Les grandes équipes
For those of you who are not sure what this is, it is the chorus to the Champions League anthem. The Champions are back! The draw was last week and the tournament kicks off in two weeks. So in order to get you ready for it, here is my quick preview of each group, the schedule, and James and mine predictions.
Group A: PSG, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö
This should be a very straightforward group for Real Madrid and PSG. They should finish 1 and 2 with the difference being their two head-to-head matchups. Real Madrid has won the competition the most with their 10 titles. Most recently, they won the title in 2014 beating cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. PSG is looking to advance to the semi-finals for the first time in their history after three straight trips to the quarterfinals. Shakhtar could be a tricky away trip, but they are playing in Lviv instead of Donetsk due to the civil unrest, so some of the home field advantage will be missing. Lastly is Malmo from Sweden. This will be a big homecoming for Zlatan Ibrahimovic as this was his first ever club.
Sept. 15 – PSG vs. Malmo & Real Madrid vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Sept. 30 – Shakhtar Donetsk vs. PSG & Malmo vs. Real Madrid
Oct. 21 – Malmo vs. Shakhtar Donetsk & PSG vs. Real Madrid
Nov. 3 – PSG vs. Malmo & Real Madrid vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Nov. 25 – Malmo vs. PSG & Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Real Madrid
Dec. 8 – PSG vs. Shakhtar Donetsk & Real Madrid vs. Malmo
My Prediction: PSG, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmo
James’ Prediction: Real Madrid, PSG, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmo
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg
This group could provide us with some surprises as what could be the weakest pot 1 team, PSV Eindhoven, was matched up with the strongest pot 4 team, Wolfsburg. It will also feature a return home trip for Memphis Depay, as he will face off with his old club, PSV. All of these teams will be confident that they can advance out of the group. Can Manchester United make a better return to the Champions League than Liverpool? How big will that last round game in Wolfsburg be?
Sept. 15 – Wolfsburg vs. CSKA Moskva & PSV vs. Manchester United
Sept. 30 – Manchester United vs. Wolfsburg & CSKA Moskvov vs. PSV
Oct. 21 – CSKA Moskva vs. Manchester United & Wolfsburg vs. PSV
Nov. 3 – Manchester United vs. CSKA Moskva & PSV vs. Wolfsburg
Nov. 25 – CSKA Moskva vs. Wolfsburg & Manchester United vs. PSV
Dec. 8 – Wolfsburg vs. Manchester United & PSV vs. CSKA Moskva
My Prediction: Wolfsburg, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven
James’ Prediction: Manchester United, Wolfsburg, PSV Eindhoven
Group C: Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray, Astana
Group C should be renamed the group of travel. It has the two teams that are farthest apart in the entire competition with Benfica and Astana in the group. Benfica is located in Lisbon on the Atlantic Ocean. Astana is in Kazakhstan. Astana is the first team ever to advance to the group stage from Kazakhstan. Look for the crowds to be huge when they have a home game. These teams also face a trip to Istanbul to face Galatasaray and to Madrid to face the runners-up of two years ago, Atletico Madrid. Atleti have to be the favorite in the group with Benfica a close second.
Sept. 15 – Galatasaray vs. Atletico Madrid & Benfica vs. Astana
Sept. 30 – Astana vs. Galatasaray & Atletico Madrid vs. Benfica
Oct. 21 – Atletico Madrid vs. Astana & Galatasaray vs. Benfica
Nov. 3 – Astana vs. Atletico Madrid & Benfica vs. Galatasaray
Nov. 25 – Astana vs. Benfica & Atletico Madrid vs. Galatasaray
Dec. 8 – Galatasaray vs. Astana & Benfica vs. Atletico Madrid
My Prediction: Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Galatasaray, Astana
James’ Prediction: Atletico Madrid, Benfica, Galatasaray, Astana
Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach
Juventus is the first big name in Group D or the Group of Death. Manchester City seems to always be in the Group of Death, as they are joined by Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach. This is the only group in the competition that features 4 of the big five leagues. The question now becomes, who will be left out of the knockout stages. Juventus went to the final last year where they lost out to Barcelona. Sevilla won the Europa League each of the last two years and will look to make their name now in the Champions League. Monchengladbach is going to be a solid German side. Manchester City will hope that their amazing early season form can carry them to back to the knockout stage after missing out last year. Getting off to a fast start is going to be vital.
Sept. 15 – Manchester City vs. Juventus & Sevilla vs. Monchengladbach
Sept. 30 – Monchengladbach vs. Manchester City & Juventus vs. Sevilla
Oct. 21 – Juventus vs. Monchengladbach & Manchester City vs. Sevilla
Nov. 3 – Monchengladbach vs. Juventus & Sevilla vs. Manchester City
Nov. 25 – Juventus vs. Manchester City & Monchengladbach vs. Sevilla
Dec. 8 – Manchester City vs. Monchengladbach & Sevilla vs. Juventus
My Prediction: Manchester City, Sevilla, Juventus, Borussia Monchengladbach
James’ Prediction: Manchester City, Juventus, Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach
Group E: Barcelona, Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov
Group E is home to the defending champions, Barcelona. Barcelona won their 5th title last year, also winning the treble. They will now look to become the first team to defend the title since Milan in 1989 and 1990. No team has done it since the tournament became the Champions League. They are joined in their group by Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and BATE Borisov. The battle for second place could be very intriguing between Leverkusen and Roma. Roma can make a big statement on the 16th when they host the defending champions. A point there would be a great start for them.
Sept. 16 – Leverkusen vs. BATE & Roma vs. Barcelona
Sept. 29 – Barcelona vs. Leverkusen & BATE vs. Roma
Oct. 20 – BATE vs. Barcelona & Leverkusen vs. Roma
Nov. 4 – Barcelona vs. BATE & Roma vs. Leverkusen
Nov. 24 – BATE vs. Leverkusen & Barcelona vs. Roma
Dec. 9 – Leverkusen vs. Barcelona & Roma vs. BATE
My Prediction: Barcelona, Roma, Leverkusen, BATE Borisov
James’ Prediction: Barcelona, Roma, Leverkusen, BATE Borisov
Group F: Bayern, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
Group F has another one of the early favorites to win the whole competition in Bayern Munich. Munich has won the competition 5 times in the past, with their most recent title coming in 2013. Pep Guaridola will hope to win his third Champions League title as a manager and fourth overall. Arsenal, Olympiacos, and Dinamo Zagreb join them. Dinamo are returning to the group stage after two years away. This is a solid team that will attempt to take advantage of their home crowd. Olympiacos has been to the knockout stage on several occasions and even made it to the quarterfinals in 1999. Arsenal has never won the competition, but they have reached the final. This is the one major trophy that has eluded Arsene Wenger. Is this the year?
Sept. 16 – Dinamo Zagreb vs. Arsenal & Olympiacos vs. Bayern Munich
Sept. 29 – Bayern Munich vs. Dinamo Zagreb & Arsenal vs. Olympiacos
Oct. 20 – Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich & Dinamo Zagreb vs. Olympiacos
Nov. 4 – Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal & Olympiacos vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Nov. 24 – Arsenal vs. Dinamo Zagreb & Bayern Munich vs. Olympiacos
Dec. 9 – Dinamo Zagreb vs. Bayern Munich & Olympiacos vs. Arsenal
My Prediction: Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
James’ Prediction: Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
This group should be the renamed the Jose Mourinho group, since the Portuguese manager returns to face the club that he first won the competition with. He is still trying to win the competition with Chelsea, but this manager has won it with Porto and Inter Milan. He is looking to join Carlo Ancelotti and Bab Paisley by winning his third Champions League title. He would be the first to win with three different clubs, as Ancelotti won with AC Milan and Real Madrid and Paisley won all three with Liverpool. It will also see Jose face Iker Casillas for the first time since he was manager of Real Madrid. Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel-Aviv round off the group, which should be very straightforward for Chelsea.
Sept. 16 – Dynamo Kyiv vs. Porto & Chelsea vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Sept. 29 – Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dynamo Kyiv & Porto vs. Chelsea
Oct. 20 – Porto vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv & Dynamo Kyiv vs. Chelsea
Nov. 4 – Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Porto & Chelsea vs. Dynamo Kyiv
Nov. 24 – Porto vs. Dynamo Kyiv & Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Chelsea
Dec. 9 – Dynamo Kyiv vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv & Chelsea vs. Porto
My Prediction: Chelsea, Porto, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Dynamo Kyiv
James’ Prediction: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent
Last but not least, well maybe… is Group H. Valencia made history when they qualified for the group stage, as no country has ever had five representatives before. Lyon is a tough team that seems to be finding their form. Zenit are the champions of Russia and no one will want to travel to St. Petersburg in November or December, especially not Valencia on November 24th. Gent is the final team and the only Belgian team in the competition. This group is very up for grabs but look for a lot of goals and some great attacking football.
Sept. 16 – Valencia vs. Zenit & Gent vs. Lyon
Sept. 29 – Lyon vs. Valencia & Zenit vs. Gent
Oct. 20 – Zenit vs. Lyon & Valencia vs. Gent
Nov. 4 – Lyon vs. Zenit & Gent vs. Valencia
Nov. 24 – Zenit vs. Valencia & Lyon vs. Gent
Dec. 9 – Valencia vs. Lyon & Gent vs. Zenit
My Prediction: Lyon, Valencia, Zenit, Gent
James’ Prediction: Valencia, Lyon, Zenit, Gent
The road to Milan is just getting started, so enjoy it as the Champions League is back!!!!
Next Monday, I will be back with a quick recap of the transfer window and the insanity that was David De Gea! Enjoy the international break!