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In depth: The Champions League group stage


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Some exciting games kicked off the Champions League group stages, with wins for Manchester United and Chelsea. With more match-ups scheduled tonight, here's our preview of the group stage as a whole...

Group A: Basel, Benfica, CSKA Moscow, Manchester United

Jose Mourinho will be pleased with this draw. But that's no reason for complacency. Basel's record v the English teams suggests they'll be no easy ride for United. While the Reds triumphed at home they may see tougher opposition in Basel. 

Benfica have started the season in a sturdy manner and have relevant Champions League experience having reached the quarter final and round of 16 in the past 2 seasons. 

Additionally, playing Russian opposition is never easy in the Champions League, especially away from home because of the hostility. Hence, CSKA will represent a challenging test, whoever the opposition. There are no so called foreign 'powerhouses' in this group, so United are expected to finish first, but that is not a given

Nonetheless, it would still represent a disappointing beginning to the return of Champions League football at Old Trafford should United fail to finish top of Group A.

Group B: Anderlecht, Bayern Munich, PSG, Celtic

Celtic can not catch a break. Drawing Barcelona and Manchester City in last years group stages and now they're stuck with Bayern Munich and PSG. Bayern and PSG have strengthened well in the summer, especially PSG, with the signing of Mbappe and Neymar. Their attacking line proved far too strong for Celtic in their opener. 

Meanwhile, the loan signing of James Rodriguez to Bayern from Madrid is an astute one and will add to the already star studded squad. The two clashes between PSG and Bayern will be enticing.

How well Celtic do in this group will be largely dependant on the results they get at Celtic Park - and if the crowd get behind the team like they can, there could be a few surprise results. 

Anderlecht have played most of their European football in the Europa League over the past few seasons. They will be considered the whipping boys of this group, and the best they will likely achieve is a 3rd place finish. This group may not be the Group of death, but is certainly one that is brimming with quality. It appears to be a straight battle between PSG and Bayern for the top 2 spots.

Group C: Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Roma, Qarabag

Being in pot one, Chelsea would have hoped for an easier group, they still possess the strength to finish top though, although Atletico and their well-drilled manner will prove a stern test for all clubs involved in Group C.

Indeed, Roma will also like to think they have a good shot at qualifying for the round of 16. They certainly have enough firepower following the record signing of striker Patrick Schick. Roma reached the last 16 in 2015/16 and will be aiming to do the same this season. Roma, Atletico and Chelsea will view the two games v Qarabag as an easy 6 points, as Chelsea's opener suggested, but will they inspire complacency? 

Atletico are unbeaten v Chelsea in their past 3 games and knocked Chelsea out the semi final of the Champions League in the 2013/14 campaign, so Chelsea will be seeking revenge.

Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos, Sporting CP

This is another intriguing group. Everyone will be looking at Juventus and Barcelona as the two favourites to qualify, but Olympiacos are the Greek champions for the past 7 seasons and look a strong outfit at present. Similarly, Sporting are in good form having won their first five league games consecutively.

Juventus's encounter v Barcelona saw the Spanish giants take a dominant win and avenge their last meeting. 

On the surface, and until that loss, Juventus appeared to be the favourites to claim that top spot as they have made some shrewd signings in Douglas Costa, Matuidi and Howedes. That early setback could pave the way for Barca dominance though. 

Group E: Liverpool, Maribor, Sevilla, Spartak Moscow

After being seeded in pot 3, Liverpool must have feared the worst. But they managed to avoid a 'group of death'. The manner in which they brushed Hoffenheim aside in the qualifying round is cause for optimism for this Champions League campaign. However, Liverpool's last appearance in the Champions League came in 2014/15, and their group was not the most imposing, but they only managed a 3rd place finish in a disastrous campaign.

There will be an added incentive for Liverpool to beat Sevilla as they cost Liverpool a place in last years Champions League by winning the Europa League final in 2015/16. Sevilla and Liverpool have European experience whereas the same cannot be said about Spartak and Maribor. However, that does not mean victory against them will be certain, indeed the away trips will be demanding because of the distances that needs to be travelled. 

Liverpool should comfortably secure a top 2 spot, and will be bolstered by the fact they can recall Coutinho to their potent and rapid attack. If their confidence recovers sufficiently from their thumping loss to Manchester City they should qualify for the next round. 

Group F: Feyenoord, Manchester City, Napoli, Shakhtar Donetsk

Round of 16 qualification has not always been clear cut for Manchester City but Pep Guardiola is a Champions League expert, and it would be broadly disappointing if Manchester City do not finish first in their group, especially with the talent they have at their disposal. 

It was their defence that let them down last season as they crashed out to Monaco with an aggregate scoreline of 6-6 in the last 16. The signings of Mendy, Walker and Ederson should shore them up defensively and the abundance of quality offensively means they'll score frequently. 

However, Napoli, Feyenood and Shakhtar are still worthy opposition. Certainly, Napoli's attacking quartet of Hamsik, Insigne, Mertens and Callejon are as lethal an attack as anyone. City will undoubtedly have their work cut out at times, but should still routinely qualify with a top spot finish.

Group G: Besiktas, Monaco, Porto, RB Leipzig

Arguably the most even of all the groups. Any one of the four clubs can win top spot.  Monaco have lost Mbappe but recruited well with the signings of Keita, Tielemans and Jovetic. They burst onto the scene and surprised quite a few in last seasons Champions League campaign and will be hoping to do the same again.

Leipzig had a tremendous debut season in the Bundesliga last season and finished an impressive 2nd place. They still have Keita for one more season before he moves to Liverpool and he and Werner will be crucial if they want to have a satisfactory European campaign.

Besiktas have started their season off well and made some astute signings in the shape of Negredo and Medel and are certainly capable of qualification to the round of 16. Likewise, Porto have some good Champions League experience in their squad, especially with Iker Casillas. They have the quality to hurt teams with Brahimi, Herrera and Aboubakar and they'll be hoping to reach the last 16 just as they did in the last campaign. 

One things for sure, this group may not be as captivating as others but will certainly be one of the most unpredictable.

Group H: Real Madrid, Dortmund, APOEL, Spurs

The group of death. Spurs' Champions League campaign last season was not as they expected. They're going to have to up their game if they want to impose themselves on Europe's biggest competition.

Spurs' defence is sound, but will still need to be at its best to thwart the likes of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo. Their Wembley record does not make for pleasant reading and they'll need to improve on it to stand a chance of qualifying. 

Correspondingly, Dortmund may have lost Dembele, but they still have an impressive squad with key players like Aubameyang, Gotze, Reus and Schurrle. Even APOEL are the Cypriot champions and may not be complete pushovers. 

This will be Spurs second consecutive season in the Champions League and they are yet to make a statement. In order to change that, they'll need to overcome Madrid who have won it back to back in the last few years, and 3 times in 4 years. 

Accordingly, this group will provide some exhilarating games as there are some attack minded managers and a plethora of attacking quality on show. It won't be easy to secure qualification, but this group will certainly deliver some enthralling contests.

All in all, there is no doubt this seasons Champions League group stage period is looking a tantalizing one. Indeed, with 6 British teams in this season's Champions League, this may well be the season that British football recoups some of its prominence in Europe.

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