UEFA Champions League Predictions: Group Stage
It’s that time of the year again when the greatest club competition in football really gets going. The UEFA Champions League is made up of 32 teams across eight groups, some champions of their domestic leagues and others who finished high enough in the table to qualify. This tournament gives us the opportunity to see matchups that only can be played out in video games and produces some of the best goals and moments each and every season. The group stage kicks off this Tuesday and Wednesday, so here are my predictions as to who will advance to the knockout round.
Group A: PSG, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray
Group A will feature another clash between two of the richest and biggest clubs in the world: PSG and Real Madrid. The last time these two faced off was in the knockout round of the 2017/2018 season, in which Madrid were victorious. Throw in Madrid’s numerous attempts to pry away Neymar, who will be suspended for their first meeting, and Kylian Mbappé from the French champions and there will be plenty of storylines to cover when these clubs meet. Galatasaray and Club Brugge will provide tough away fixtures for either club, but in the end, just don’t have the firepower of the other clubs to advance. With Zinedine Zidane back as manager, and Neymar’s three match suspension, I’ll take Madrid to top the group over PSG.
Prediction: Real Madrid, PSG
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade
Group B is another group that features two teams on paper with far more talent than the other half of the group. Bayern Munich will set out looking to erase last year’s embarrassing defeat at home to Liverpool in the knockout stage with a more youthful squad surrounding star striker Robert Lewandowski. They are joined in the group by Tottenham, who will look to finish one spot higher this year after finishing as runner-up to Liverpool last season. Olympiakos has the pedigree to be a difficult out and Liverpool found out the hard way how difficult it is to play in Belgrade, but it should come down to the teams from Germany and England who advance. Bayern’s improved depth and desire to be back among Europe’s elite should be enough to see them top this group.
Prediction: Bayern Munich, Tottenham
Group C: Manchester City, Shakthar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
Group C should really stand for City Cakewalk as the champions of the English Premier League are a part of the only group that doesn’t include a former UCL winner. That includes Shakthar Donetsk, who were drawn into a group with City for the third year in a row. The rest of the group is filled out by Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia and Atalanta, who surprisingly finished third last season in Serie A of Italy. City should comfortably finish first in this group, but it will be a close battle between the other three clubs to see who else advances. I believe Atalanta’s experience playing tougher teams in Italy will prove to be beneficial and help them nearly take second in the group.
Prediction: Manchester City, Atalanta
Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
Group D includes a rematch from last year’s knockout stage between the Italian champions Juventus and Atletico Madrid of Spain. Juventus needed a Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick in the second leg to overturn a 2-0 deficit to advance to the quarterfinals last season. Both clubs each brought in one of the top young players in the world this past summer, with 20-year-old Matthijs de Ligt joining Juventus from Ajax and 19-year-old João Félix joining Atletico from Benfica. While Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow are solid sides, they are no match for these defensive juggernauts. Juventus will take the group barely due to some more magic from Ronaldo.
Prediction: Juventus, Atletico Madrid
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, FC Salzburg, Racing Genk
More familiar foes will clash in Group E as the reigning champions Liverpool were drawn into a group with Italian side Napoli for the second year in a row. The two clubs split 1-0 victories last season with each team defending their home field. FC Salzburg and Racing Genk will attempt to play spoiler, but only have a puncher’s chance at advancing out of the group. Two offensively gifted teams will make for some good matches, but Liverpool should come out on top once again.
Prediction: Liverpool, Napoli
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague
Group F is considered by many to be the “Group of Death” as it contains three former champions who have all been finalists this decade. Barcelona could possibly begin group play without a fully fit Lionel Messi, who’s absence has led to the club’s poor form at the start of the La Liga season. Dortmund still have a bad taste in their mouth from last season when they were shutout over two legs in the knockout stage vs. Tottenham. Inter Milan will be disappointed to be in a group with Barcelona once again but have shown signs of improvement under new manager Antonio Conte. Barcelona should still be favored to top the group, especially once Messi makes his return. Dortmund have had more recent success in the UCL than Inter, so I’ll give the edge to Marco Reus and co. to advance as well.
Prediction: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund
Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig
We move from the “Group of Death” to the “Group of Life” as all four of these teams are pretty evenly matched. Lyon and Benfica qualified for last season’s UCL competition while Leipzig return after a one-year absence. Zenit, who were drawn from Pot A as the Russian champions, are back in the UCL for the first time since the 2015/2016 season. This is by far the toughest group to predict, but since Lyon were the only club from these four to advance to last season’s knockout round, I think they will top the group. As for second place, three German teams qualified for the knockout stage last season, which leaves me to believe that young striker Timo Werner and Leipzig will continue that trend and advance.
Prediction: Lyon, RB Leipzig
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille
While Chelsea’s name and past UCL success will lead to people making them the favorite in this group, this is not your typical, lavish Chelsea team. The club have had a rocky start to their EPL season as new manager Frank Lampard has been forced to play a lot of young players due to the transfer ban the club is currently under. They will have to deal with the Dutch champions Ajax, who despite having sold some of their players, still possess the talent to make a deep run like last season. Valencia of Spain and Lille of France are two very polished teams, but the sales of key players could come back to bite them. Ajax have as good a chance to top the group as Chelsea, but I believe the Blues still have enough talent to pull it out.
Prediction: Chelsea, Ajax
As for who makes it to the final and wins the whole darn thing, I have a gut feeling that Manchester City will finally make it to the final round as they seek to capture the only trophy that Pep Guardiola hasn’t won during his tenure as manager. Standing in their way will be Juventus, led by the outstanding play of Cristiano Ronaldo and their brick wall of a defense now infused by the young blood of de Ligt. In the end, I think the stars align for City and they finally become champions of Europe. Here’s to a great season of UCL football!