Next week sees the long-awaited return of the Champions League, with four Premier League teams looking to compete for the ultimate prize in football.
This includes last seasons finalists and five-time winners Liverpool, who’ll line up alongside Pep Guardiola’s all conquering Manchester City and their city rivals United. Tottenham Hotspur complete this years quartet of UCL contenders, with each team expecting to at least reaching the knockout stages.
Each side will need to navigate their respective groups, but who’s most likely to be successful? Let’s take a look:
Tottenham – Group
Spurs qualified for the Champions League with a respectable third place finish in the EPL last season, and they’ll be keen to improve on their second round defeat to Juventus last time around.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men won’t have it all their way in Group B, however, where they’ll have to face the might of Barcelona and an extremely talented Inter Milan side.
Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven will complete a challenging line-up here, with Spurs facing a double header against Mark van Bommel’s side that could prove crucial in determining their chances of reaching the knockout phases.
This will follow a tough trip to Milan next week and a home game against Barcelona on October 3rd, by which time Spurs could face a significant challenge to establish themselves in the group.
Maximum points against PSV could tip the balance in their favour though, particularly as Barca and Inter take pivotal points off each other at the same time.
Our Verdict: Group B could prove tricky for Spurs, particularly given a pronounced lack of summer investment. We’d expect them to overcome PSV home and away, while a home win against Inter should help them to achieve second place behind an outstanding Barcelona side.
Liverpool – Group C
If you thought that Spurs had it tough, spare a thought for last seasons’ UCL runners up and this years Premier League title contenders Liverpool.
Not only must the Reds do battle with big-spend PSG (who visit Anfield next week), but they’ll also have to contend with Series A giants Napoli and a talented Red Star Belgrade side that’s making its first group stage appearance for 10 years.
Jurgen Klopp’s men, who spent more than £160 million on new players during the summer, may also benefit from having a double header against the weakest side in the group. They’ll entertain Vladan Milojević’s men at Anfield on October 24th, before making the tricky journey to Belgrade two weeks later.
Just like Spurs, the Reds will be hoping to put the pressure on their illustrious rivals during these games, with maximum points likely to give them a healthy position in Group C.
We’d also expect Liverpool’s attacking style and intense pressing to fare well against a similarly open Napoli side, particularly given the improvements that have been made to their defence since last season.
Our Verdict: Despite being in a tough group on paper, Liverpool often save their best for the Champions League and now boast genuine pedigree under Klopp. We’re definitely backing them to qualify here, and potentially push PSG all the way for top spot in the group.
Manchester City – Group F
While Spurs and Liverpool both face tough challenges during the group stage, the same cannot be said for reigning Premier League champions Manchester City.
Guardiola’s men have been drawn alongside relatively modest company on paper, in the form of Hoffenheim, Lyon and Ukrainian champions and current league leaders FC Shakhtar Donetsk.
Donetsk will be the biggest challengers to City here, as they gave them two close and competitive games in the same competition last season and boast enough attacking threat to trouble the Citizens’ high (and occasionally vulnerable) defensive line.
These two will meet in a thrilling double header on October 23rd and November 7th, with City hosting Lyon and travelling to Hoffenheim in the first two games and expected to earn maximum points during this time.
Our Verdict: Despite having their vulnerabilities laid bare at Anfield in last seasons’ UCL quarter finals, City’s relentless pressing and attacking style of play will surely prove too much for their Group F opponents. While Donetsk may provide some stubborn resistance, we’d be surprised if City didn’t top the group with something to spare.
Manchester United – Group H
Manchester United’s second round exit to Sevilla last season was not only disappointing, but it was also indicative of the stifled tactics and under-achievement that has dogged Jose Mourinho’s reign as manager to date.
The Portuguese will surely be hoping for better this time around – despite a frustrating summer transfer window, a suddenly porous defence and a stuttering start to the domestic season.
However, the Red Devils have some tough competition to navigate in Group H in the form of Serie A champions Juventus, Spanish side Valencia and the BSC Young Boys of Switzerland.
Not only this, but United must also do battle with Juventus in a fascinating double header at the end of October and the beginning of November, as the Old Lady’s Cristiano Ronaldo and the Red’s Paul Pogba compete against their previous clubs in two of several fascinating sub-plots.
Make no mistake; United will need maximum points from their first two games, starting with a difficult trip to Switzerland to take on a plucky Young Boys outfit.
Our Verdict: This is a deceptively tough group to call, particularly as Mourinho’s tactics tend to restrict United and prevent them from achieving their full potential. We think they’ll just have enough to qualify ahead of Valencia, although they may have to settle for second behind a seasoned Juve side.