It’s Back!! Our Big Champions League Preview Is Here…
September 13, 2016
Can anyone break Spain’s stranglehold on the Champions League trophy? Real Madrid have been crowned champions of Europe twice in the past three years, with a triumph for Catalan giants Barcelona sandwiched in-between.
Such has been their dominance; the only other nation to have a representative in one of those finals was Italy when Juventus bravely lost out to a virtually untouchable Barca.
11-time winners Real defeated their Madrid counterparts Athletico in the other two contests, with Bayern Munich the last club outside of Spain to lift the most prestigious trophy in club football back in 2013.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will once again reignite their incredible goal scoring rivalry at this level, although it is the Madridsta who has moved ten goals ahead of the Argentinean magician following his 16-goal haul in last year’s competition.
Since the tournament altered its name and structure in 1992, no club has been able to successfully retain the trophy. However, it will be these familiar names that are once again expected to feature prominently as the competition progresses into the latter stages.
This season’s UEFA Champions League will also feature the debuts of shock Premier League winners Leicester City and Russian side FC Rostov who demolished Ajax 5-1 on aggregate during the qualifying stages.
The first group games take place later this evening, so let’s take a look at each group, the key games and the teams that are likely to make it into the knockout stages, along with a preview of the favourites to win the Champions League.
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Arsenal, FC Basel, Ludogorets Razgrad
Key Fixture: Arsenal vs. PSG (23 November)
Prediction: PSG and Arsenal to qualify.
The Gunners will take part in the group stages for a 19th consecutive season, but will need to try and overcome the financial muscle of PSG to attain top spot and avoid a potential last-16 clash against one of the European heavyweights.
FC Basel from Switzerland reached the knockout phase two seasons ago before losing out to FC Porto and their rising experience in this competition will pose the biggest threat to PSG and Arsenal.
Bulgarian side Ludogorets made their debut in the competition last season and became the first Bulgarian side to score points in the modern format when they defeated the Swiss side 1-0 in Sofia.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: PSG (14/1)
Despite consistently annihilating the rest of the field in Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc lost his job having failed to convert Les Rouge-et-Bleu’s domestic domination onto the European circuit.
The club’s wealthy owners decided to hire former Sevilla boss Unai Emery who guided the Spanish side to two consecutive Europe League titles and has been labelled a knockout specialist.
Even with the loss of their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the French side still possess one of the strongest squads in the competition which includes the dribbling wizardry of Angel Di Maria and the creative flair of Javier Pastore.
Benfica, Napoli, Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas
Key Fixture: Napoli vs. Dynamo Kiev (23 November)
Prediction: Benfica and Napoli to qualify.
Benfica are favourites to top the group and the Portuguese club gave Bayern Munich an almighty fright last year, narrowly losing out by three goals to two on aggregate in their quarter-final clash.
Napoli lost their chief goal ace in Gonzalo Higuain, but have made a positive start to life in Serie A without the 28-year-old. Gli Azzurri sit in second place after three games and will need to fend off the dangerous obstacle of Sergei Rebrov’s Kiev side who punched well above their weight in making the round of 16 last year.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: Benfica (80/1)
The Portuguese champions won two consecutive European Cups in 1961 and 1962 when they were inspired by the legendary Eusebio. Outside of the usual suspects, Rui Vitoria’s side remain the biggest threat.
Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Monchengladbach, Celtic
Key Fixtures: Manchester City vs. Barcelona (01 November)
Prediction: Barcelona and Manchester City to qualify.
Manchester City Pep Guardiola being paired against his former club is the main talking point of Group C. The Spaniard won two Champions League titles during his four year spell in the Nou Camp hot seat, but the 45-year-old failed to lift the trophy whilst head coach at Bayern Munich – falling at the semi-final stage for three consecutive seasons.
Scottish champions Celtic are not equipped to compete with the quality of the big two in this group, but their campaign will be viewed as a success if they can avoid finishing bottom of the group and in the process qualify for the Europa League.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: Barcelona (3/1)
When firing on all cylinders, the attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are simply unplayable. Having won the competition three times in the last eight years, the Blaugrana will be hoping to bounce back from last season’s disappointing quarter-final loss to an outstanding Athletico.
Bayern Munich, Athletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, FC Rostov
Key Fixture: Bayern Munich vs. Athletico Madrid (06 December)
Prediction: Bayern Munich and Athletico Madrid to qualify.
The inspirational man management of Diego Simeone helped mastermind his side to a second final in three years last season. This run saw Los Colchoneros overcome the Barvarian giants in the semi-finals and they will be expected to push Bayern close in this group.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: Bayern Munich (4/1)
The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti could be pivotal in breaking Bayern’s semi-final curse. Ancelotti is the only manager to have lifted the UEFA Champions League three times and has an unrivalled pedigree in this competition.
The squad is brimming with quality and has been strengthened further with the summer signings of Mats Hummels and young Portuguese sensation Renato Sanches who impressed during his country’s glorious Euro 2016 campaign.
Tottenham, Bayer Leverkusen, CSKA Moscow, Monaco
Key Fixtures: Monaco vs. Tottenham (22 November)
Prediction: Tottenham and Monaco to qualify.
Mauricio Pochettino’s young and vibrant team return to the competition following a five year absence and will have to plough their way through a testing group if they are to reach the knockout stages.
Leverkusen finished third in the Bundesliga last year and have been a model of consistency in recent years, whereas Monaco currently top the table in France and can boast Colombian striker Radamel Falcao amongst their ranks.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: Tottenham (33/1)
It is a big ask for any side in this group to go all the way in the tournament, but if any of the teams are equipped to do so, it is Tottenham. They have an exuberant squad full of energy and the likes of Dele Alli will hold no fear on the biggest stage of them all.
Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon, Legia Warsaw
Key Fixture: Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund (07 December 2016)
Prediction: Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to qualify.
The defending champions should be able to navigate their way out of Group F in top spot, although the German side will be a tricky hurdle to overcome having been strengthened by the return of Mario Gotze following a forgettable spell at Munich
Madrid and Dortmund are two of the finest teams on the continent and are blessed with formidable attacking threats. On the other hand, it is questionable as to whether Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw are able to compete at this level – the latter only narrowly prevailing against Irish side Dundalk in the final round of qualifying.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: Real Madrid (5/1)
Other than the addition of Alvaro Morata, manager Zinedine Zidane largely has the same squad from last year at his disposal. Los Blancos notched up their 15th consecutive La Liga victory at home to Osasuna on Saturday and they will take some stopping as they go in search of a 12th European crown.
FC Porto, Leicester City, FC Copenhagen, Club Brugge
Key Fixtures: FC Porto vs. Leicester City (07 December 2016)
Prediction: FC Porto and Leicester City to qualify.
Could the unthinkable happen again and Leicester City provide another turn-up for the books?
The Foxes will be delighted with this group, although it will be interesting to see how their smash-and-grab tactics play out on the biggest rostrum of European football.
Porto have not won their domestic league for the past three seasons, whereas Club Brugges were runaway champions in the top-flight last season and are the only Belgian club to have played in a European Cup final when they were ousted by Liverpool in 1978.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: FC Porto (66/1)
The Dragões have been the last team standing in this event on two separate occasions and are the only club in Group G to have lifted the famous trophy.
Juventus, Lyon, Sevilla, Dinamo Zagreb
Key Fixture: Lyon vs Sevilla (07 December 2016)
Prediction: Juventus and Sevilla to qualify.
Juventus should run away with this group so the battle for the runners-up spot will be most intriguing. Despite losing the spine of a squad which won three Europa League titles on the spin, Sevilla will be organised and difficult to beat. Lyon used to be a permanent fixture in the knockout stages and it is their home clash against the Spaniards in the final round of matches which is likely to be critical in deciding their respective fates.
Best Chance Of Winning The Tournament: Juventus (9/1)
Juventus have spent big in an attempt to win a first Champions League since their prevailing in a penalty shootout against Ajax in 1996. £90 million was spent to secure the firepower of striker Gonzalo Higuaín from Napoli and they now have a squad built to transfer their domestic exploits onto the Champions League stage.