Today, we continue with the next and last four groups of the Champions League draw. Group play starts next week, with all teams playing their first game between Tuesday and Wednesday. All group play will end by December 15, when the Round of 16 draw will take place. With that in mind, let’s see who from Groups E-H will make it through to the knockout stages.
Bayern München (GER), Manchester City (ENG), CSKA Moskva (RUS), AS Roma (ITA)
This is the undisputed group of death. Last year, Bayern Munich took home a domestic double, and the season before accomplished a historic treble. Manchester City are last year’s BPL champions and after several key additions, are poised to make another run at the championship. CSKA won the Russian league last year and present a major test for any team that travels to Moscow. Roma, the dark horses of the group, are returning to the Champions League after a few years away from the tournament. Munich seem undefeatable, and Man City practically guarantee themselves three points at home. My heart and mind refuse to agree here, but it is hard to see my favored Roma advancing.
Predictions: 1st: Bayern, 2nd: Man City
FC Barcelona (ESP), Paris Saint-Germain (FRA), Ajax (NED), APOEL (CYP)
A group of two undisputed powers, and two certain underdogs. Barcelona and PSG are both struggling with FIFA’s enforcing of Financial Fair Play, as Barcelona are also now dealing with a two transfer season ban. If these two manage to get the six points they expect to from Ajax and APOEL, then look to their last group stage match, against each other, to decide the group. Ajax has had the unfortunate luck of repeatedly drawing powerful groups like this one and seemed doomed to remain in the lower half of the group. APOEL has my utmost sympathy and I will pray for them, but that is all that can be said.
Predictions: 1st: PSG, 2nd: Barcelona
Chelsea (ENG), Schalke (GER), Sporting (POR), Maribor (SVN)
Chelsea will be thrilled with this group. Schalke and Sporting are competitive enough to force a genuine effort from the Blues, but Mourinho should expect victories from both games. Schalke and Sporting will probably duke it out for the second spot, leaving Maribor to round out the group. Sporting lost out to Benfica in the Portuguese league last year, and have already proved their quality this year with a 1-1 draw against their domestic rivals. But this is Schalke’s third year in a row in the Champions league and their second being paired with Chelsea. I expect them to ride this wave of experience and form in European play to the Round of 16, where they will hope to have better luck with the draw than last year, when they faced Real Madrid.
Predictions: 1st: Chelsea, 2nd: Schalke
Porto (POR), Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR), Athletic (ESP), BATE (BLR)
This is the weakest group in of the eight. Porto finished third last year in Portugal and arrived at this point via playoff, while Athletic Bilbao finished fourth in La Liga, going through the same route to make the group stage. We all know Donetsk for other reasons, which actually have a profound impact on the soccer team’s year. Many players are currently on strike, citing dangerous working conditions, and should the situation deteriorate we can expect them to drop out. BATE, although never having made it out of the group stage, have managed to get results against teams like Juventus and PSG, and will probably end up deciding who ends up first and second.
Predictions: 1st: Athletic, 2nd: Porto