When all was said and done at the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League Draw, Paris Saint Germain will certainly be considered the favorites to top Group A.
While we can’t forget Portuguese side Porto, the French club has spent a significant amount of money to build a competitive team. Will Dynamo Kyiv or Dinamo Zagreb be able to pull off some shocking yet inspiring wins in this group?
Dynamo Kyiv finished second in the Ukrainian Premier League last season, just four points behind champions Shakhtar Donetsk. Having failed to make it into the UEFA Champions League Group Stage last year, Kyiv will be looking to make a positive impression this time around.
Trying to bring back the glory days of the past will not be an easy task for Russian head coach Yuri Semin, but it is certainly a challenge he is up for.
(Source: ESPN Soccernet)
“We need to perform against the best and put this club back in a good light on the biggest stages,” he states. “That means we need to make an impact in European competitions.”
Dynamo enjoyed great success in the 70s, 80s and 90s with head coach Valery Lobanovsky leading the way for the Ukrainian’s. Two Cup Winners’ Cups in 1975 and 1986, a European Super Cup in 1975 and three quarter-final appearances in the European Cup/Champions League helped the Bilo-Syni cement their club in the history of the game.
Being able to qualify for the next stage of the competition will not be an easy task, but it could be very possible if they can get some results away from home. Bringing in Miguel Veloso, Niko Kranjcar and Taye Taiwo will be a significant boost to the squad as they will be looking to finish in the top two of the group.
A key figure will be Ukrainian international Andriy Yarmolenko who is regarded as one of Ukraine’s most promising young players. The 22-year-old has incredible pace, skills and strength on the ball which will be a great asset for Dynamo in the Champions League. He gives Semin the option to use him on either flank as well as playing in the striker position which has been occupied by Brown Ideye.
The 23-year-old Nigerian has turned into a fan favorite and can be a handful for the opposing teams in Group A.
(Source: ESPN Soccernet)
“What we have with Ideye is a boy who can do anything,” said Dynamo coach Semin. “Maybe the Champions League teams will be surprised by what they see from him.”
Semin’s option to sit back and absorb pressure could prove to be costly in Europe’s most prestigious club competition. Playing against teams like PSG and FC Porto who have experience in their squad will be difficult, but their counter attacking style also gives them great hope going forward. Kyiv can be a "sleeper" in this group and if given the chance, they will take the opportunity and run with it.
The Croatian side comes into the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League campaign with very bad memories of last season’s showing in the competition.
Having lost all six of their matches in the group stage, the Croats also conceded 22 goals and only scored three. That poor record makes them the club with the worst record in the history of the competition.
Taking on offensive teams like Porto and PSG may not benefit Dinamo, but the thought of being in Europe’s center stage and being able to prove that last season was a fluke will certainly motivate the players.
Ante Cacic will be in charge of leading the Plavi to a better campaign than former coach Krunoslav Jurcic had last season. Although, Cacic can play an attractive offensive style of play in the Croatian League, that mentality last season ended in six defeats for Dinamo. This time around, Cacic will learn from Jurcic’s mistakes and will almost certainly opt for a conservative style of play which will allow his team to stay compact and not allow as much space for the opponent.
On the offensive side of the ball for Dinamo, Montenegro international Fatos Beciraj will be hoping to find the back of the net as much as possible. His 15 goals in the 2011-12 Croatian League will have him motivated to carry that success into the 2012-13 edition of the UEFA Champions League.
(Source: ESPN Soccernet)
“We all know that Dinamo had a bad time in the Champions League last year, so there is some room to make up,” Beciraj says. “This time will be different. We will not allow ourselves to be opened up like before.”
18-year-old Mateo Kovacic will be a concern for his opponents, considering his pace and vision on the pitch. Having made his debut in the 2010-11 season, this young star appears ready and up for the challenge to make a name for himself on the European stage. He will also have an opportunity to prove why European teams such as Ajax, Bayern Munich and Juventus were looking to sign him at such a young age.
Dinamo’s expectations going into the tournament will certainly not be set too high considering their performance last season. Getting the players motivated, playing good football and getting them to forget the disaster that was last year will be a big improvement for Cacic. Not allowing other teams to stretch them will give them a better chance throughout the game, and it will also allow them to hit teams on the counter attack, although their transition from defense to offense isn’t the fastest.
They will face difficult tasks against their other three opponents especially on the road which will make it difficult for them to make it out of the group stage.
The current Portuguese champions will be one of the favorites to make it out of Group A, but having to adapt to life after Hulk will not be an easy transition. Despite Hulk’s departure, head coach Vitor Pereira will be able to rely on Colombian international James Rodriguez to provide that offensive spark that Hulk would always provide for the Dragoes.
Porto’s success in Europe will make them a bigger threat considering their experience in big competitions. A European Cup in 1987 with Artur Jorge was just the beginning of a successful run for Porto. Jose Mourinho added a Europa League Cup in 2003 and a Champions League Cup in 2004, while Andre Villas-Boas added a Europa League Cup in 2011.
Playing in a much more competitive competition than it may have been a few years ago due to the amount of money invested in some of Europe’s finest, a team like Porto will remain competitive despite not being able to compete from a financial standpoint.
Porto fans will have been frustrated when they learned that Hulk had made his way to Russian side Zenit St. Petersburg. The Brazilian forward will be missed considering the influence he had in Porto’s style of play. He was not only a threat from set pieces, but his ability to take on multiple defenders with his incredible pace and strength made him a dangerous opponent to go up against.
With his departure, Joao Moutinho, Lucho Gonzalez and James Rodriguez will now have to take a step forward and help lead their club to the next round of the competition. Moutinho proved in Euro 2012 that he is among Europe’s elite midfielders and he too almost made a jump this summer until a £22 million deal fell through in the final hours with Tottenham Hotspur.
Another offensive option for Porto will be Ghanaian international Christian Atsu who was on loan with Rio Ave last season. His pace is one of his best characteristics as he will prove to be a headache for even some of the fastest defenders in Europe. He will have to earn his spot in Pereira’s side who also has Portuguese international Varela waiting in the wings.
Looking at the draw, Porto has to be considered one of the top two favorites along with PSG. Not only are they experienced in the competition, but they also have a very strong squad. New signing Jackson Martinez will have to help carry the goal scoring load with Hulk being gone, while Otamendi, Roland and Maicon will need to keep opponents off the score-sheet.
Porto’s offense and collective play should earn them a spot in the next round, but a slip up against either Dinamo Zagreb or Dynamo Kyiv could prove to be fatal for the Portuguese champions.
A very big injection of money has helped PSG turn into a European competitor in the matter of months. Failure to make it out of the Group Stage would frustrate their new and very wealthy owners. With that said, Carlo Ancelotti will be under pressure to make sure his squad does not underachieve in Europe, let alone in the French League.
Ancelotti signed with the French side mid-way through the season last year and the Qatari owners have shown confidence in the Italian to lead PSG to success. Together with former AC Milan player and coach Leonardo, Ancelotti could turn PSG into a very strong squad given the time and patience from the owners and supporters.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of PSG’s most recent signings will be in the spotlight to score often for his new side. A £20 million investment in the summer from AC Milan has PSG fan’s excited for what the future holds for their beloved club. The Swedish international has proven he can score on any stage and despite looking uninterested at times while on the pitch, when called upon, he normally tends to deliver.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ibra’s former AC Milan teammate Thiago Silva also made the move to Paris. Another large investment from the PSG owners (£41 million) will have expectations very high for the Brazilian defender. Silva was an automatic in the AC Milan defense and will also be a regular starter for his new side. Having worked with Ancelotti at AC Milan, the Italian manager will know what he can expect from his new central defender.
Although PSG has brought in a number of talented players, complacency and failure to meet expectations will live in the back of each players mind. Just like the Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s of the world, PSG will be under the radar after having made such a large investment over the last year.
Group A could end up being a challenge for PSG, depending on how they approach each match. Opposing teams will go in with a conservative approach knowing how much talent the Parisians have, but knowing they have nothing to lose will give them added motivation. PSG will need to know how to control their emotions and deal with teams that will soak up pressure and probably waste as much time as they can throughout the match.
Looking at all four teams in the group, PSG should finish top of the table considering the investments they have made since the arrival of their new owners.
Porto should finish second in the group, but with the departure of Hulk they will need to find another reliable source to help carry the team forward against the well organized defensive teams.
Dynamo Kyiv could be the surprise of the group if they can manage to get results at home. They have enough talent to cause problems for any of the teams they will face, but keeping opponents off the score-sheet will be their biggest concern.
As for Dinamo Zagreb, the Croatian’s will almost certainly struggle to keep pace with their Group A opponents. While at home they could stay competitive throughout some phases of their matches, but overall they will not have enough talent to overcome the likes of PSG and Porto.
Group Winner: PSG
2nd Place: Porto
3rd Place: Dynamo Kyiv
4th Place: Dinamo Zagreb