The 2019/20 Champions League kicks off on Tuesday, September 17, with the first round of fixtures being played. All 32 teams will be harbouring hopes that it will be they who will be crowned Champions of Europe next May, just as defending Champions Liverpool did earlier this year.
The teams will compete in 8 groups of 4, with the top 2 from each group proceeding to the knockout phase. The teams will play each other home and away across six initial ‘Matchdays’, with the final round of matches scheduled for early December.
Here, we look at each group and predict which two teams from each will emerge to go through to the next phase.
GROUP A (Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Paris St Germain, Real Madrid)
It is tough to see anything other than the two modern day giants of European football dominating this group – with their group position likely dependant on the outcome of their two games. They face off in Matchday 1 (in Paris) and 5 (in Madrid), giving a tasty insight into where these two clubs are. Madrid are not the force of a few years ago, whilst PSG have fallen spectacularly in the knockout phases, despite their stunning squad. Galatasaray will provide a hostile atmosphere in Turkey but look likely to be playing for a Europa Leagus spot whilst Club Brugge could have a tough few months, but be happy to be there. We think the French outfit though may just sneak the all important top spot here.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Paris St Germain Runners Up : Real Madrid
GROUP B (Bayern Munich, Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham Hotspur)
A naughty group for the two teams who will start favourites here. Bayern are a bit in transition whilst Spurs are somewhat inconsistent and prone to flat spots in games – and both will have tough away games in Greece and Serbia to negotiate. Whilst it seems not to be a straight forward path through to the last 16, the class of both the German and English teams should be enough to see them through overall – but expect it to be a bumpy ride for both, with Bayern just having enough to win the Group outright.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Bayern Munich Runners Up : Tottenham Hotspur
GROUP C (Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk)
Should be something of a procession here for Manchester City, who start as favourites to eventually lift the Champions League, and have been handed a pretty easy group to get their assault off to a good start. Who joins them looks the interesting question, with all three teams fancying their chances to make the knockout phase. Shakhtar Donetsk have plenty of Champions League experience but the vote goes to Atalanta, who have got off to a good start in Serie A and will want to make an impression in their Champions League debut.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Manchester City Runners Up : Atalanta
GROUP D (Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Lokomotiv Moscow)
Another battle of the giants here, with Atletico and Juve expected to slug it out for top spot, whilst Leverkusen and Moscow playing the supporting cast – maybe having their moments, but not expected to break the top two. The schedule has thrown the big boys together in Matchday 1, with them facing off in Madrid. Juventus have a few injury doubts for this game, and if Atletico can pick up the win, they may well have enough to hold off Juve across the other five games. We can see this happening. Just.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Atletico Madrid Runners Up : Juventus
GROUP E (Genk, Liverpool, Napoli, Salzburg)
Napoli beat Liverpool in Naples last year at this stage and gave them a fright at Anfield, and are expected to be the main challengers here to the current European Champions. But Liverpool have started the 2019/20 season in frighteningly good form and whilst maybe wont cruise the group, its hard to see anyone stopping them from qualifying as Group winners here. Napoli should make runners up, with Salzburg seeing off Genk for third place and a Europa League spot.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Liverpool Runners Up : Napoli
GROUP F (Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague)
A tough, tough group here, with Inter Milan being the third seed in the group, but will fancy their chances of breaking the Barcelona/Dortmund double that many will see as favourites to go through. Barcelona haven’t exactly set La Liga on fire so far, and wont have talisman Lionel Messi available for their opening game in Dortmund. A win for the German outfit here could well pile the pressure on Barca, who have Milan lined up in MatchDay 2, who should dispose of Slavia Prague initially. We aren’t….cant….suggest Barcelona will miss out on qualification here…but this group really could come down to the final round of games here, with Barcelona travelling to Milan and may well needing a win to qualify. This could well be the group to watch.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Borussia Dortmund Runners Up : Barcelona
GROUP G (Benfica, Leipzig, Lyon, Zenit St Petersburg)
The fact that Leipzig were drawn from Pot 4 but are favourites to win this group speaks volumes about the group in itself. It is literally a case of perm any two from four here, with no one looking good enough to take the group by the scruff of the neck, but no team looking bad enough to be cast adrift. Lyon beat Manchester City last season but have lost the likes of Ndombele and Fekir, whilst Benfica are traditionally strong on home soil, as are Zenit. But the Germans have started their Bundesliga campaign strongly and can qualify – probably along with Lyon, though we wouldn’t be surprised either to see Benfica and Zenit qualify instead!
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Leipzig Runners Up : Lyon
GROUP H (Ajax, Chelsea, Lille, Valencia)
Arguably (says Group F) we save the best until last – and a true Group of Death. Frank Lampard will lead Chelsea into the Champions League for the first time, and with a group of capable, if young, players, untested at this level. Ajax were the story of last seasons Champions League – they will still be wondering how they didn’t progress to the final against Liverpool – but, since then, have lost de Jong and de Light, and you wonder just if they can reproduce that form again. With question marks against the two principles, Valencia muscle their way into the debate, although they have started their La Liga campaign poorly, taking just one win in four. Lille may well cause their own problems for the other three as well. It feels like home wins will be crucial here, with any away points being so valuable. Sadly, we see Chelsea just missing out here, with Lampard’s young squad maybe not able to handle the pressure and intensity of both important Champions and Premier League campaigns.
PREDICTION : Group Winners : Ajax Runners Up : Valencia