As the UEFA Champions League draw reaches its anticipated closure, the fate of the 32 clubs in the group stage is finally sealed.
All set for the 2021/22 season! 🤩
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 26, 2021
The draw, in general, has produced some insanely challenging groups, with the new diamond in Paris, Messi, featuring in group A – the group of death. PSG faces off against Manchester City, RB Leipzig, and Club Brugge, while Group B also possesses ample flare in the form of Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, and Porto.
Defending European champions Chelsea will face off against Juventus in Group H while the fans will also be treated with a rematch of last year’s Europa League final, with Manchester United and Villareal, both in Group F.
As fans brace for yet another series of spectacular nights of European football, here’s a closer look at each of the eight groups, along with the predicted order of finish.
GROUP A: MANCHESTER CITY, PSG, RB LEIPZIG, CLUB BRUGGE
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH: MANCHESTER CITY AND PSG
Group A, the group of death indeed, has that flare that the football fans around the globe will go berserk about as it pits unarguably Europe’s two strongest sides, Manchester City and PSG, against one other.
Furthermore, following Messi’s blockbuster move to the French capital a few weeks ago, another bombshell transfer might be in the pipeline, with Cristiano Ronaldo potentially joining Manchester City shortly if floating rumors and speculations come true. The encounter between the two clubs is a feast in and of itself, but the player matchup that this match may potentially provide will undoubtedly evoke memories in the finest fashion.
PSG draw Man City in the Champions League group stage!
Could we see Messi vs. Ronaldo? 👀 pic.twitter.com/EPmffTSyPm
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 26, 2021
With last year’s semi-finalists PSG and finalists Manchester City, and given the firepower both teams boast, all odds are stacked in favor of the two clubs to advance from this group.
However, shutting out RB Leipzig from qualifying from this group would be a major mistake as the German side is very much capable of upsetting the two heavyweight clubs from England and France. They may not be the same squad that defeated PSG and Manchester United in the Champions League group stages last year, with the fearsome center-back pairing of Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahim Konate gone and Julian Nagelsmann replaced by American coach Jesse Marsch, but they still have the potential to trigger an upset.
Club Brugge, on the other hand, has never advanced past the group stage of the Champions League, although Philippe Clement’s side has the ability to cause headaches for their opponents as they have in the past few seasons.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: PSG, MANCHESTER CITY, RB LEIPZIG, CLUB BRUGGE
GROUP B: ATLETICO MADRID, LIVERPOOL, PORTO, AC MILAN
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH: LIVERPOOL AND ATLETICO MADRID
A group that epitomizes European royalty, as it is brimming with Champions League heritage with Liverpool, Milan, and Porto having lifted a combined 15 European Cups/Champions Leagues. However, their illustrious history will not be of much assistance, since the latter two teams are expected to finish as the bottom two sides, with Liverpool and Spanish champions Atletico Madrid predicted to advance from this group.
While Liverpool struggled last season to cope without their first-choice center-backs as they faced season-ending injuries, on paper, The Reds are once again looking like the European Champions fans remember from 2019. With the return of Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Matip, as well as the addition of Ibrahim Konate from Leipzig, opposition attackers will have a difficult time breaking through Liverpool’s defense.
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) August 8, 2021
Atletico Madrid has also added Rodrigo De Paul, who starred for Argentina in Copa America, and striker Matheus Cunha, who may be a lethal weapon upfront for Diego Simeone’s side, alongside Luis Suarez.
AC Milan, on the other hand, are coming off a season in which they finished second in Serie A and made their long-awaited return to the Champions League. As a result, Stefano Pioli’s team will be driven to capitalize on this opportunity. Despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to PSG, the signings of Mike Maignan, Olivier Giroud, and Fikayo Tomori make them capable of pulling off an upset.
Porto, managed by Sergio Conceicao, will be confident of qualifying from this group after reaching the quarterfinals last campaign, however, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid are expected to be too formidable for the Portuguese outfit.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: LIVERPOOL, ATLETICO MADRID, AC MILAN, PORTO
GROUP C: BORUSSIA DORTMUND, SPORTING CP AJAX, BESIKTAS
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH: BORUSSIA DORTMUND AND AJAX
Sporting lifted their much-awaited Primeira Liga title after 19 years last season and will be quite optimistic about their chances of qualifying from this group. However, stands in their way are strong young sides in Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, with their young blood brimming with confidence to show out on the biggest stage.
🏆 SPORTING CP ARE LIGA NOS CHAMPIONS 🏆
Their first title in 19 years and the first time a club not named Benfica or Porto has won since 2001-02 🇵🇹 pic.twitter.com/sk4GXQx26y
— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) May 11, 2021
Borussia Dortmund have the highest odds for qualifying for the knockout stages and rightfully so. The German team was able to keep Erling Haaland for another season, and despite Jadon Sancho leaving for Manchester United, Dortmund recruited promising Dutch striker Donyell Malen from PSV as his successor. In Jude Bellingham and Giovani Reyna, they have exciting young talents who have already made a name for themselves at such a young age.
Ajax have impressed in previous Champions League campaigns under the supervision of Erik ten Hag and will be hoping to draw inspiration from their run to the competition’s semi-finals in 2018/19.
Besiktas clinched the Turkish crown on goal difference last campaign and has since bolstered, most notably by loaning Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea, but they have failed to reach the knockout rounds in previous seasons, and this season is projected to be no different for them.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: BORUSSIA DORTMUND, AJAX, SPORTING CP, BESIKTAS
GROUP D: INTER MILAN, REAL MADRID, SHAKTAR DONETSK, FC SHERIFF TIRASPOL
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH: REAL MADRID AND INTER MILAN
This group has a familiar feel to it since three of the four teams were drawn together last season as well.
Inter Milan claimed the Serie A title last season, ending Juventus’ Italian supremacy, and while they may have been the “seeded” club in this group, they have gone through a transitional period since then, bidding farewell to Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi, and coach Antonio Conte. However, with Lautaro Martinez remaining on board and the additions of Eden Dzeko, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Denzel Dumfries as replacements for the exits, Inter may be able to advance to the knockout rounds.
Similarly, Real Madrid have gone through a transitional period after waving goodbye to long-time captain Sergio Ramos and his defensive partner Varane. And, with Ancelotti returning to the Bernabeu and Real Madrid closing in on a mega-signing of Kylian Mbappe, Los Blancos’ prospects of performing well this season after a tumultuous last season may have just been boosted.
Real Madrid sources feeling is that it will be the final bid. Mbappé only wants Real Madrid, now or next summer. pic.twitter.com/xRhVUsYDlt
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) August 26, 2021
And, as seen by their elimination of Monaco with a late comeback in the playoff stage, Shaktar is always a menace to any club and will compete for qualification. Sheriff defeated Dinamo Zagreb in the playoffs to become the first Moldovan player to qualify for the group stage, although getting this far was the primary milestone for the Moldovan champions.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: REAL MADRID, INTER MILAN, SHAKTAR DONETSK, SHERIFF TIRASPOL
GROUP E: BAYERN MUNICH, BARCELONA, BENFICA, FC DYNAMO KYIV
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH: BAYERN MUNICH AND BARCELONA
Call it a streak of bad luck or simply an opportunity to turn over a new leaf, what’s undeniable is that the ghosts of Lisbon return to haunt Barcelona with their stomachs growling for more: Bayern Munich are placed alongside Barcelona in group E, among Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 26, 2021
Barcelona will begin a Champions League campaign without Lionel Messi for the first time since 2003. With the club still in the midst of recovery, moving on from shards of the past will be a massive challenge. Wounds from that awful night, when Barcelona were humiliated 8-2 by the Bavarians, are still fresh. However, a reignited squad with new ideas should hopefully be able to devise better strategies of keeping Bayern at bay.
The last time Barcelona faced Bayern Munich in the UCL … 😳 pic.twitter.com/Ep84boA923
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 26, 2021
Although, given the vast disparity in quality between the two sides, avoiding any sort of humiliation would be an achievement too for the Blaugranas. However, the two clubs are the clear favorites to advance from the group stages.
However, that would not be easy as Portuguese title contenders, Benfica, will pose a significant challenge to any side, especially at their home soil. Dynamo Kyiv will also, by no means, be a walk in the park either but are highly expected to be treated as the punching bag of this group.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: BAYERN MUNICH, BARCELONA, BENFICA, DYNAMO KYIV
GROUP F: VILLAREAL, MANCHESTER UNITED, ATALANTA, BSC YOUNG BOYS
TEAMS TO GO THROUGH: MANCHESTER UNITED AND ATALANTA
Manchester United’s history and roster strength imply they should take first place in this group, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s club has struggled in Europe in previous campaigns, making qualifying far from guaranteed. However, with the additions of Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane, the manager will have no excuses for not driving his team deep into the competition.
Villareal, who beat their fellow group members Manchester United in the Europa League final last season, will be a tough challenge for any side. They are led by Unai Emery who has established himself as a world-beater in European competitions, having won the Europa League title on four occasions and reaching the final on one other occasion. Whether he’ll be able to guide his side in the primary competition, is yet to be seen.
Villarreal have been placed in @ChampionsLeague Group F. Our rivals will be:
— Villarreal CF English (@VillarrealCFen) August 26, 2021
Atalanta have had a fairytale period in recent years, continuously competing in the Champions League and routinely outperforming its low-budget season after season. Despite the fact that their talented center-back Cristian Romero has joined Tottenham, their offensive flare has been the driving force behind their recent success, and this season will be no exception.
Young Boys, led by David Wagner will be the heavy underdogs in this group, but the unpredictability and inconsistency of the other clubs in this group mean this one is quite unpredictable.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: MANCHESTER UNITED, ATALANTA, VILLAREAL, YOUNG BOYS
GROUP G: LILLE, SEVILLA, FC SALZBURG, VFL WOLFSBURG
Group G is perhaps the weakest group in this season’s competition, although it is far from devoid of fascinating matchups and is quite unpredictable as well.
Lille’s achievement in winning the French title last season was almost extraordinary. However, Christoph Galtier stepped down as manager at the end of last season and was replaced by Jocelyn Gourvennec. Boubakary Soumare, Mike Maignan, and Luiz Arajo were all sold. Nonetheless, still with a nice combination of young blood and seasoned leaders, the French champions have the potential to surprise many once again.
LILLE ARE LIGUE 1 CHAMPIONS 🤯🔥🏆
PSG had won seven of the last eight Ligue 1 seasons 📉 pic.twitter.com/shFXCFdeok
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 23, 2021
Sevilla is another strong and exciting club in this group. Last season, they finished fourth in La Liga for the second year in a row, and they played some attractive football under Julen Lopetegui. They have started the current La Liga season with two victories out of two and are the favorites to top this group with Lille, Wolfsburg, and Salzburg expected to fight for the runners-up position.
Salzburg, headed by Matthias Jaissle has a strong chance of qualifying for the knockout stages after years of being a regular in the Champions League but failing to go past the group stages. They have started the season strongly, winning five of their five league games and defeating Brondby in the qualifying playoff despite losing their two highest-rated players, Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu.
Ten years ago, 22-year-old Matthias Jaissle playing for TSG Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.
Today, 33-year-old Matthias Jaissle coaching Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League. pic.twitter.com/lIZLBbIA1X
— Scouted Football (@scoutedftbl) August 17, 2021
Wolfsburg is another quality team that finished fourth in the Bundesliga last season, but they have lost their coach, Oliver Glasner, who has been replaced by Mark van Bommel.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: SEVILLA, LILLE, SALZBURG, WOLFSBURG
GROUP H: CHELSEA, JUVENTUS, ZENIT ST. PETERSBURG, MALMO
Chelsea, the defending European Champions, are probably stronger than they were last year, thanks to the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan. Last season, when Thomas Tuchel came over, the Blues were exceptional, but they failed to find the finishing touch, with Timo Werner squandering a number of chances. But that appears to be taken care of with the Belgian striker returning to Stamford Bridge to take care of the goal-scoring duties.
Chelsea are the favorites to qualify from this group, along with Juventus, who have re-hired Massimiliano Allegri after their stranglehold on Serie A embarrassingly came to an abrupt end last season. Furthermore, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s future in Turin uncertain, the Old Lady may struggle to score goals and advance for the knockout rounds.
Cristiano Ronaldo has missed Juventus training as his move to Man City edges closer, sources have confirmed to ESPN 😮 pic.twitter.com/XHwBxnJq3a
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 27, 2021
Zenit, the Russian champions, are habitual underperformers in the group stages, whereas Malmo are considered major underdogs after defeating Rangers and Ludogorets to reach this stage.
To conclude, the group’s fragility may prove to be a lifeline for Juventus albeit Chelsea should breeze past them.
PREDICTED FINAL STANDINGS: CHELSEA, JUVENTUS, ZENIT ST. PETERSBURG, MALMO