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Friday, 28 August 2015

Champions League Group Stage Draw Reaction 2015 (August 28th)

Champions League Group Stage Draw Reaction
The draw for the Champions League Group Stage is always highly anticipated despite the feeling that the 'big teams' are generally kept apart. However, the changing of the way the Pots are created with the Champions place in Pot 1 definitely gave the draw a different feel.

I am still not happy with the rules that are applied which makes the draw far less random than you may expect. For example you can't be drawn to play against a team in the same country, while television rules also means that teams from the same nation are kept on different sides of the A-D and E-H Group divides.

So the four English teams have to be split with two being placed in A-D Groups and the other two in E-F Groups which has led to teams being drawn with three clubs still to be picked only to be told by the UEFA Officials that they 'have' to be placed in a certain Group to make sure those rules are achieved.

Personally I think if you're not good enough to improve your co-efficient and thus the Pot position, you should have to deal with whatever team you're drawn against, but there is a lot of faffing about to make sure the 'random' draw passes the rules being set out at the beginning of the draw.

It is a complaint, but not one I am going to lose too much sleep over as it has been the case for years and perhaps the next move Michel Platini makes to improve this competition. I love the way the Qualifiers have been changed to allow some of the 'lesser' teams in European football to have a chance to dine on the top table of the continent and Platini has made those improvements so the Champions League is clearly in good hands.

I've just had a few reactions to the Groups that were drawn on Thursday with the Group Stage of the competition kicking off in just two and a half weeks.

Group A
There isn't much to say about the first Group as both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain looking like they will fight it out to top the section. Deciding that looks to be the most intriguing part of the Group with the Second Round in mind and the double header in the middle of the Group should be very good for the neutrals to watch.

My gut feeling is that Real Madrid will find a way to top Paris Saint-Germain over the head to head and will end up finishing in first place in the section while PSG are left with another big Second Round tie as they had with Chelsea last season.

Shakhtar Donetsk are no longer the force of even a couple of seasons ago with key players departing and Malmo will just appreciate being in the competition.

1. Real Madrid
2. Paris Saint-Germain
3. Shakhtar Donetsk
4. Malmo

Group B
If anyone in Pot 2 was going to hand pick an opponent from Pot 1, PSV Eindhoven would surely have been the one that they all wanted to play. If Barcelona hadn't won either the Champions League or Spanish La Liga last season, PSV wouldn't have been invited to take the eighth top Pot position and instead would have been in Pot 3.

So Manchester United fans have to be happy facing a team that has lost two key players to the English Premier League this summer, while Wolfsburg are also likely to be selling Kevin De Bruyne and both the German and Dutch teams look to have weakened from last season.

The games with CSKA Moscow can't be taken for granted when you think they beat Manchester City in the Group Stage last season at The Etihad Stadium and the travel to Moscow days before the Manchester derby is awkward.

However, it would be a big surprise if Manchester United didn't top this Group, while second place looks to be open for the remaining three teams to take advantage and move into the Second Round. Gun to the head I would pick Wolfsburg, but that isn't a confident pick at all.

1. Manchester United
2. Wolfsburg
3. CSKA Moscow
4. PSV Eindhoven

Group C
Another team coming out of Pot 2 that would have been very excited about their draw is Atletico Madrid who look head and shoulders better than Benfica, Galatasaray and Astana.

Experiences in the Champions League in recent seasons and the signing of Jackson Martinez should give Atletico Madrid too much for the other three teams to handle and it would take something very strange to happen if they weren't in the Last 16.

Benfica did lose Jorge Jesus, their experienced manager, in the summer to Sporting Lisbon and I do wonder if they are able to really produce the goods at this level having failed to do that in recent years. However, two Europa League Semi Finals in the last three years suggest they can get the better of Galatasaray and Astana to finish behind Atletico Madrid and move into the Second Round for the first time since the 2006 Champions League when they reached the Quarter Final.

1. Atletico Madrid
2. Benfica
3. Galatasaray
4. Astana

Group D
There must be Manchester City fans out there wondering if the club as a whole is being cursed by the Champions League Gods as they are once again placed in the 'Group of Death'. The last couple of times has come about because of their poor co-efficient, but even coming out of Pot 2 hasn't helped their cause.

However, it has to be said that it would be a huge disappointment if they are not able to negotiate this Group with the squad at Manuel Pellegrini's disposal, particularly if they can keep clear of injuries.

Juventus were the Champions League Finalists last season and Sevilla have won the Europa League twice in a row so you may wonder which of these teams I believe will make way for Manchester City?

Controversial as it may be, but I think Juventus haven't been the best travellers in the Champions League even after reaching the Final last season and I think that will cost them. Borussia Monchengladbach might not be having a great start to the new season, but they are going to be another tough away game for the three other teams in the Group and my gut feeling says Sevilla and Manchester City get more points out of them over the two games than Juventus will.

The key for Manchester City will be the first three games when they host both Sevilla and Juventus as well as travelling to Monchengladbach- get 9 points from those games and City will go through, anything less than 6 points and it will be very difficult with the games in Seville and Turin to come.

However, I think Manchester City have made a positive start to think they can win those three games and I think Sevilla's Europa League success sees them beat Juventus at home and finish behind the English team leaving the Italians with the Europa League a season after reaching the Champions League Final.

1. Manchester City
2. Sevilla
3. Juventus
4. Borussia Monchengladbach

Group E
In my opinion, Barcelona remain the team to beat in Europe this season and I think they will be very satisfied with the draw that sees them face Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and BATE Borisov.

Barcelona shouldn't just qualify, but they are good enough to have wrapped up top spot by the end of the fourth game in the Group.

Guessing which of the teams follows them is tougher, but Bayer Leverkusen have already dismissed one of the teams from Rome that were involved in the competition and I think they can just about see off Roma too. Bayer Leverkusen has reached the Second Round of the Champions League in three of the last four seasons and that experience may see them finish above Roma this time too.

It is also important that Bayer Leverkusen host Barcelona last and might be playing a team that has already wrapped up top spot which could see them earn bonus points to ensure they finish above Roma.

1. Barcelona
2. Bayer Leverkusen
3. Roma
4. BATE Borisov

Group F
When Bayern Munich and Arsenal were the first two teams paired in this Group, I thought the latter might finally be getting the kind of difficult Group they have seemingly avoided for years.

However, the rest of the section was made up by Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb and it does look like a Bayern Munich-Arsenal one-two finish in the Group.

Of course that could mean Arsenal enjoying what is becoming an annual Second Round exit against a team like Barcelona, but Olympiacos might feel they have something to say about that.

Arsenal haven't made the best start to the Premier League and Olympiacos gave both Atletico Madrid and Juventus a scare in the Group Stage last season having finished one point behind the eventual Finalist in the section. They are strong at home and a surprise result at The Emirates Stadium on Match Day 2 might just see Olympiacos surprise Arsenal by overtaking them into second place.

I am not really entertaining any thoughts of Bayern Munich finishing anywhere other than top of the Group, although their first game in Greece is a huge test of their early season form.

1. Bayern Munich
2. Arsenal
3. Olympiacos
4. Dinamo Zagreb

Group G
Chelsea must have been over the moon seeing the Group Stage develop in the manner it did and Jose Mourinho has to be thinking of wrapping up top spot as early as possible to put the competition aside until February.

Porto and Dynamo Kiev have strong histories in the Champions League, but neither team is the force of past years, while Maccabi Tel Aviv have overachieved just by reaching the Group Stage.

With Chelsea likely dominating the Group, I think the fight between Dynamo Kiev and Porto goes to the wire, but the edge might go to the Portuguese team who host Dynamo Kiev on Match Day 5 and could be playing a weakened Chelsea team at Stamford Bridge on Match Day 6.

Maccabi Tel Aviv are a potential danger for Porto and Dynamo Kiev if they can bring their nothing to lose attitude to the Group Stage and not be overawed by the names they are facing. However, I think they are defensively a little too weak to really upset the apple-cart consistently enough to reach the Second Round and even the consolation of the Europa League is likely beyond them.

1. Chelsea
2. Porto
3. Dynamo Kiev
4. Maccabi Tel Aviv

Group H
When you look at the Group that Manchester City are involved in and then you look at Group H, you have to understand why the Manchester City, Sevilla and Juventus fans might be a little annoyed by the luck of the draw.

Group H is consisted of Zenit St Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon and Gent and the feeling is that this is a Group that many teams coming out of the other Groups wouldn't mind being paired with in the Second Round.

Go back a few years and Lyon were considered a dark horse in the Champions League, but this is their first appearance in the Group Stage in four years. Valencia were twice Finalists in back to back years in 2000 and 2001, but didn't take part in European competition last season and were Europa League Semi Finalists the season before that, while Zenit St Petersburg have qualified for the Second Round twice and been dropped into the Europa League twice in the last four years.

Out of all the Groups, this is the one that looks most open for the two places for the Second Round, although I think Gent's best effort is likely to play spoiler rather than being involved in a top two chase.

I do think Valencia played well enough in La Liga last season to transfer that to the Champions League, particularly in this Group, and they can win their three home games to put one foot into the Second Round.

Zenit St Petersburg struggled badly in the Group Stage last season and a lack of goals saw them miss out of a place in the Second Round partly thanks to a French side. It might be something of deja vu for Zenit St Petersburg and their cautious manager Andre Villas-Boas who won't take that risk to get through and I think Lyon may come out of a difficult Group to pick from.

1. Valencia
2. Lyon
3. Zenit St Petersburg
4. Gent

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