The Champions League is back, and as the group-stage draw played out on Thursday, fans of the 32 elite clubs around Europe were left either jumping for joy or cursing their bad luck.
With so many talented outfits in the competition, there’s no such thing as an easy draw, only a favourable one; and here, we take a look at who could be emerging from each and every group of the 2014/15 Champions League.
|Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|Atletico Madrid||Real Madrid||Benfica||Arsenal|
|Juventus||FC Basel||Zenit||Borussia Dortmund|
|Group E||Group F||Group G||Group H|
|Bayern Munich||Barcelona||Chelsea||FC Porto|
|Manchester City||Paris Saint-Germain||Schalke 04||Shakhtar|
|CSKA Moscow||Ajax||Sporting Club||Athletic Bilbao|
Group A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiacos, Malmo
Group A’s script rather writes itself, with the champions of Spain, Atletico Madrid, and the champions of Italy, Juventus, in action.
While Olympiacos and Malmo aren’t the kind of teams to just roll over, the class that Atletico and Juventus have at their disposal means that they will likely be also-rans in the 2014/15 competition.
All that’s left to decide, then, is who’ll be winning Group A, and based on last season’s form, top spot could well be going to the La Liga champions.
Juventus were humbled in last season’s Group B alongside Real Madrid, Galatasaray and Copenhagen, with the Turin club winning just one of their group matches—against the minnows, Copenhagen.
Meanwhile, Atletico came within seconds of winning the entire competition, before Sergio Ramos’ last-gasp equaliser in the final kept Real’s dream alive, who then went on to win convincingly in extra time.
Knowing manager Diego Simeone, the Atletico boss’ ambitions will be to go one better this time around, and such is the quality in his setup that it remains a possibility—starting with topping Group A.
To qualify: Atletico Madrid (1st), Juventus (2nd)
Group B: Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
Starting in Pot 3 for the group-stage draw on Thursday, Liverpool could have been given a real nightmare draw for the 2014/15 competition, but came away relatively unscathed.
Though they’ll face off against the reigning champions, Real Madrid, they couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in the rest of the group.
Former Liverpool star Neil Mellor agrees, too, saying that Liverpool have got off lightly and should relish the chance to play against the best of the best:
Brilliant welcome back to the Champions League for Liverpool with the European champions Real Madrid coming to Anfield! Good group to be in— Neil Mellor (@NeilMellor33) August 28, 2014
While the Reds will be chasing a famous victory against Madrid either home or away, the chances of Carlo Ancelotti’s men dropping points throughout the entire group stage are very slim, and Liverpool must concentrate on their “easier” fixtures.
Four good results against Basel and Ludogorets home and away will see Liverpool into the last 16 as runners-up, and from there, who knows what they could achieve?
To qualify: Real Madrid (1st), Liverpool (2nd)
Group C: Benfica, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco
All four of Group C’s participants will look at their group and think that qualification is a real possibility.
There simply isn’t a standout weak side in the group, and with that in mind, it could be an entertaining one.
That’s something that ESPN’s Tommy Smith agrees with, as he revealed via Twitter:
Group C is evenly matched any two can come out of it.— Tommy Smyth (@TommySmythESPN) August 28, 2014
With three Portuguese managers also in the group, there could be a few tactical stalemates playing out, but Benfica and Monaco’s personnel advantage means that you have to lean towards them going through.
To qualify: Benfica (1st), Monaco (2nd)
Group D: Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
Arsenal were handed a tough-looking group for the 2014/15 campaign, with Pot 2’s overlords Borussia Dortmund being drawn into the Gunners’ group.
The 2012/13 runners-up were in Arsenal’s group last season, with both sides recording away victories in the two meetings.
Looking at Group D on paper, you’d expect Galatasaray and Anderlecht to be mere spectators in Arsenal and Dortmund’s race for top spot, and that’s exactly what journalist Jack Rathborn believes:
Arsenal find themselves in what I call a "one game" group to qualify, beat Galatasaray at home & they'll be in the next round, 95% #AFC— Jack Rathborn (@jackrathborn) August 28, 2014
As Rathborn says, as long as Arsenal record a victory at home against their Turkish opponents, the rest of the results will take care of themselves, but it’s winning the group that will be at the top of manager Arsene Wenger’s agenda.
The Gunners overcame Dortmund 1-0 at Westfalenstadion last season courtesy of an Aaron Ramsey goal, and if they can do the same while keeping things solid at home, then they should emerge through Group D on top spot.
To qualify: Arsenal (1st), Borussia Dortmund (2nd)
Group E: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow, Roma
In every Champions League, there’s a group of death, and this year that’s Group E.
The German champions, English champions, Russian champions and Serie A’s runners-up make up the group, and it’s safe to say that it’s going to be fiercely contested—and Gary Lineker thinks that Manchester City will have a tough time finding their way through it:
I think it's safe to say that once again Manchester City have drawn a stinker of a group.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) August 28, 2014
Premier League champions Manchester City have had it rough in the Champions League over the last few seasons in terms of the difficulty of their group, and this season sees them drawn against Bayern Munich for the second consecutive year.
Opening the 2013/14 campaign, City were taught a footballing lesson at the hands of Bayern, as they completely outplayed them at the Etihad, winning 3-1.
The reverse leg saw City win 3-2, but with group places already confirmed, Bayern will say that their focus was elsewhere as Manuel Pellegrini’s side visited the Allianz Arena.
That being said, City come into this season’s competition in a better position to make a charge for the trophy than ever, and while Group E will give them a lot to think about, their talented squad should be able to negotiate their way through it.
Roma and CSKA Moscow can certainly play good football, but their inferior squads will see City and Bayern emerge victorious, with the Germans progressing as champions.
To qualify: Bayern Munich (1st), Manchester City (2nd)
Group F: Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax, APOEL
Group F is another that rather writes itself in terms of who’ll be progressing to the last 16, but there could be a surprise in the group’s victor.
Barcelona will be favourites, naturally, but PSG have enough talent in their squad to pose the La Liga outfit a real problem both home and away.
The Parisians showed just how solid they can be at the Parc des Princes last season, most notably as they disposed of Chelsea in the quarter-finals at home with minimal fuss.
The Blues went on the reverse the tie, but when Barcelona travel to Paris, they could be in for the same treatment.
Group E could come down to goal difference, and if PSG can better Barca’s scores against Ajax and APOEL, then they could be going through as group winners—giving one unlucky group champion the task of facing Barcelona in the last 16.
To qualify: PSG (1st), Barcelona (2nd)
Group G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting Lisbon, Maribor
Chelsea have done it again in the Champions League—another friendly looking group for them to negotiate their way through.
The Blues emerging through as Group G champions is looking more than likely, and Lineker was one of many that commented on just how easy Jose Mourinho’s men have it:
Chelsea might just squeeze through their group!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) August 28, 2014
Schalke could give Chelsea a bit of problem, but when the teams met in last year’s competition, the Blues eased to 3-0 victories both home and away.
That being said, the German side have spent wisely in the transfer window without losing some of their prize assets, meaning that they come into the competition in a strong position.
Sporting Lisbon and Maribor will undoubtedly put up a good fight, but progressing to the knockout stage could just be one hurdle too much for both sides.
To qualify: Chelsea (1st), Schalke (2nd)
Group H: Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Athletic Bilbao, BATE Borisov
Similar to Group C, Group H has the makings of a group that could go all the way to the wire, with four evenly matched sides facing off.
While Porto will be favourites, there could be another shock on the cards in Group H, as Shakhtar Donetsk and Bilbao are two sides that have proved that they can mix it with Europe’s elite.
Bilbao in particular, who emerged through a tough-looking play-off tie against Napoli with consummate ease to book their place in the group.
The Spanish side and Shakhtar have risen from strength to strength over the years, and while Porto and BATE will undoubtedly have points on the board, the former duo could well be heading through.
To qualify: Athletic Bilbao (1st), Shakhtar Donetsk (2nd)