It’s back! The Champions League is finally returning and it should be another exciting season. The group everyone will focus on is Group D which has the champions of Spain, Germany, England, and Netherlands all squaring off in a group. Here is a quick preview of the eight groups.
Group A: Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Kiev, FC Porto, Paris Saint-Germain
FC Porto come in as the top seed but will not have an easy time having lost Hulk in the transfer market. The talent at PSG should make them the favorite, but Kiev are a dangerous side with players like Yarmolenko, Miguel Veloso and Niko Kranjcar. Dinamo Zagreb are likely to be a whipping boy in this group. PSG should take the group and I expect Porto and Kiev to have a fierce battle, but Porto’s experience will see them advance.
Prediction: Paris Saint-Germain, FC Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Dinamo Zagreb
Group B: Arsenal, Montpellier, Olympiakos, Schalke 04
The big story in the group is Olivier Giroud returning to face his former team in Montpellier. However, the group will likely be a battle between the Germans and the English. Olympiakos have experience and an opportunistic forward in Marko Pantelic. I expect this to a be a tight group with homefield advantage playing a big role, but the big names will prevail in the end.
Prediction: Arsenal, Schalke 04, Olympiakos, Montpellier
Group C: AC Milan, Anderlecht, Malaga, Zenit St. Petersburg
AC Milan are trying to rebuild while Zenit St. Petersburg will draw a lot of attention after their spending spree. Malaga are no pushover, but given their financial problems, depth is a big problem where the extra European games will stretch them. Anderlecht are led by Matias Suarez and have a bit more depth that should see them finish in third. AC Milan have the pedigree, but Zenit is just more talented and will be the surprise as they win the group.
Prediction: Zenit St. Petersburg, AC Milan, Anderlecht, Malaga
Group D: Real Madrid, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City
This is the group everyone wants to see. Real Madrid are the class but they have struggled early in the season. Ajax are a dangerous side, but seem to be the least talented of the group. Dortmund and City may not have the pedigree of Ajax, but they are flush with talent. Real Madrid won’t find it easy, but they will navigate it to top the group. City and Dortmund will battle it out for second, and it will be the depth of City at striker that will see them get out of the group.
Prediction: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax
Group E: Chelsea, FC Nordsjaelland, Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk
It feels right having Juventus back as they seemed to have finally returned to the top of Italian football winning the scudetto last season. They enter a solid group with games against defending champion Chelsea and the tough Shakhtar Donetsk side that have lots of experience in Europe. Juventus added depth in the offseason to deal with these extra games while Chelsea have rebuilt their attack. FC Nordsjaelland feature American Michael Parkhurst, but this will be a learning experience for the squad. Chelsea’s experience at the back will be enough to see them top the group, but don’t be surprised if Shakhtar advances as they are a smart side, but Juventus led by Andrea Pirlo should get the job done.
Prediction: Chelsea, Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, FC Nordsjaelland
Group F: BATE Borisov, Bayern Munich, Lille, Valencia
Munich are the clear favorites as they look to rebound after the heartbreaking loss in the finals. BATE Borisov won’t have much success in this group despite having the former Arsenal and Barcelona player Alexander Hleb. Lille are a strong side, but without Eden Hazard they will lack their cutting edge while Valencia have depth and experience led by Roberto Soldado.
Prediction: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov
Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Celtic, Spartak Moscow
Barcelona are the class of this group although the counterattacking ability of Benfica could sneak an upset. However, the loss of Luisao to suspension will hurt. Celtic come in with some expectations, but I still see them as the weakest team in the group as Spartak have a strong squad having added Kim Kallstrom and Jurado in the offseason. Spartak will have their eyes set on second place, but it will be Oscar Cardozo and his finishing ability that sees the Portuguese side finish second.
Prediction: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic
Group H: Braga, CFR Cluj, Galatasaray, Manchester United
Manchester United will be the favorites, but they could have said the same last season. Galatasaray will be a tough road match for any team and may be viewed as United’s greatest challenger, but Braga have been the more successful side recently. However, they lost Lima to Benfica in the transfer window and that will be an extremely big loss to overcome. The Romanians CFR Cluj have shown the ability to frustrate sides at this level, but are unlikely to win the games. Sir Alex Ferguson has vowed that United will do better in Europe this season and I believe him as they will top the group. Braga will put up a strong fight, but Galatasaray will have just more to get the job done.
Prediction: Manchester United, Galatasaray, Braga, CFR Cluj