigger headlines of the summer window. Links with Manchester United had been going on for months, but the deal was never completed in the end. Sancho is not the only budding superstar at Dortmund, as forward Erling Braut Håland has quickly become one of the most sought out players in Europe. Last year, center back Mats Hummels returned to the club for his second stint after three seasons with Bayern Munich. His leadership from the back will be key if this team wants to compete with the best attacks in this competition. Two major x-factors for this team will be how much they can get out of Marco Reus and Giovanni Reyna. It is no secret that Reus has dealt with plenty of injuries throughout his career, but he can be so dangerous and effective in the final third when his body is right. Reyna is another attacker who could play a major role for this team, as the 17 year-old has shown he can drive at defenders with his pace and find his teammates in the attack. Manager Lucien Favre sets his team up in a way that allows his attackers to have freedom, and that play style is something that will not only get them to the knockout stages, but could help them make a deep run in this competition.
3: Club Brugge- More than a few teams in this competition have squads full of young players, and the Belgian side is one of them. Their two most experienced players are former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and club captain Ruud Vormer, who are both 32 years-old. Besides those two guys, the rest of the team has some interesting young talent that could help this team pick up some positive results. Krepin Diatta and Charles De Ketelaere provided plenty of energy and pace from the wings, and that showed in their first group game. De Ketelaere scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory against Zenit, as the Belgian international made a darting run towards the near post before slotting the ball home. This team has the capability to surprise some teams and pick up enough points to put some pressure on the top two, but I don’t see them having enough to make it to the knockout stages.
4: Zenit Saint Petersburg- The reigning Russian Premier League champions have been one of the more consistent teams in the country, and they will look to continue that success in the UCL. Zenit is a club that possesses some of the best Russian players at the moment, including Magomed Ozdoyev, Yuri Zhirkov, and club captain Artem Dzyuba. One x-factor who could really make a major impact for the team is Brazilan winger Malcom. Two years ago, the former Bordeaux player was one of the most coveted attackers in the world, and now he struggles to get any playing time in Russia. He is currently out with an injury, but the former Barcelona player could really help this team pick up points if he can get back on the pitch. This team has plenty of experience playing Europe, but I don’t see them picking up enough points against the more talented team in this group.
1: FC Barcelona- It would be an understatement to say the summer transfer window was a mess for the Spanish side. After a terrible end to last season, in which they were embarrassed by Bayern Munich in a 8-2 loss in the UCL quarter finals, it looked like major changes would come at the club. Barcelona legend Lionel Messi was rumored for a move to Manchester City, but former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu blocked the transfer. Now with Ronald Koeman managing the team, the structure of the squad looks very different going into this season. Besides Messi, the goals will need to come from Ansu Fati, Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho, and Ousmane Dembélé. The potential for a lethal attack is there, but it will depend on what play style Koeman chooses to employ. 23 year-old midfielder Frenkie de Jong looks like one of the most talented players in his position, but consistent contributions from aging Miralem Pjanić and Sergio Busquets in the midfield is no guarantee. The current situation at Barcelona looks very messy at the moment, but I still believe Messi and the rest of the squad will have enough to win this group.
2: Juventus The reigning Serie A champions are currently looking to continue their success under first-time manager Andrea Pirlo. The former world class midfielder will look to keep Juventus at a top level, but the squad is in a slight transition. Towards the end of last season, the Italian side dropped out of the Champions League after a disappointing performance against Lyon in the quarterfinals. Former Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri was sacked shortly after the game, and it signaled that some of the older players would be on their way out. Veterans Gonzalo Higuain and Blaise Matuidi were coming towards the end of their prime, so they decided to both leave for Inter Miami in the MLS. Going into this season, one of the main priorities for the club was to add young talent, so Weston McKennie, Arthur, and Federico Chiesa were added in the summer. The club still has world class forward Cristiano Ronaldo, giving them a great chance to win when he is on the pitch. While Juventus could take some time to adjust to Pirlo’s new playstyle, the team has enough talent to cruise through this group as well.
3: Dynamo Kyiv- The Ukrainian side are back in the competition for the first time since the 2016-2017 season. Dynamo have gotten off to a great start domestically, as they currently sit in first place seven games into their league campaign. They don’t have any standout players, but the guy they will be reliant on offensively is winger Viktor Tsyhankov. The 22 year-old has been the team’s leading scorer in the Ukrainian Premier League for the last three seasons, so his goal contributions will be huge if this team wants to advance to the knockout stages. Dynamo will need to take points off Juventus and Barcelona if they want any chance of pulling off a miracle, but I just don’t see them having enough to do so.
4: Ferencvárosi- For the first time since the 1995-1996 campaign, the Hungarian side is back in the Champions League. With two European powerhouses in their group, it is going to be extremely difficult to gain a substantial amount of points. That will put more emphasis on manager Serhiy Rebrov to set his team up in a way that helps the defense stay compact and give the attackers a chance to hit on the counter attack. One winger they will really need to rely on is Tokmac Nguen. The Norweigan international has been their most dangerous player going forward in their first two group games, including a goal in a 2-2 draw versus Dynamo Kyiv in Matchweek 2. With that all being said, Ferencvárosi will not have enough firepower to take points off Juventus and Barcelona to advance to the next stage of the competition.
1: Manchester United- One team that has shown a lot of inconsistencies to begin the season is the English side. Domestically, United were embarrassed against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in a 6-1 loss in early October. On the other hand, we have seen this team perform great in the UCL, beating Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig in the last two weeks. The game against the German side was much more convincing, as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his team dominated in a 5-1 victory on Wednesday night. The failed signing of previously mentioned Jadon Sancho was the major headline hanging over the club throughout the summer, but now they need to put their head down and focus on winning games. English international Marcus Rashford has gotten off to a fantastic start in the UCL, scoring the game winner in Paris and scoring a hat-trick off the bench vs Leipzig. With Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, and Rashford, United could have one of the more deadly attacks in Europe. Questions have arised related to how long Solskjær will be manager at the club, but his ability to win big games is something critics cannot take away from him. As long as he is at United, I believe he can propel this team against the best clubs in Europe, and that will show by winning this group.
2: Paris Saint-Germain– For a team that has really underperformed in this competition for over a decade, it was a major stepping stone for the French side to progress to the UCL Final last year. Even though PSG were unable to finish the job, that deep run could be another step in the right direction for the club. Kylian Mbappé and Neymar are two of the best forwards in the world, and are capable of taking over a game at any moment in time. Ángel Di María has become a stalemate in the Ligue 1 side, as the 32 year-old has shown he can be a top winger in the world. The loss of Thiago Silva could have a drastic effect on the defense, meaning the leadership from goalkeeper Keylor Navas will be even more important. Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe are two defenders who can step right in and do a good job leading the backline with the absence of Silva. One x-factor for this team could be Italian forward Moise Kean, who is currently at the club on loan from Everton. The 20 year-old could be a solid alternative to Mauro Icardi when he returns from injury. The only concern I have with this team in the short-term is Neymar has picked up an injury, but manager Thomas Tuchel will do enough with this team to make it to the knockout stages.
3: RB Leipzig- Top teams typically find a way to replicate the production when their best attacker leaves, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case for the German side. Timo Werner was arguably the most influential player in the team for the last couple of seasons, so it will be very difficult to replace what he did so well. Something that I found very interesting is the fact that Leipzig were first in the Bundesliga going into the weekend, yet their latest performance in the UCL against Manchester United was very concerning. Going away from home to go play a team with a lot of Champions League pedigree is one thing, but giving up five goals is something that could really show some weakness in the defense. Dayot Upamecano was linked to a lot of big clubs in Europe throughout the summer, but Leipzig managed to hold onto him. Offensively, Yussuf Poulsen, Christopher Nkunku, and Dani Olmo will be relied on in the final third. Under manager Julian Nagelsmann, this team has the capability to be one of the best attacking sides in Europe, but their average start to the UCL will allow PSG and Manchester United to finish ahead of them.
4: İstanbul Başakşehir- The Turkish side are in the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in the history of the club. There should be some cause for concern with İstanbul, as they currently sit in 11th place seven games into the Süper Lig campaign. It will be very difficult for the team to pick off points against the other teams in this group, so the way manager Okan Buruk sets his team up will be even more important. Bosnian international Edin Višća is the main man for this team, and he will need to be influential in the attack if İstanbul are going to score a few goals. The team could have a chance to get a few points in a couple of the group games, but they have no shot of getting to the knockout stages.
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