By Jack Knowlton
Less than a month after the 2019/20 Champions League season ended with Bayern Munich crowned champions, Europe’s biggest competition is set to resume this week. The group stage is set, and I’ll break down each group and pick the two teams that I think will advance to the knockout stages.
Group A: Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Lokomotiv Moscow, RB Salzburg
This group features last year’s champions, Bayern Munich, who I see going through in first place in this group. With UEFA Player of the year Robert Lewandowski still the best striker in the world and a decent side behind him, Bayern should comfortably be winning this group. Atletico has got off to a shaky start this season but still has solid talent. Former Barcelona striker Luis Suarez joins a team with the best goalkeeper in the world, Jan Oblak, and a strong defense. I see them finishing second in a tight race with RB Salzburg. However, Salzburg is very capable of bouncing the Spanish giants out of the UCL. Lead by young American head coach Jesse Marsh, Salzburg has dominated the Austrian league and has even seen success on the European stage, reaching the Europa League semi-final in 2017-18.
- Bayern Munich
- Atletico Madrid
- RB Salzburg
- Lokomotiv Moscow
Group B: Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk
Monchengladbach, a club that is the bane of every journalist’s character limit got a pretty unlucky draw with Spanish champions Real Madrid and an Inter Milan side that finished just a point off of winning Serie A. Monchengladbach finished fourth in the Bundesliga last year and have won just once this season, but could prove to be a dark horse if attacking talents Marcus Thuram and Hennes Wolf can breakthrough Inter and Real’s defenses. Keep an eye on Monchengladbach left back Ramy Bensebaini who is capable of a goal or two as well. Inter has plenty of attacking talent themselves with forwards Romelo Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez already scoring seven goals between them. Despite struggling in the UCL in recent season, Real Madrid has a squad capable of going far in the competition if they can keep their form without star defender Sergio Ramos. Both Real and Inter have gotten off to pretty solid starts this year and I expect that form to carry over to the UCL.
- Real Madrid
- Inter Milan
- Borussia Monchengladbach
- Shakhtar Donetsk
Group C: Manchester City, Olympiacos, Marseille, Porto
This is City’s group to lose. The blue half of Manchester could not have asked for a better draw, having to face just one other club (Marseille) that plays in Europe’s top five leagues. Pep Guardiola should look to get younger stars like Phil Foden and Eric Garcia UCL experience as they coast to the knockout stage. The more intriguing battle will be between who will go through with City. Marseille have the best case; the French side finished second last season and have lost just once this year. They have made their case for the second-best team in France and boasts a balanced squad that has found continuity under manager Andre Villas-Boas. Porto is an interesting team; last season’s winners of the Portuguese first division made it to the knockout stage of the Europa League last year. They have made a few intriguing transfers with Marlan Sarr and Felipe Anderson joining on loan and should see some success in the Europa League should they dropdown. Olympiacos are currently in second in the Greek Super League got the round of sixteen of the Europa League last season but don’t quite have the talent to challenge Porto or Marseille for second place.
- Manchester City
Group D: Ajax, Atalanta, Liverpool, Midtjylland
Liverpool faces a big question mark going forward after Virgil van Dijk’s torn ACL in their clash with Everton. The English champions still boast arguably the best front three in the world with Mane, Salah, and Firmino, who will have to be firing to make up for the side’s vulnerabilities at the back. Liverpool is challenged mainly by an Atalanta side who gave them problems last year with seemingly anyone in their squad capable of scoring goals. The Italian side scored 92 in their domestic season, which was more than any other team in Europe. Anyone can get a goal at any time for Atalanta, which makes them a scary prospect for a team with question marks at the back. Ajax can always be a dark horse, but I think they have lost too much talent in the transfer market with stars Hakim Ziyech and Donny Van De Beek moving to the Premier League this past summer.
Group E: Chelsea, Krasnodar, Stade Rennes, Sevilla
Chelsea has splashed the cash in the transfer market this year, bringing in Bundesliga starts Kai Havertz and Timo Werner to bolster an attack. Veteran Thiago Silva should bring some calmness in the back, and N’Golo Kante continues to dominate every midfield he plays against. Chelsea boss Frank Lampard should be rewarded for this work in the market with a first-place group-stage finish. Chelsea will likely face the biggest competition for winning this group with last season’s Europa League winners, Sevilla. The Spanish side should have the edge to join Chelsea in the knockout stages but don’t count out Rennes. The French club finished in a surprising third place last year and retain much of their squad including 17-year-old wonderkid Eduardo Camavinga. Rennes French side is fully capable of catching Sevilla for second but I think Sevilla is just a bit more well rounded.
- Stade Rennes
Group F: Lazio, Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge, Zenit
Dortmund brings one of the most exciting squads to Europe’s premier competition this season. With attacking stars Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho, and even more experienced players like Marco Reus, I think Dortmund’s attacking firepower should push them over the edge. Lazio is another solid team to watch; however, I am giving the second place edge to the young squad from Belgium: Club Brugge. The Belgian champions lost just one game last season domestically and boast a young and exciting squad. Young forwards Emmaneul Dennis, Noa Lang, and the clubs leading scorer, 21-year old Krepin Diatta, who already has five goals for the club, are all talented players to watch this season. Brugge will throw a wrinkle into this group and should at the very least challenge and in my opinion, claim second and reach the knockout stage.
- Borussia Dortmund
- Club Brugge
Group G: Barcelona, Juventus, Dynamo Kiev, Ferenceveros
The Messi vs Ronaldo matchup continues as two European powerhouses are set to dominate this group. Although I think the GOAT discussion favors Messi, I think Juve’s squad is better constructed and balanced from back to front. Juve has a strong defense featuring talents like Mathias De Ligt and the old guard of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. With solid pieces like Paulo Dybala and young forward Dejan Kulusevski to accompany Ronaldo upfront, Juve should out-talent Barca for first place. However, keep an eye on 17 year-old Ansu Fati, who has already had a strong start to his season scoring five goals across all competitions for Barca so far this season. Kyiv and Ferencvaros should not provide much of a challenge to Barca in second.
- Dynamo Kyiv
Group H: PSG, Manchester United, RB Leipzig, Istanbul Batshikshier
PSG and Manchester United last clashed in the UCL last sixteen round last season with United winning 3-1 in the second leg and dramatically advancing on away goals. I see this season’s group stage matchup between the two sides to have a similar drama. Both sides have great attacking talent. Where PSG gain the edge, however, is with a struggling Manchester United defense that didn’t strengthen very much in the offseason. I see the sides splitting their two matchups and PSG finishing first as Man United may struggle against an RB Leipzig side that should not be counted out for reaching the knockout stage. Despite the loss of their best striker, Timo Werner, to Chelsea, the German side sits first in the Bundesliga and has started the season like he never left. Look for Leipzig to make a strong push for second in this group, but United to edge them out and advance.
- Manchester United
- RB Leipzig
- Istanbul Batshikshier
Edited by Tyler Kading