UEFA Champions League 2008/09: Group Stage Predictions
Chelsea the 2007-08 finalists are certainly one of the favourites to win this competition. I expect them to top this group with the superb squad at the disposal of new manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. AS Roma the runners-up in Serie A last year, despite the growing pressure on manager Luciano Spalleti, should be the other team to qualify considering their past experience. Bordeaux are a decent side who finished second in French Ligue 1, but I cannot see them progressing past this stage. CFR Cluj created history last year winning their first domestic title, making them the first Romanian team outside Bucharest to make it into the Champions League. They must initially feed on the confidence gained from those achievements but once the dust has settled will be out of their depth.
Internazionale, buoyed by the capture of self proclaimed ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho and bearing in mind the depth of their squad to which they added this summer, should top this group. Both Werder Bremen and Panathiniakos are considerably experienced at this level and will most likely be battling for second place. The Bundesliga runners-up may just have enough quality in their squad to pip the Greeks though it will be closely contested. Lesser known Anorthosis Famagusta beat Olympiakos of neighbours Greece, to become the first team from Cyprus to qualify for Champions League football. I would be surprised if the Cypriot outfit were to progress past this stage with this more of a learning experience.
Barcelona will be overwhelming favourites to go through as leaders from this group despite an uncertain start to their domestic campaigns. The Catalans will look to start the season under new boss and former captain Josep Guardiola on a positive note considering widely reported problems and no trophies in the last two seasons. Sporting the Portugese runners-up will in my opinion beat Shakhtar the Ukrainian League winners to second position with their clashes vital in determining who prevails. Basel winners of the Swiss Super League and also making a return to the Champions League will find themselves in a losing battle to avoid bottom place.
This is a superbly poised group with 5 time winners Liverpool, despite only finishing third domestically last year, my favourites to qualify in top place. There is no doubt the Reds relish big European nights and will be looking to continue their recent consistency in this competition. Atlético make their first appearance in the Champions League since 1997 and could be the surprise package. Los Rojiblancos possess the players needed to cause problems for the more established teams and in Javier Aguirre, boast a shrewd manager who may ruffle more than a few feathers. PSV, champions of the Dutch Eredivisie for the past four seasons, have the ability to progress but will most likely miss out in this group. Marseille complete this group and will probably be fighting PSV to avoid bottom place. In my opinion along with Group H this is the most competitive group this year.
Manchester United FC
The current European and English champions Manchester United will be heavy favourites to finish top in this group. The Red Devils will be looking to become the first team in the modern era to defend the Champions League crown after their triumph in the first ever all English final in Moscow. Villarreal, encouraged by a second place finish in La Liga, are the major threat for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, but will more likely be battling Scottish champions Celtic for second spot. In my opinion, under the tactical prowess of Argentine manager Manuel Pellegrini, they should have enough to beat the Glaswegians. Danish champions Aalborg in all probability will finish rock bottom in this group.
FC Bayern Munich
This is a relatively open group with Bayern returning to the Champions League after their surprising absence last year. They will be challenging 7 times in a row French champions Lyon for top honours in this group. I am tipping the Germans to prevail marginally as they have a deeper and higher quality squad, but their fixtures will clearly be vital with the winner taking pole position. Fiorentina, returning to this competition after their fourth place finish in Serie A will be a threat for both Bayern and Lyon but probably be contesting the latter for second place. Steaua will probably finish bottom of this group as they are by far and away the weakest team on paper here.
FC Dynamo Kyiv
Arsenal should finish top of this group but there are tricky away fixtures in Ukraine and Turkey, which historically have proved to be hostile places to travel and come away with points. Porto, former two time winners and current Portuguese champions, have a decent squad which on their day and especially at home can cause problems for anyone. I still believe the Gunners have enough to top this group just ahead of Porto who should qualify in close second. Their comparative head to head results and away performances may well decide who takes top spot in this group. Fenerbahce, under new Euro 2008 winning coach Luis Aragones, should just about fend off Dynamo Kyiv to avoid finishing bottom but it will be close.
Real Madrid CF
FC Zenit St. Petersburg
FC BATE Borisov
Spanish champions and former 9 time winners Real Madrid will be the favourites to qualify top in this awfully tough group. Along with Group D this is the most competitive group in this competition including returning Italian giants Juventus and UEFA Cup holders Zenit St. Petersburg. I believe that the past pedigree of the Bianconeri at this level will hold them in good stead to qualify for the next stage ahead of Zenit. The recent huge investment in Russian football is bearing fruit considering their performances in Euro 2008 and the success of Zenit last year, but this may well be too hard a group for them to progress. Belarusian champions BATE, making their first Champions League appearance in all likelihood will finish bottom of this group.
UEFA SEEDINGS 2008/09:
1 Manchester United
7 Inter Milan
8 Real Madrid
13 FC Porto
14 Werder Bremen
18Zenit St Petersburg
23 FC Basel
27 Atletico Madrid
28 Dynamo Kiev
29CFR 1907 Cluj
32FC Bate Borisov
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