by ‘Ifreke Inyang
Nothing new. Nothing markedly different. The draws for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, is becoming an event not to look forward to. Same old drama. Almost the same fixtures recycled year after year. But hey, it is the Champions League, complete with its outstanding football, unrivalled atmosphere and compelling anthem.
Let’s take a look at the eight groups and how they might sort themselves out for the round of 16.
Group A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiacos and Malmo
Atletico Madrid, who were beaten in last season’s final, have lost Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Felipe Luis this summer. But Diego Simeone has bought well. Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic have shown their abilities in their first few fixtures and I expect them to scale through. Juventus have to be careful. Antonio Conte is gone with his charisma and authority, qualities that new manager Massimiliano Allegri doesn’t boast of. But their pedigree should see them join Atletico.
Group B: Real Madrid, Basle, Liverpool and Ludogorets
Liverpool are back in the Champions League after a five-year hiatus, but without Luis Suarez, a man whose goals fired them back into Europe’s elite. Brendan Rodgers’ men have been drawn against current defending champions Real Madrid, Basle and Ludogorets. It’s a no-brainer. The Reds and Los Blancos will slug it out for top spot and the games at Anfield and the Santiago Bernabeu, are what everyone will be waiting for. Cristiano Ronaldo has already warned the Premier League side, that there won’t be any repeat of the 5-0 aggregate drubbing Madrid endured in 2009.
Group C: Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco
Bayer Leverkusen completely ran over FC Copenhagen in the second leg of their play-off game, playing some really good football. I think they are one of the teams, who will progress from Group C. Monaco’s bank accounts may be bursting at its seams, but they have not stitched their reputation into the fabric of European football and I don’t think they will this season. Zenit, with the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas, are my second tip to qualify from this group.
Group D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Anderlecht
It’s Jurgen Klopp vs Arsene Wenger again. The third time in four years. Both teams must really be sick of each other, but UEFA have no new ideas it appears. First glance at this group and you’re tempted to go with Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. Anderlecht are obviously the team that will end bottom, but Galatasaray will try their best to be party spoilers.
Group E: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow and Roma
Last year, Bayern, City and CSKA were in the same group, so the piece of ingenuity from UEFA this year is Roma. It does not stop it from being the group of death though. Pep Guardiola was dumped out of this competition in the semi-finals, in a ruthless manner and the Spaniard will be looking to make amends this time. The Bundesliga can as well be delivered at the Allianz Arena now. They are shoe-in to win it. The one they really want, is the holy grail. I think they and City or Roma will go through.
Group F: Barcelona, PSG, Ajax and Apoel Nicosia
Barcelona have been grouped with Paris Saint-Germain again – yes, this is getting really boring now. And yes, they will be the two teams to qualify from Group F. Ajax or Apoel can start making plans for the Europa League.
Group G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting and Maribor
I was sent a graphic this morning, detailing Chelsea’s Champions League groups for the past six years or so. They have gotten really easy draws and Jose Mourinho will be grinning from ear to ear. Once again, they will face Schalke, who they swept aside last year with so much ease. Sporting Lisbon and Maribor will make up the numbers in this one. The Blues and Schalke will qualify.
Group H: FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao and BATE
This is the type of group who no one pays attention to, but suddenly want the teams who qualified, when it gets to the knock-out rounds. Athletic Bilbao took full advantage of Napoli’s self-destruction, to get to this stage and they are no pushovers. FC Porto are not quite the force they were years ago and Shakhtar is a decent team. Having said that, I will stick my neck out for Bilbao and Shakhtar.
‘Ifreke Inyang tweets via @Ifreke