Soccer

Champions League Group Stage Preview

Champions League
Photo Credit: Emilio Andreoli/UEFA via Getty Images

The Champions League 2021-22 season is closely approaching! The tournament which is argued to be the best sports competition in the world. The tournament filled with the best teams in Europe from last season. The trophy that every European club dreams to lift come in the month of June.

The group stage draw occurred earlier today and it is fair to say that there will be many tasty matches this sport’s semester. This is due to many surprises that occurred last season, where there were unexpected domestic winners. For example, Sporting Lisbon won the Primeira Liga over Porto and Benfica and OSC Lille won Ligue 1 over Paris-Saint-Germain. Some notable group stage matches are Manchester City versus PSG and a rematch between Villareal and Manchester United.

Nevertheless, here’s a preview of the UEFA Champions League Groupstage

Group A: Manchester City, Paris-Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, and Club Brugge

In Group A, we start with arguably one of the most competitive groups in this tournament. This group contains the finalists of the last two editions and two clubs that constantly pull off surprises. Both Man City and PSG will be looking to finally win the trophy they’ve been attempting to win for the past decade. On the other hand, RB Leipzig will look to reach the knockout stage for a third consecutive season while Club Brugge will look to pull an upset and achieve the knockout stage after being seconds away from achieving it last season.

PSG and Man City are the favorites to finish on top of the group, but I wouldn’t be surprised if RB Leipzig makes it through as they pushed out Manchester United to the Europa League last season and knocked out Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals two seasons ago. As for Club Brugge, they will be looking to get a Europa League spot in this group.

Group B: Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, FC Porto, and AC Milan

Group B is regarded as the group of death. This group contains 3 Champions League winners: Liverpool, Porto, and AC Milan, and a Champions League regular: Atletico Madrid.

Atletico Madrid recently won La Liga over Barcelona and Real Madrid, and now with the signings of Mattheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul, ‘los colchoneros’ will look forward to make another run to the final. Liverpool had a disastrous season filled with many injuries which saw them go trophyless. The Reds will look forward to staying healthy to be a title contender once again. AC Milan returns to the Champions League after a 7-year absence,. With Pioli at the helm, the ‘Rossoneri’ will look to reach the knockout stage. As for Porto, they will look forward to embracing their underdog spirit once again and beat teams to a 2nd place finish in the group.

This group could finish in any order as all teams are historically strong clubs in this competition. But Liverpool and Atletico Madrid will have the most pressure due to their recent performances.

Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Benfica, and Dynamo Kyiv

Group C is one of those groups where people have a good idea of the standings. Bayern Munich will try and repeat their 2020 glory while Barcelona will attempt to start their European journey without Messi. Benfica returns to the Champions League after a 2-year absence while Dynamo Kyiv will play the wildcard in this group.

Bayern Munich is the favorite to win the group (and the whole tournament) and it is speculated that Barcelona will have just enough quality to finish in second. Nevertheless, you can’t count out Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv to get second as Barcelona will play without Messi for the first time in 15+ years.

Group D: Villareal, Manchester United, Atalanta, and Young Boys

Group D is another interesting group to keep an eye on. Not because it’s filled with star players, but because of the promise that these teams show. Villareal and Manchester United will meet again after hosting the Europa League final last year. Unai Emery will hope to take Villareal to the next level and turn them into Champions League regulars once again. Manchester United is looking to make a deep run after signing Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane this past summer. Atalanta will have the hard task of making the knockout stage for a third consecutive season. As for Young Boys, they will expect to give the other teams a hard time and make the group more competitive.

On paper, Man United is the favorite to top the group with Atalanta and Villareal fighting for the second-place spot. Despite this, Young Boys can’t be counted out of this as the Champions League is known to produce shocks.

Group E: Sporting Lisbon, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, and Bestiktas

Similar to Group B, Group E is a very balanced group on paper. Group E sees Sporting Lisbon return to the Champions League after winning the Primeira Liga. The Portuguese champions will look to translate their success last season by topping their group. Borussia Dortmund is looking forward to keep establishing themselves as knockout stage regulars. Ajax has exited to the Europa League for the past two years and will look to put an end to that this season. Besiktas are back in the Champions League hoping to manage themselves into a shock knockout stage appearance.

This group could go either way, but Borussia Dortmund are favorites to win the group, with the other three teams fighting for the last spot.

Group F: Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Shakthar Donetsk, and FC Sherrif

Group F is oddly similar to last year’s Group B. Real Madrid, Inter, and Shakthar meet again after having an entertaining group stage last season. Inter Milan will look to finally make it to the knockout stage after crashing out in the group stage for three consecutive seasons. Internazionale will hope that under new manager Inzaghi, they will have different luck. Real Madrid is always seen as a title contender due to their successful history in this competition. They will hope to get Mbappe this summer to solidify themselves as a strong candidate to lift the trophy. Shakthar gave Inter and Madrid trouble last season, where they even managed to beat Madrid twice! They will hope to replicate those results and hopefully reach the knockout stage for once. FC Sherrif reached the group stage for the first time in their history and will hope to make their first season memorable.

By default, Inter Milan and Real Madrid are favorites to finish in the top 2, but Shakthar is looking to change that. As for FC Sherrif, they will hope to use their underdog view to shock the world.

Group G: OSC Lille, Sevilla, FC Salzburg, and VFL Wolfsburg

Group G is also a very balanced group. All four teams will be glad that they avoided the ‘big dogs’ as this is, on paper, a more manageable group. Lille comes from winning Ligue 1 over PSG and are looking to keep shocking the world. The French champions have a very exciting squad with youngsters like Renato Sanches, Tim Weah, and Jonathan David. Sevilla under Lopetegui has become a much more competitive team, which saw them in the La Liga title race until the second-to-last week. They will hope to reach the knockout stage once again. As for Salzburg and Wolfsburg, they will have all of the USNMT behind them with Brendan Aaronson and John Brooks in their squads.

Sevilla is seen as the favorite in this group with Lopetegui taking them to the next level. Lille, Salzburg, and Wolfsburg come from impressive seasons will look forward to achieve the knockout stage.

Group H: Chelsea, Juventus, Zenit Petersburg, and Malmo

Unlike the other groups, Group H seems like the most unbalanced group on paper. Chelsea are the reigning European champions and will look to repeat their glory with Lukaku up top. Juventus are going through a transitional period but will hope to be competitive once again with Allegri as their head coach. Zenit will hope to write the biggest underdog story and hope to reach the final as the final will be hosted in Petersburg, Russia. Malmo knocked out Steven Gerrard’s Rangers in the playoffs, so keep an eye on them.

Chelsea and Juventus are favorites to reach the next stage, but Zenit and Malmo have other plans in mind.

This Champions League looks to be a memorable one with exciting group stage matches and the return of fans to the stadiums.

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