Friday, August 28, 2015

Champions League 2015-16 Groups

This last month has been full of travels and work and I have not had much time to dwell much on a fantastic start of the season in Europe as well hugely interesting transfers. This will be another fantastic season, and not least in the Champions League where the draw took place today.

Group A:
  • Paris St. Germain
  • Real Madrid
  • Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Malmo
A very interesting group, where many eyes will be on Real Madrid versus Paris St. Germain, and in particular one Angel Di Maria. While they are the favourites by far, Shakhtar Donetsk is an experienced side in the tournament, and are usually very strong in Ukraine (although they may not get to play in Donetsk). Malmo is one of the surprise teams in the tournament after eliminating Celtic in the qualifiers. This will be their second CL participation in a row, and will play without pressure for more upsets.

Group B:
  • Manchester United
  •  PSV Eindhoven
  • CSKA Moscow
  • Wolfsburg
Manchester United and in particular Wayne Rooney made it to the CL in style with a heavy victory against Brugge. They will surely be happy about the draw; no easy side, but none Manchester United should not be able to defeat either. The Dutch champions from Eindhoven should be small favourites to follow United, but CSKA and Wolfsburg are both interesting sides, notably Wolfsburg, with a young side that surprised everyone in last season's Bundesliga.

Group C:
  • Atletico Madrid
  • Benfica
  • Galatasaray
  • FC Astana
Atletico Madrid are by now a very experienced CL side that is looking towards at least another semifinal. The Portuguese champions of Benfica had a bad CL last season and will be looking not to end last in their group this time, and the same is the case for the Turkish champions of Galatasaray, who last season not only were last in their group, but also conceded a terrible 19 goals. Finally, FC Astana, the Kazakh champions, are the Cinderella of the CL this season. Everything they do will be a surprise.

Group D:
  • Juventus
  • Manchester City
  • Sevilla
  • Borussia Monchengladbach
In my view this is the most interesting group, with last years finalists from Juventus looking to repeat the feat but without the legendary Andrea Pirlo, although with a fantastic team anyway. Manchester City enters the tournament with the same hopes as ever; and perhaps the experience of being humiliated by Barcelona last season will help them in this difficult group. Sevilla are one of five Spanish teams thanks to having won last season's Europa League. Just for that, they are a side to reckon with. Finally, Borussia Monchengladbach are in the CL after taking 3rd spot in the Bundesliga last season. They will look to create surprises with a young interesting side.

Group E:
  • Barcelona
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • AS Roma
  • Bate Borisov
Not much to say about the defending champions of Barcelona, who must be candidates to be the first side to retain the title. AS Roma are probably not favourites, but will look to better their dreadful CL from last season that saw defeats at home to Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Bayer Leverkusen beat another Rome side, Lazio, to make it to yet another CL. Last year they made it to the last-16 only to be narrowly defeated by Atletico Madrid, and they certainly remember Lionel Messi from a legendary CL match in 2012. Finally, Bate Borisov participated in last season's tournament where they conceded an awful 24 goals (but did manage a victory against Athletic Bilbao), and perhaps that experience will help them this season, but don't bet on it.

Group F:
  • Bayern Munich
  • Arsenal
  • Dinamo Zagreb
  • Olympiakos
Many are already talking about the Bayern Munich-Arsenal clash. I think the Germans are big favourites, with Arsenal set not to show yet another disappointing European performance. This should be Arsenal's year if any! Olympiakos are not to be underestimated. Last season they won all their home matches in a difficult group, but lost all away matches. Just a slight improvement there should see them through. The Croatian champions are back in the CL after two years.

Group G:
  • Chelsea
  • Dynamo Kiev
  • FC Porto
  • Maccabi Tel Aviv
Chelsea will not be disappointed about the draw, although it may be special for Jose Mourinho to return to the club he first time took to the Champions League title (that is, if anything is ever special for Jose Mourinho!). The Portuguese made it to the quarterfinals last season and were full of hope after defeating Bayern Munich in the first leg, only to be destroyed 6-1 in Germany. Still, they should be favourites with Chelsea. Dynamo Kiev are back in the CL after two years absence after becoming Ukranian champions. With their experience and strong home record they should not be underestimated. In the meantime Maccabi Tel Aviv made it to the Champions League after eliminating always-experienced Basel. It will be surprising if they can do anything in this group!

Group H:
  • Valencia
  • Zenit St. Petersburg
  • Olympique Lyon
  • Gent
My preference is for Valencia so I am very happy they are back in the CL after defeating Monaco in a nail-biter. They will surely want to show their best, and this group does not look terrifying, but difficult certainly. Zenit St. Petersburg are Russian champions and have experience in the tournament, with a third spot in their group last season, while the formerly mighty French Lyon are back in the CL for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Gent, last season's Belgian champions, will be hoping to scrape a few points in the group.

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