Champions League 2018-19 group reviews, analysis, picks

The group stage of the UEFA Champions League seems to evolve more and more as a throat cleanup before the real business starts in February with the knockout phase, but the draw of this season has started a number of potentially intriguing groups that big sides. For example, in two cases, at least one team from the four best divisions of Europe-Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, will be guaranteed, while PSG, Lyon and Monaco will strive to increase that number.

Here is our group-by-group analysis of who the favorites are and where the shocks can come when the road to the final of June 1 in Atletico Madrid's Estadio Wanda Metropolitano starts this week (teams listed in order of the group draw of last month):


Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Club Brugge

This is a group that brings together three clubs that have challenged the real elite in recent years, only to see that their main assets are being picked by bigger clubs.

Meanwhile, all four parties have lost in the Champions League or European Cup final, with only Dortmund in 1997 after winning the competition. For Club Brugge, the Belgian champion, it feels like the process of losing players has already started, with Anthony Limbombe and Abdoulay Diaby having left the summer. Monaco has still not recovered from the exodus that last season's Champions League final, with Joao Moutinho, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho and Rachid Ghezzal all in the summer. Although last season was still second in Ligue 1, the start of this campaign was a battle, with five league matches that produced only one win.

That leaves the road clear for Dortmund, the midfield refreshed by the addition of Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney, and for Atletico, which continued a great coup by holding on to Antoine Griezmann and also bringing in Lemar and Nikola Kalinic.


Barcelona, ​​Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven, Inter Milan

The management career of Mark van Bommel has grown to an exceptional start with PSV, with five league matches so far with five wins and 21 goals, but his first experience with European coaching could hardly be more difficult. However, all three other teams in the group will probably feel that they have something to prove.

Barcelona was dominant in the interior last season, but looked very scaly in Europe. After Chelsea had exposed his defensive vulnerabilities in the last 16, it lost to Roma in the quarterfinals despite winning the first stage 4-1. Inter has once again spent a summer, with the addition of Raja Nainggolan, Kwadwo Asamoah and Stefan De Vrij, but still has to show that there is a lot of cohesion in the team.

Tottenham, meanwhile, bought no one in the summer, out of concern that the new stadium is a source of income. It is undeniable that it is a smart, young team, but sooner or later it must be delivered whether players will start to leave. Last season, when it lost to Juventus in the round of 16 to have had apparent control over the series, still feels like a missed opportunity.


PSG, Napoli, Liverpool, Crvena Zvezda

The fact that the two highest scorers of last season's group phase, PSG and Liverpool, have come together, offers some intrigues, but it's hard to avoid the suspicion that this was a more taxing group last season when Napoli was still growing under Maurizio Sarri instead of slowing deflation under Carlo Ancelotti.

Close victories over Lazio and Milan had aroused hope that Napoli would be able to pass the loss not only of the manager, but also of Jorginho, but a 3-0 defeat on Sampdoria earlier.

Elsewhere Liverpool seems to be a stronger team than last season when it reached the final, after tackling the goalkeeper problem by attracting Alisson and strengthening the midfield with Naby Keita and Fabinho. PSG still looks like a heavy team of Neymar, capable of striking weaker opponents, but without the discipline or balance to take the very best. Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade), after a remarkable playoff victory at Red Bull Salzburg, is in the group stage for the first time in 26 years.


Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray

This is probably the weakest group but probably also the most open group and it may contain the most romantic story of the season's competition, that of Yuri Semin and Lokomotiv. When the fourth club in Moscow, for the fourth time, in August 2016, but few expected him much. Semin was 69 and his previous managerial task ended with Anzhi Makhachkala at the bottom of the table. It seemed like a sentimental decision, giving a favorite elder a final job. Two years later he led Lokomotiv to his first league title since 2004 – and he was in charge at the time. Fedor Smolov, Benedikt Howedes and Eder have all arrived and Grzegorz Krychowiak is on loan, but this is not all. Lok did not start very well in the Russian domestic season, but the basic virtues of organization and collective efforts that won the title last season may be enough to get through a group with parties that have serious doubts.

Porto has had its usual hectic summer of transfer activity, Schalke has started the season badly and Galatasaray was defeated 4-0 at Trabzonspor in early September.


Bayern Munich, Benfica, Ajax, AEK Athens

The Bayern Munich problem has been a lack of competition in the Bundesliga for some time – it has won three of the three games this season, with three goals in each game – and it is unlikely that the Champions League group will also face a major challenge. form. There has been some pruning in the team, while Leon Goetzka has arrived from Schalke, but more important is the new coach, Niko Kovac, and his urge for physical fitness. Given the poor performance of Germany at the World Cup, and the wish of a number of players to make up for it, this could be a heavier Bayern than some time ago.

The battle for the second seems like a tight one. AEK won its first Greek championship last season in 24 years and did pretty well in the Europa League, taking the group stage before losing goals to Dynamo Kiev. Ajax has made important signing sessions, as a result of which Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind entered the Netherlands last season after the second season, but Benfica's European experience, even with the familiar Portuguese chores of players, should be going through.


Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon, Hoffenheim

Manchester City has not been at its best so far this season, and there is no doubt that the injury of Kevin De Bruyne will damage it, but the feeling is that the European season will not start until February, at least in Europe. . It would be misleading to suggest that there is pressure on Pep Guardiola to win the Champions League after the semi-finals since 2011, but there is an expectation that he would have to win it with City at some point.

Shakhtar was the first team to beat City last season. It has retained its highly valued manager Paulo Fonseca, but lost Fred, Bernard and Facundo Ferreyra during the summer. The thoughts that Lyon may build again after the capture of Moussa Demeble from Celtic and Jason Denayer from City have been hit by defeats against Nice and Reims this season. Hoffenheim, led by the 31-year-old managing dynamo Julian Nagelsmann, is in the group stage for the first time and was eliminated last season by Liverpool in the play-offs.


Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen

That Real Madrid is a defending triple champion and that it has won four of the last five Champions League titles, makes little sense. In that five-year period, it won the national competition only once, and there have been different phases each season in which it looked. But again and again Madrid has been able to maintain itself at the most important moments. This year it will have to do without Zinedine Zidane and, perhaps more important, without Cristiano Ronaldo, whose ability to respond to big goals in big games is remarkable. The group phase should be easier anyway than last year, when the second ended behind Tottenham.

Roma reached the semi-final last season, but without Nainggolan and Alisson it was not the side it was. CSKA, the Russian second rider last season, has won only two of the first six games this time and has lost both Pontus Wernbloom and Bebars Natcho. Viktoria Plzen has largely retained the side that won the fifth Czech title last season.


Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys

The big story is clearly Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford, but that brings together two other storylines. First, Juve & # 39; s signing of the 33-year-old. Since Juve has won the last seven Serie A titles, the investment is a fairly obvious attempt to bring the Champions League to Turin for the first time since 1996. Whether a player, no matter how productive a goal scorer may be, can have such an impact, is one of the fascinations of this season, especially given that his start in Italy is not yet convinced, despite a Sunday brace against Sassuolo.

Then there is United, caught in the grip of Jose Mourinho's latest psychodrama, from which no obvious comfortable escape is possible. Young Boys, who have ended Basel's domination in Switzerland, should at least not be too much to burden an opponent; but Valnecia, managed by Marcelino and with Goncalo Guedes, Michy Batshuayi, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Denis Cheryshev and Kevin Gameiro, can be despite a difficult start to the Spanish season.

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