It begins this Tuesday.
Chelsea will kick off the arduous task of defending their Champions League title as Europe’s 32 elite clubs seek to qualify from their groups to the knockout stages. If that defence succeeds, then Thomas Tuchel would join the likes of Zinedine Zidane in the exclusive club of managers who won the Champions League back to back in modern history. But in a season of many sensational transfers and reinforcements across most clubs, it will take Chelsea extra effort to pull off a title defence. BetBonanza examines some of the groups and predicts who leaves and who stays.
Group A: Manchester City, PSG, Leipzig, and Club Brugge.
This group promises some thrilling encounters. Manchester City hosts German side Leipzig on Wednesday in a tie City should win, even if not easily. Leipzig shocked Manchester United last season with a last game defeat that knocked the Red Devils out of the group stages, in a match they needed just a draw to move to knock out stages. Pep Guardiola’s men will therefore be mindful of that history as they face Jesse Marsch’s men.
But the real thriller will be Manchester City and PSG, a club that just reinforced its attack with the addition of Lionel Messi, a proven goal machine. Before Messi, there was Neymar and Mbappe. Guardiola managed Messi while at Barcelona, and will be working hard to contain him when both sides finally meet. The game promises to be a replay of last season’s semi-final in which the pair met, and City won. We do not know how their tie will pan out, but we think the outcome of that encounter will not affect both teams’ chances, as we believe they will qualify from this group.
Group B: Atlético, Liverpool, Porto, and Milan.
This one is tricky. Three of the four clubs have won the Champions League in the past. And the one that has not, Atletico, reached the final thrice. This says all there is about the quality of each club within the group. They all share a history of reaching finals. Atletico won the La Liga last season, triumphing over such powerhouses as Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Liverpool is back in form, from last season’s injury hit that reduced them to a struggling side and rendered them unable to defend their English domestic title. Porto finished second in the Portuguese league last term and will be bringing fire to the contest. This group is one of the toughest to survive. BetBonanza predicts, however, that Atletico and Liverpool will pull through.
Group E: Bayern, Barcelona, Benfica, and Dynamo Kyiv.
Just like Group B, this group has three past winners of the Champions League, and the fourth, Dynamo Kyiv, reached semi-finals at least thrice. Each team, therefore, enters this race with a rich European competition experience. We would have easily tipped Barcelona to join Bayern with an easy qualification for this group, if this was last season. Barcelona is in ruins right now; hugely in debt and starting a new season without the singular most important figure in their dressing room for two decades – Lionel Messi. The adjustment for them will be tough and lengthy. That leaves the remaining slot, after Bayern Munich, up for grabs by any of the three teams left. And, yes, we take it for granted that Bayern will qualify. Robert Lewandowski is still at Allianz Arena.
Group F: Villarreal, Manchester United, Atalanta, and Young Boys.
Many Manchester United fans will conclude that this is a walkover for the Red Devils, but not so fast. Yes, we believe United will qualify from this group, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo now in the squad, but Villarreal’s manager Unai Emery was the one who frustrated Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and his boys in last season’s Europa League final, stretching them into 30 minutes extra time and defeating them after long-drawn penalty shoot-outs where all 22 players had to play, with 21, from both sides, scoring. It was United keeper De Gea’s misplaced shot, saved by Geronimo Rulli, that cost United that trophy. Emery would repeat same feat in the Europa Super cup against Chelsea, only narrowly losing to Thomas Tuchel’s tactics of changing his keeper in the last of the 120 minutes – just for the penalties. Emery will seek to inflict injuries on the members of this group.
Atalanta ended last season third in the Italian Serie A. They also nearly eliminated Madrid last season in the Champions League. That’s quite something, and that drive will work for them when they kick-off their European campaign this week. Young Boys won the Swiss title last season, losing only twice. That is an impressive run that will be felt by opponents in this group.
We think Manchester United will qualify from the group, and anyone of the rest will join them.
In the other groups, opposition to the established names does not seem strong. Example is Chelsea likely to have it easy in Group H, and will be qualifying alongside Juventus. The same as Real Madrid in Group D, and Dortmund in Group C.