The League of Champions Returns

The Champions League is full up great matchups this year. Here is how I think it will go down.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Hip hip hooray!” Soccer fans everywhere cheered as the Champions League, the most competitive club tournament in Europe, made its return this September. The much anticipated competition boasts the best teams, players, and coaches in the world competing for the coveted Champions League trophy.

With 32 teams entered in the tournament, winning the competition is never easy. Divided into eight groups of four to begin, the top two in each group advance. Every subsequent matchup fields two teams, with the winner advancing and the loser getting knocked out before the final two battle it out for the title. On top of those odds, this year’s groups are some of the toughest ever, with multiple “groups of death,” where most of the teams in the group have the ability to win the whole thing, making advancing from these groups extremely difficult. Here are my predictions for which 16 teams will advance from the group stage, in order of predicted placement.

Group A: Dortmund, Atlético Madrid, Monaco, Club Brugge

At first sight, this group seems like a walk in the park for Atlético Madrid, as the team made some great signings over the summer, adding to an already strong squad. With the acquisitions of Rodri, Thomas Lemar, and Gelson Martins, Atlético Madrid provided cover for positions they struggled to fill last season. After a disappointing run in the Champions League last season, this was necessary.

Despite these signings, Atlético Madrid have not done enough to be able to compete in their domestic competitions and juggle the Champions League fixtures as well. I can see Borussia Dortmund sneaking into that top spot with their youthful side outdoing Atlético’s stark defensive setup. With players like Christian Pulisic and Marco Reus, they have the creativity and pace to unlock any defense, seeing that they’ve acquired some strong players at the back and in midfield to sure up what was a shaky backline. I can see Dortmund returning to their glory days and challenging for top spot in this one.

Monaco are, sadly, going through another one of their rebuilding phases after selling most of the team that took them to the semifinals of the Champions League two years ago. Monaco lack the necessary talent to compete in this group. Club Brugge, too, were dealt a tough hand in this one and will likely struggle to keep up with the rest of the group.

Group B: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven

Barcelona win this one, hands down. They added a mix of experience and young talented players to their squad this summer, making them an unscalable mountain for the other teams in this group. PSV Eindhoven have been dominant in the Netherlands but are not regularly challenged, lowering their odds at being a competitive team. That leaves Tottenham and Inter battling it out for second place. I have my money on Inter edging this, since they have more to prove after being absent from the Champions League for seven years. Their hunger for success will make the difference in this one.

Group C: Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Napoli, Red Star Belgrade

After losing the final of last year’s Champions League in disappointing fashion, Liverpool made some key additions over the summer to avoid the the shortage of players they had due to injury last season. They signed Xherdan Shaqiri as cover for Mohamed Salah and added Fabinho and Naby Keita to the mix in midfield. They have been playing some great soccer this season, with a flawless start to the Premier league, and PSG are just not challenged consistently in Ligue 1 in France to compete with the juggernauts of Europe. Napoli might have snuck into the top two if they had lost not key midfielder Jorginho, as well as manager Maurizio Sarri to Chelsea over the summer. Without those two, Napoli will struggle to adapt to a new manager and new players.

Group D: Porto, Schalke 04, Galatasaray, Lokomotiv Moscow

Porto come into this one having beaten bitter rivals Benfica to the Portuguese League title last season. With the confidence from their win and their threat on set pieces, Porto should win this Group with Schalke hot on their heels. I can see Schalke just falling behind because of the changes to their squad over the summer. Galatasaray will not be pushed over either and could pull off an upset.

Group E: Ajax, Bayern, Benfica, AEK Athens

Based on their previous performances, Bayern Munich should not even be in this competition. But they should be able to scrape past an even worse Benfica team, who had a horrid season last year. Ajax’s young, talented core, on the other hand, will carry them far in this competition.

Group F: Manchester City, Lyon, Hoffenheim, Shakhtar Donetsk

Manchester City dominated the Premier League last year, winning comfortably. Their quick passing and energetic attackers have translated into goals. City manager Pep Guardiola has made the right changes to make City one of the best teams in the world, and his hard work is paying off. Lyon have an exciting core of talented and young French players and have what it takes to compete with the best. Hoffenheim, on the other hand, received the devastating news that their pragmatic, young manager Julian Nagelsmann will be stepping down at the end of this season. Having led Hoffenheim through a renaissance of sorts where they developed into a dangerous team on the counter attack, Nagelsmann will be missed. The disappointment is obvious in the lack of team spirit on the field and their unimpressive results thus far. While I do not believe they will finish last, they will not cause the top two in the group many problems.

Group G: Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Plzeň

Real Madrid are looking to defend a title they have held for the last three years, a historic record. They have dominated the opposition for three years and will likely dominate this group. Following the sale of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, many believe that Madrid will lack the firepower to push them through this year.

However, it’s worth pointing out that Madrid has been a much more cohesive team post-Ronaldo. The players seem to play with a weight off their shoulders, and the likes of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have the chance to show they can still provide enough offense after Ronaldo’s departure. While Ronaldo’s departure will be a drastic change, it is better for Madrid. Marco Asensio will be given a chance to play in Ronaldo’s position, and he has shown that he is talented enough to fill Ronaldo’s shoes. His flair and exquisite ball control make him capable of turning a game on its head, and he has a lot to prove to the fans. Roma made some interesting signings, replacing some aging players with players for the future. Though they failed to improve their squad and may be worse off than last season, I still see them topping CSKA and Plzeň to make it through.

Group H: Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys

Juventus have high expectations after signing the Champions League’s all-time top scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo. With this added firepower, fans expect Juventus to win it all. Ronaldo is the cherry on top of a great Juventus team. Despite the additions, the club lost legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who left for PSG after 17 years of service to the club. It was a sad day for Juventus fans because they lost a true icon, but he was replaced well. They should top this group, but only time will tell if Ronaldo will continue to break records in the Champions League. Manchester United, meanwhile, received a lot of attention over the summer due to the problems at the club involving manager José Mourinho, who was understandably unhappy with the lack of incoming players to the club. Mourinho only added fuel to the fire when he publicly criticized his younger players, losing the respect of much of his team. Reports of Paul Pogba attempting to force a move away from Manchester worried many fans but the Frenchman remains with the club. United will struggle this season, but how much they struggle is totally up to them.