With the Champions League group stage upon us, it’s time to bone up on Europe’s elite: here’s what you need to know about every team from groups E, F, G and H.
Who’s glad to see the Champions League back?
Last season was a strange one for Europe’s biggest club competition but with Julian Nagelsmann facing Thomas Tuchel, Lampard against Lopetegui, oh, and Lionel Messi battling Cristiano Ronaldo once again, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into on this side of the draw.
In preparation for another campaign, we have assessed every team in the competition. So you can brush up on your Krasnodars and your Ferencvaroses as well as the classic big boys, find out who has the group of death and get to know the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s favourites.
Here we break down groups E-H, including the likes of Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Juventus and Barcelona.
Are we ready? You betcha.
Last year’s Europa League winners – let’s face it, most years’ Europa League winners – are given top billing in their group this season. Sevilla have lost the mercurial Ever Banega but brought in Ivan Rakitic and if the Super Cup against Bayern Munich is anything to go by, they won’t be easy to beat. It’s between Sevilla and Chelsea for the top spot.
Last year, Chelsea lacked quality but had good cohesion as a squad – this year, it’s almost the opposite. Frank Lampard is still working on ways to integrate his new signings into the Blues side but game changers like Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech will certainly give Champions League nights an extra kick.
The club will be quietly hoping for a good run in Europe this time – who knows where the Blues could be come February when the knockouts begin?
Is it fair to say Krasnodar are making up the numbers? Perhaps. The Russian side have few talents known to Western European eyes – Remy Cabella aside – and finished third in the league last season but will be hoping to cause a shock in the Champions League this time around.
Stade Rennais have arguably the best chance of any fourth-placed team of getting out of the group. Spotlights will be angled towards 17-year-old Eduardo Camavinga but after six games in Ligue 1, Rennes are top of the tree and playing fluid football. Champions League glory is a stretch but they could be a dark horse in the Europa League.
Oh, and look out for the Rennes kit. It’s a beautiful mosaic-patterned shirt that will take your breath away, even if the football fails to.
FFT reckons … Sevilla are more resilient than Chelsea and should finish top. Unless a major shock happens, it’ll be the Blues following them through, with Rennes in the Europa.
Zenit St Petersburg
Zenit last made the Champions League last 16 under Andre Villas-Boas and Hulk in the side. Now, they’re managed by Sergei Semak – the first Russian to manage them since before Luciano Spaletti joined in 2009 – while another Brazilian, Malcolm, is their star name. But while no one is really expecting much of the side this time around, fate could have been worse with their group.
This is a great chance at qualifying for the second round, with the games against Lazio proving key for who nabs the second spot in the group. Nick a draw at Signal Iduna Park and maybe, just maybe, they’ll start to believe they could head through top.
Borussia Dortmund have been a dealt a slice of luck with this year’s group, avoiding the bigger names. With stars such as Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho in tow, there should be no issue in them qualifying for the next round. How far can the one-time champions go, though?
You have to feel for BVB competing against Bayern Munich in every competition they’re in. Lucien Favre’s side can beat anyone on their day, though, and right now, they’re one of the stronger clubs in the competition.
Simone Inzaghi has done fantastically to reestablish Lazio in the upper echelons of Serie A. Manchester United misfit Andreas Pereira has been added on loan to a midfield that also includes Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Liverpool cult favourite Lucas Leiva. They’ll be hoping to ‘do an Atalanta’ and surprise everyone – with Ciro Immobile up front, there’s always a chance to …
Club Brugge mustered a measly three draws in their group last season – which did include Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, to be fair – before Manchester United wallopped them 6-1 on aggregate in the Europa League. The squad remains exactly the same – this could well be a trickier competition for them than it was 12 months ago. Not much is expected of Brugge.
FFT reckons … Dortmund should top the group with Lazio and Zenit vying for the other place. Given the Italians appalling recent record in Europe, however, we can’t see them getting further than the Europa.
It’s fair to say Juventus are in transition: Andrea Pirlo’s taken his first manager post and typically playing a classy 3-5-2, bedding in the younger talents that are starting to displace Juve’s older core. European glory seems a bridge too far this time out … but anything is possible when you boast Cristiano Ronaldo in your armoury.
It’s Messi against Ronaldo. Dest against McKennie. De Jong against De Ligt. Pjanic against Arthur. Whoever gets the upper hand in this clash will top the group but from February onwards, perhaps Barcelona will be more prepared to go for glory.
The bar is pretty low at Camp Nou this season. No one expects much from a much-changed Barca side with Ronald Koeman at the helm and perhaps that could work in their favour. There are good ingredients in this team, they just need to click as one.
The Ukrainian champions didn’t make it out of their Europa League group last season so it’ll be a tall ask to expect them to qualify out of this one. Still, with two giants in flux and a lowly ranked Hungarian team in the group, Kiev will be hoping the stars align for a charge into the knockouts. It’ll almost certainly be in the Europa, though.
Ferencvaros have never been here before – their only wish this season in Europe, surely, is for at least some fans to be allowed in to see this maiden voyage. Picking up a point or two would be nice to see – not to mention a goal against a European superpower – but realistically, their ambitions don’t stretch much further than that.
FFT reckons … Juventus through top, on account of being structurally a little stronger; Barça following closely behind, with yet more fuel added to the Ronaldo vs Messi debate that seemingly never dies. Kyiv into third.
Last year’s beaten finalists are wounded but hopeful that their last Champions League journey has ended their hoodoo in the competition. There are few changes to the squad but that’s how they like it – with Neymar almost leaving last summer and rumours of Kylian Mbappe off next year, this could be now or never.
PSG have started Ligue 1 appallingly, too. They could do with a lift in Europe.
There probably isn’t a worse group for a currently dysfunctional Manchester United to have found themselves in. The transfer window was guttingly disappointing and now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to pick up a misfiring, defensively shaky side for games against RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain.
At least expectations have been adjusted for United’s European run this season – but more questions will asked of Ole if United find themselves dumped into the Europa League again. Another difficult season for the Red Devils beckons.
The surprise package of last season proved that they could hack it without Timo Werner in the summer’s knockouts and now RB Leipzig are looking to prove they’re not a one-season wonder. In Julian Nagelsmann, they have one of the most exciting young coaches in Europe – it might be a little soon for them to go all the way but they’ll be a dark horse again, for sure.
Could you imagine the scenes if Istanbul Basaksehir managed to win the Champions League for the very first time, in their first season in the competition, in their own city? It would be impressive enough for them to get out of this group of death but look out for old friends Martin Skrtel and Nacer Chadli, who ply their trade for Basaksehir these days.
FFT reckons … Can we shock you? PSG and Leipzig are favourites but we think United could top this group. There’s form against PSG, they’re usually better in bigger matches and we can see them qualifying with the French champions just behind. RB Leipzig to become this year’s Ajax – you heard it here first.
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