It was a magnificent 75 degrees today in Monaco, and amidst all the glitz and the glamour that is that principality, the leaders of the UEFA decided to reveal the group pairings for the upcoming season of the Champions League. Why they picked Monaco for the announcement can only be explained by pointing out that UEFA isn’t based out of Monaco (it’s in Geneva) and Monaco doesn’t have a team in the Champions League. So…go figure. Nice job if you can get it.
First a little background information for those who have never watched the Champions League before. It’s very simple to understand. There are eight groupings (letter A-H) with four teams in each group. After competing against each of the other 3 teams in a group, the top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round of 16.
The teams involved are the top teams from various European leagues based on their respective standing at the end of the previous season. The number of teams allowed to participate from each league depends on UEFA’s assessment of the relative competitiveness of each league. Leagues like the English Premier League are considered the most competitive, so the top four teams participate in the Champions League. Lesser leagues may only have the league winning team participate.
The draw to populate each of the 8 groups is random, so some groups end up being more (or less) competitive than others. As it turns out, the groups that’ll have the most competitive balance are Groups F,G and C. For the rest of the pairings it seems pretty straight forward who the powers are in the groups, and those teams should rise to the occasion to advance to the knockout stages.
In Group C: Paris St. Germain should be able to return to the round of 16 rather easily, but the race for that second spot is very much up in the air with three teams that all don’t have high-price budgets and could all play extremely exciting matches in order to keep their chances alive. The remaining teams in that group are Benfica from Portugal, Olympiakos from Greece, and Anderlecht from Belgium. The popular pick would be the team from Portugal based on the soccer craze on the Iberian Peninsula.
In Group F: We have the group of death with last year’s runner-up Borussia Dortmund more than likely to take the group convincingly unless Bayern decides Marco Reüs is too good to play for them. Robert Lewandowski was last year’s dominant performer of the league and will be back to try and exact revenge for his lost opportunity. Arsenal, Marseille and Napoli round out the group and it’ll be very enjoyable to watch all of those games. Clearly this the most competitive group with every team possessing heavy worldwide following. Think of this group as the NFC East. The soccer media will focus on the group more than others.
In Group G: We see a Porto team that was in last years knockout stage and normally fields very competitive clubs on a continental stage. Porto comes from Portugal and, as mentioned above, that implies a high level of competitiveness. However again we have three teams that should play each other tough based on their lack of superstars. Athletico Madrid is from a powerhouse league in Spain and would be the odds-on favorite to advance amongst the rest of the competitors, but one never knows based on how well the teams from Vienna and St. Petersburg play each other. Whoever wins the game between those two will automatically turn into a points monger, and the ability to gain draws will be key in this group. Look for this group to stage a goal differential advancement when it comes to who moves on.