The latter stages of the Champions League may have become increasingly predictable in recent years, but this year’s group-stage draw has thrown up plenty of tantalizing contests. And some of the contenders for the title will have to be on their guard to avoid a disastrous early exit.
Here’s a look at each of the eight groups.
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets
Arsenal has made it out of the first phase of the Champions League for 16 straight seasons and will be expected to continue that record this time around. Still, French giant Paris Saint-Germain present a major barrier to Arsenal’s hopes of topping its group and aiding its chances of avoiding a seventh consecutive Round of 16 exit. Swiss champion Basel should not be overlooked and have been a thorn in the side of English team’s in the recent past. Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets is back for its second group-stage appearance in three seasons.
Prediction: 1. PSG, 2. Arsenal, 3. Basel, 4. Ludogorets
Group B: Benfica, Napoli, Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas
This is unquestionably one of the groups where every team will feel that it has a real chance of progressing. Benfica has the best recent European pedigree, having reached the Champions League quarterfinals last season and the Europa League final twice in the last four years. The Portuguese side could battle it out with Napoli, back in the Champions League for just the second time, for top spot. But both have lost key players over the summer. And neither Ukrainian champion Dynamo Kiev nor Turkey’s top club Besiktas should be discounted.
Prediction: 1. Benfica, 2. Napoli, 3. Dynamo Kiev, 4. Besiktas
Group C: Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Monchengladbach, Celtic
Manchester City has a habit of drawing the short straw in the Champions League and it has happened again this season. A return to Barcelona for new coach Pep Guardiola as well as new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is the headline story. And City will be looking to overturn its two Round of 16 defeats against Barcelona in the last three seasons. There is an all British clash, too, with Scottish champion Celtic involved. But Brendan Rodgers’ side will face a tough task to pick up any points. The danger for both City and Barcelona is German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach, who could certainly take advantage of any slip-ups.
Prediction: 1. Barcelona, 2. Manchester City, Borussia Monchengladbach, 4. Celtic
Group D: Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov
New Bayern Munich coach Carlo Ancelotti has been handed another meeting with Atletico Madrid, the team he defeated in the 2014 Champions League final while in charge of Real Madrid. Those two teams, who have been regulars in the latter stages in recent seasons, should progress. However, Atletico will know not to underestimate PSV, having only got past the Dutch champion on a penalty shootout in last season’s Round of 16. Meanwhile, after defeating Ajax, Russian Premier League winners Rostov will have nothing to fear going up against another Dutch side.
Prediction: 1. Bayern Munich, 2. Atletico Madrid, 3. PSV Eindhoven, 4. Rostov
Group E: CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham, Monaco
Group E is another that all four teams will go into with realistic ambitions of progressing. Tottenham, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco will be quite happy at drawing CSKA Moscow from the top seeding pot, although none will particularly fancy a trip to the Russian capital, especially once winter sets in. Both Leverkusen and Tottenham, with gifted young squads, could be surprise packages in this season’s competition if they can juggle the twin demands of their domestic league and the Champions League. Under Leonardo Jardim, Monaco will be tough to beat.
Prediction: 1. Bayer Leverkusen, 2. Tottenham, 3. Monaco, 4. CSKA Moscow
Group F: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon, Legia Warsaw
Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund promise to provide two of the most tantalizing clashes of this season’s group stage. For Madrid, the Champions League always takes precedent, and the holder and record 11-time winner has never failed to make it out of the group stage. But Dortmund has an incredibly exciting side under Thomas Tuchel and could do some real damage in this season’s competition. Sporting Lisbon has quality of its own, but the Portuguese side and Legia Warsaw are likely to be left scrapping for a Europa League berth.
Prediction: 1. Real Madrid, 2. Borussia Dortmund, 3. Sporting Lisbon, 4. Legia Warsaw
Group G: Leicester City, Porto, Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen
While some fans may have wanted to be handed more eye-catching matchups in its club’s first ever appearance in Europe’s top competition, Leicester City has been handed a golden opportunity to make the last 16. Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen have only ever made it beyond the group stage once between them. Porto, winners in 2004 and regulars in the latter round, will expect to join Leicester in the last 16 after ousting Roma in the playoff round.
Prediction: 1. Porto, 2. Leicester, 3. Club Brugge, 4. FC Copenhagen
Group H: Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Dinamo Zagreb
Another particularly tough group. If Juventus is on its game then the Italian champion should secure top spot, but the fight for second promises to be intense between Sevilla and Lyon. Sevilla has already delivered plenty of entertainment under new coach Jorge Sampaoli and will hope to turn its three consecutive Europa League wins into Champions League success at last. But if Lyon can keep striker Alexandre Lacazette then it can pose a real challenge. Dinamo Zagreb may find itself filling the role of group whipping boy.
Prediction: 1. Juventus, 2. Sevilla, 3. Lyon, 4. Dinamo Zagreb