Champions League Group Stage Predictions
It’s the return of Champions League once again, which means the return of the Europe’s best and the typical Champions League storylines: Barcelona blowing a four goal second leg lead, Paris Saint-Germain self-destructing, Manchester City getting ousted by a Premier League team. Below I’m going to take a dive into each of the eight groups drawn to decide who will move to the knockouts, who will be relegated to the Europa League, and who will be going home.
Teams: Paris Saint-Germain (France), Real Madrid (Spain), Club Brugge (Belgium), Galatasaray (Turkey)
We begin with two of the biggest European clubs in the competition. PSG is absolutely desperate to win the Champions League, and new arrival Mauro Icardi should help them reach new heights this year. Paris goes as Neymar goes, however, and his commitment to the club has been in question for quite some time now. Real Madrid will be the favorite to top the group with new arrival Eden Hazard leading the way. Madrid, coming off of three straight Champions League titles from 2016-2018, had a disappointing showing in the knockouts last year and will seek to win their first title in the post Ronaldo era. Both Club Brugge and Galatasaray will provide little resistance to the European giants, with Galatasaray earning the Europa League spot.
Prediction: 1. Real Madrid, 2. PSG, 3. Galatasaray, 4. Club Brugge
Teams: Bayern Munich (Germany), Tottenham Hotspur (England), Olympiacos (Greece), Red Star Belgrade (Serbia)
Another group with two top European teams, Group B will provide little intrigue on who will advance. Bayern will top the group easily, winning five and drawing one away to Tottenham. Last year’s runners up will finish second with plenty of distance from third. The race for third should be mildly interesting between Olympiacos and Red Star Belgrade, but I expect an Olympiacos win at home against Tottenham to help them earn the Europa League spot.
Prediction: 1. Bayern Munich, 2. Tottenham, 3. Olympiacos, 4. Red Star Belgrade
Teams: Manchester City (England), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Atalanta (Italy)
Another year, another dream group for Manchester City. This year, Manchester City needs to capitalize on their draw as the pressure grows on Pep and company to win. They will walk through this group, winning all six games. Shakhtar Donetsk also got a favorable draw and are expected to advance to the knockout stages, although it may not be as straightforward as it seems. Dinamo Zagreb, the most successful team of all time in Croatian football, has not had much success in the Champions League. They have the ability to steal a game from Shakhtar which would make this group a whole lot more interesting. Same goes for Atalanta, the first time Champions League qualifiers from Serie A. Perhaps the easiest group for Pot A qualifiers, but second place will provide some intrigue. I’m going with the Champions League newcomers to advance.
Prediction: 1. Manchester City, 2. Atalanta, 3. Shakhtar Donetsk, 4. Dinamo Zagreb
Teams: Juventus (Italy), Atletico Madrid (Spain), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia)
Another fairly straight forward draw, Juventus and Atletico Madrid are the clear favorites to advance. Bayer Leverkusen has given big teams problems in the past, and if Leon Bailey can regain his 2017-2018 form, they could make a push for the second spot. However, Juventus enter the campaign with huge expectations following the transfer of Matthijs de Ligt and urgency to win their first Champions League title while Cristiano Ronaldo is still around. Atletico Madrid have started the season strong behind superstar teenager Joao Felix and look positioned to make a run this year in the competition. Atletico is my pick to win it all this year.
Prediction: 1. Atletico Madrid, 2. Juventus, 3. Bayer Leverkusen, 4. Lokomotiv Moscow
Teams: Liverpool (England), Napoli (Italy), Red Bull Salzburg (Austria), Genk (Belgium)
The final straightforward group features the defending champions and the team that nearly knocked them out in the group stage. Liverpool is again a favorite in the competition and will top the group. Napoli, coming off another successful season in Italy, will finish second in the group with a large gap between them and third. Red Bull Salzburg and Genk will finish with four losses and two draws each, with Genk going to the Europa League on goal differential.
Prediction: 1. Liverpool, 2. Napoli, 3. Genk, 4. Red Bull Salzburg
Teams: Barcelona (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Inter Milan (Italy), Slavia Prague (Czech Republic)
Welp, at least Slavia Prague got this far. When their team was announced by retired Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech to be placed in Group F, the camera cut to the Slavia Prague chairmen. The chairmen were trying to hold in their laughter, looking at each other knowing the group stage would be their last stop in this year’s competition. Prague will finish fourth in this year’s group of death.
The other three teams are heavyweights of Europe, all in different stages of a team’s competing lifecycle. There’s Barca, slowly declining but still a favorite to win the competition. There’s Borussia Dortmund, a scouting juggernaut that can make a run any year but always seems to fall short. And then there is Inter Milan, an Italian giant that is seeking to return to the form that saw them win the 2010 Champions League title.
Any of these three teams can win the group, any of these three teams can finish third and be relegated to the Europa League. I am going to go with the safe choice and say Barca will win the group. Barcelona is desperate to win another Champions League with Messi, having won their last title in 2015. Since then, their fierce rival Real Madrid has won three Champions League titles while they have suffered embarrassing exits in consecutive years. Barca and Messi will make sure they start out their Champions League campaign right by topping the group. Second in the group is a tougher choice, but I think Antonio Conte will have Inter in strong form throughout the group stage and a Dortmund away draw with Prague will see Inter go through to the knockouts.
Prediction: 1. Barcelona 2. Inter Milan 3. Borussia Dortmund 4. Slavia Prague
Teams: Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia), Benfica (Portugal), Lyon (France), Red Bull Leipzig (Germany)
Probably the most balanced group in the competition, Group G holds the opportunity for all four teams to top the group. Expect a lot of draws in this group. Benfica will probably end up on top, I think clearing second place by 2 points. For second I am going to choose the most hated team in German football, RB Leipzig. One of the teams owned by Red Bull has to go through, and a potential draw between Bayern and RB Leipzig in the knockouts is too juicy to pass up.
Prediction: 1. Benfica, 2. RB Leipzig, 3. Zenit Saint Petersburg, 4. Lyon
Teams: Chelsea (England), Ajax (Netherlands), Valencia (Spain), Lille (France)
Group H was clearly reserved for teams that lost their best players over the summer. Chelsea, the 2019 Europa League Champion, reenters the Champions League after a year hiatus and without Eden Hazard after his summer sale to Real Madrid. A two window transfer ban additionally hampered Chelsea’s summer, forcing them to field a young team with little European experience. Ajax, a Champions League Semifinalist last year, had a similarly rough summer, losing young superstars Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs de Ligt to transfers. Lille also suffered the loss of young star Nicolas Pepe to a summer transfer to Arsenal.
Despite the losses, Group H offers plenty of intrigue and is perhaps the deepest group of the competition. Ajax will finish first in the group, leaning on Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, and the rest of their young stars to advance to the knockouts easily. The rest of the group is a bit muddied, as in any other year Chelsea would be an easy choice to advance. Because of the lack of experience in the squad, I expect Chelsea to have more difficulty advancing this year. They will battle with both Valencia and Lille for the second spot, ultimately advancing on goal differential. Lille gets the Europa League qualification.
Prediction: 1. Ajax, 2. Chelsea, 3. Lille, 4. Valencia
Let me know what your group choices are in the comments. First matches are scheduled for September 17th and 18th. Let the games begin.