It’s one of the biggest sports competitions in the world and by far the biggest tournament in the continent of Europe, as the UEFA Champions League is a week from being underway. The competition is once again filled with worldwide stars all playing under the midweek lights, though not without a few monumental changes happening this summer amongst the major clubs. In this column series, I will preview each of the Champions League groups and give my predictions for the competition.
Members: Atlético Madrid, Club Brugge, Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco
Overview: Group A is regarded as one of the toughest groups in the competition, with European powerhouses Atletico, Dortmund and Monaco all within the group. Atletico is just three years removed from their appearance in the finals and won last season’s Europa League. Dortmund is continually the #2 team in Germany behind Bayern Munich, however they have been down recently and did not advance to the knockout round of UCL last season (to be fair, neither did Atleti). Monaco made the semifinals of UCL two seasons ago, though since then they have not been able to replace World Cup star Kylian Mbappe since his departure. Club Brugge are a tough Belgian side, though they will have their work cut out for them if they want to finish anything but bottom of the group.
Each Team’s Player to Watch:
Atletico Madrid: Antoine Griezmann.
The French sensation had his chance to move practically wherever he wanted this transfer window, though he decided to stay at Atletico, his club since 2014. Griezmann has scored 80 goals in 145 appearances during his time at Atleti, and remains one of the top players of the world.
Club Brugge: Wesley
FCB’s dynamic Brazilian forward has recently broken out for Club, scoring 13 goals across all competitions in 2017/18. At only 21 years old, he has lots of room to develop and is looking to make a name for himself in FCB’s first Champions League appearance in three seasons.
Borussia Dortmund: Christian Pulisic
The American superstar has been linked to moves to the Premier League for the past two summers, yet for now he’s still with the Black and Yellow of Borussia Dortmund. BVB’s American winger contributed to 10 goals in 2017/18, and is still only 19 years old.
AS Monaco: Aleksandr Golovin
Golovin made a name for himself in the World Cup this summer playing for host country Russia, and for his performance was rewarded with a €30M move to Monaco from CSKA Moscow. The creative midfielder contributed to 24 goals in 113 matches in his CSKA career, and while he’s talented, Golovin is attempting to break the trend of overpaid players off of a good World Cup performance, of which Golovin fits the bill perfectly.
Predicted Finish: 1st Altetico, 2nd AS Monaco, 3rd Borussia Dortmund, 4th Club Brugge
Predicted Top Scorer: Antoine Griezmann (ATL)
Members: FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, PSV Eindhoven, Internazionale
Overview: Like Group A, Group B might just be this season’s “Group of Death”. Barcelona are consistently one of the most talented teams in the world and are instant favorites in any competition they enter, no matter the opponent. Tottenham went undefeated through last year’s UCL group stages and returned the entire team that took them there, and have one of the best collections of young talent in the world. Internazionale, commonly referred to as Inter Milan, were pinpointed during the draw as the toughest team in Pot 4, as they are searching for the glory of just last decade, when they were the winners of the 2009/10 competition. PSV are one of the top teams in the Netherlands, and they boast impressive talent for a small club.
Each Team’s Player to Watch:
Barcelona: Lionel Messi
It’s almost too easy of an answer, but Messi’s greatness has been overlooked because of the amount of trophies that Cristiano Ronaldo has won recently. Messi has the ability to win games on his own like no one else can. With the amount of talent that’s around him, Messi is must-watch every time he steps on the pitch.
Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane
Tottenham’s home-grown goal scoring machine is fresh off a UCL campaign which saw him score 7 goals before Tottenham bowed out to Juventus in the Round of 16. Kane is surrounded by playmakers that can feed him the ball, but he can also create goals out of nothing and is one of the best in the world in setting himself up in the perfect position for scoring easy tap ins.
PSV Eindhoven: Hirving Lozano
Nicknamed “Chucky”, the 23-year old Mexican winger lit the world on fire at the World Cup as part of a Mexico team that defeated 2014 champs Germany and advanced into the Round of 16. Lozano scored 17 goals for PSV in the Eredivise last season and put in two goals during the UCL Qualifying rounds already this season, and is proving to be one of the rising stars in the entire world of soccer.
Inter Milan: Radja Nainggolan
The enigmatic Belgian midfielder made a domestic move from last year’s UCL semifinalist Roma to rival Italian club Inter Milan, where he is leading a midfield trying to reclaim Inter’s former glory. Radja was controversially left out of Belgium’s World Cup squad, which led him to retire from international football. Radja picked up 6 goals and 11 assists for Roma last season, and has already opened his account for Inter in Serie A with a goal against Bologna.
Predicted Finish: 1st FC Barcelona, 2nd Tottenham Hotspur, 3rd Inter Milan, 4th PSV
Predicted Top Scorer: Lionel Messi (BAR)