Uefa Champions League is right around the corner, with the first match being played on 13th September 2016, but before we jump into matches, there must be a draw first, which we will have a chance to see on Thursday 25th of August 18:00 CET.
25th of August is the date every football fan is going to take a break from anything he is doing, to watch the group stage draw of the most prestige European competition in football. UCL group stage draw will take place in Monaco, where 32 clubs (22 of whom are direct entrants while 10 have qualified in play-offs) will see who will have they face off against on the journey to Champions league cup.
The pots of teams are as followed:
|POT 1||POT 2||POT 3||POT 4|
|Real Madrid (ESP)||Atletico Madrid (ESP)||Basel (SUI)||Celtic (SCO)|
|Barcelona (ESP)||Borussia Dortmund (GER)||Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)||Monaco (FRA)|
|Leicester City (ENG)||Arsenal (ENG)||Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)||Beşiktaş (TUR)|
|Bayern München (GER)||Manchester City (ENG)||Lyon (FRA)||Legia Warszawa (POL)|
|Juventus (ITA)||Sevilla (ESP)||PSV Eindhoven (NED)||Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)|
|Benfica (POR)||Porto (POR)||Sporting CP (POR)||Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)|
|PSG (FRA)||Napoli (ITA)||Club Brugge (BEL)||København (DEN)|
|CSKA Moscow (RUS)||Bayer Leverkusen (GER)||Mönchengladbach (GER)||Rostov (RUS)|
The draw procedure has some rules, with addition of some new ones:
– No team can play a club from their own association
– Following a decision by the UEFA Executive Committee, Ukrainian and Russian squads cannot be drawn against each other
– the draw also establishes the groups for UEFA Champions League of UEFA Youth League
– the draw ceremony includes the vote for and presentation of the 2015/16 UEFA Best Player in Europe Awards for men and women.
Besides the group stage draw, that takes place on 25th of August, we will see the following ones:
– Round of 16 draw (12/12/16)
– Quarter-finals (17/3/17)
– Semi-finals (21/4/17)
Now as we got the schedule and rules out of the way, I’ll give you a short description of some teams competing in UCL and my thoughts on their performance.
The defending champions are back, by no surprise. This will be their 45th appearance in this prestige competition in their history. Still holding the most Champions league trophies (11), they are always one of the favourites to win it once more, as they proven last year. They seem to be stronger every year, or at least they manage to hold their strong position in domestic league and in the world. I am a bit sceptic how Zidane will manage the team, due to his lack of experience as a coach, but surely that won’t stop the “Blancos” to achieve a good result.
The biggest rivals of last year’s winners (Real Madrid). The team seems stronger on the paper, compared to last year, with quality players they are always expected to perform when they step on the pitch. Despite having less appearances in UCL (25), they can still be very proud of 4 titles they achieved. All of them in the last 10 years. This only shows Barcelona is one of the best teams in this decade and one of the teams you cannot count out of winning the cup. Actually I see them as a really strong favourite to win this year’s cup.
The biggest surprise of last years season, Ladies and Gentleman.. Leicester City. What a season have they had behind them. From being a “no one” to winning one of the strongest leagues in the world, bypassing teams with 10x their value. The team from Leicester has shown us all, money cannot buy you a title (khm Juventus), but teamwork and a real sportsmanship can get you one. Of course, with the title of BPL you also get a ticket for UCL. Despite their great season I do not see them as a favourite to win this one, solely due to lack of quality players and no experience in a competition like this one. It will still be interesting to watch them play, but I think the finals are just out of reach for them.
I’ll put it this way, If I was a professional footballer and I heard I will have to play against Bayern München, it would instantly send chills down my spine. “The German machine” is always an opponent you must respect. 31 appearances in UCL and 4 titles is a decent result and we can be sure the 4 trophies will get company of another sooner or later. Last year, Bayern was sadly knocked out by Atletico Madrid due to an away goal advantage and failed to qualify in the finals. This year they have a chance to show the world, they deserve a title, and I would not be surprised if they do. Still there are a lot of strong teams the Germans must defeat first.
The Italian squad, who has had a tremendous turnaround in the league. After a very bad start, winning only 1 out of 6 matches, they turned it around and won 26 of the 27 league matches. That gave them the title at the end of the season. This year’s transfer market has excellent for the “Old Lady”, bringing some exceptionally good players to their roster. Despite loosing Pogba to Manchester United, Italian champions seem stronger than previous season. Juventus is an experienced team in UCL, with 29 appearances to this date. With “only” 2 titles in their history book, they strive to add another one every year, but seem to fail when they confront a stronger team. They do not seem as a team that will be a strong competitor for the title, but a good result should be expected from them.
With only 5 appearances in UCL, they were really close to get to the finals last year, only to lose against the champions Real Madrid (1:0). The loss was surely painful, and they are back once again in a quest to outperform last year’s result. The team is stronger compared to last year and should not be underestimated. But the story is kind of the same as for Juventus. They are strong, but just might not be ready for winning the title. I expect a similar result to last year, an appearance in finals would be a surprise to me. Of course the draw will have a huge effect on the outcome.
Sevilla has won UEFA Europa League for the third consecutive time in the last season, which gave them the 5th title in that competition. With those good performances, they got their ticket to their 5th Champions league appearance. Despite dominating in Europa League, I don’t expect much from them in UCL. Teams here are a class above compared to those in Europa League, and Sevilla will feel the difference soon. Getting out of the group stage is a fair expectation, but of course it’s too early to call as we do not know the opponents they will have to face.
A team, which game Mourinho his glory. His “Golden Years” from 2001-2004 he has risen Porto from the ashes. In just 1 year, Porto won Primeira Liga (02/03) and went on to win the Champions cup in 2004 against Monaco, after Mourinho left Porto was never the same. He left a huge impression in the club’s history. NowwWith their 30th appearance, they are one of the teams, that keeps coming back to compete for the title. They have 2 trophies already and to be fair, the number of them won’t change for a while. Last few years did not do well for them, as they were knocked out too soon. In season 14/15, Bayern Műnich destroyed Porto in Quarter-finals (6:1) at home, 15/16 UCL was even worse, as they did not even get out of the group stage. They are surely not a team that can be a threat for the title race.
The “Parteponeli” have finished their last Serie A season in the 2nd place. When the season came close to being over Napoli and Juventus were really close and the battle for the title began. Despite being “defeated” and achieving silver, it was still a good result. Napoli is one of the fresh teams in UCL, as this will be their 6th appearance. Sadly they never came really close to winning the title, but seem to be coming back to try and leave a mark.
10th appearance in UCL and 0 titles. We cannot expect much from them to be fair, they could possibly advance out of group stage, but anything more would be a miracle. The team is decent in domestic league, finishing in top 5, but a very good result in UCL will just be too much for them.
Swiss team, that has been a part of UCL for quite some time now. A strong underdogs, that have not achieved more than a round of 16. I see them as a team, others wish to play against, as there are just a few teams that might struggle against them. All in all a very weak team, compared to others. Despite being a dominant force in Swiss league, I cannot see Basel achieving anything in UCL.
Arch rivals of Arsenal have had somewhat mixed feelings about last year’s season in BPL. They managed to finish 3rd, which gave them a ticket to UCL, but were bypassed by Arsenal, with 1 point lead. They are a decent team, but fail to perform in European competitions. In the last few years, they failed to advance from round of 16 in Europa League. Now for their 3rd time in UCL, they can expect to struggle. Still we can expect them to get out of the group stage if not faced with top teams.
this will be 33th appearance in UCL for the Russians. Quality wise, I find them to belong in the same bracket as Tottenham. They are not weak per se, but European competitions don’t suit them. They are constantly being knocked out of the competition in the early stages of UCL and with no huge changes to the team itself, the history just might repeat itself.
The French team has been able to get out of Group stages in recent UCL. They seem to be getting worse when years go by. Decade ago a Quarter-finals was something usual for them, even reachinf Semi-finals in 2009/10. But nowadays other teams are getting stronger, whereas Lyon stays the same. An underdog is a fair description for them, as they won’t see the finals of UCL for quite some time.
Back again after last year 17th appearance in UCL. Not a strong team by any means, as they have yet to win any European titles. Last year they achieved only 1 win against Arsenal, which was a huge surprise to say the least. That slip almost lost Arsenal a spot in round of 16, but just managed to slip by Olympiacos. This year won’t be much different for them. Depending on the teams they will get in the group, they should be really lucky to get a chance to advance in next stage. Anything more would be a miracle.
Besides Bayern München, one of the strongest teams in Germany. They have finished their last season in 2nd place, 10 points behind Bayern. As for Champions league, Borussia has participated in it 14 times, this year being their 15th time. Borussia is always an exciting team to watch, they seem like a well constructed team with spectacular fans. Despite being the underdogs, I can see them achieving a great result.
One of the top teams in EPL, who have finally managed to get rid of their 4th place finish in the league, with 2nd place last season. As for Champions league, Arsenal has been a constant participant, qualifying for UCL every year since 1999/2000. Still they did not achieve much in previous 6 attempts, getting knocked out of the competition right after leaving the group stage. Will this year be any different? Hard to say, but in my eyes they are not a favourite, not by a mile.
As for other teams I did not mention, it’s because they do not stand a chance in UCL. They will most likely play the opening 6 matches, get their name in the history as a attendant in UCL, back their bags and focus on their domestic leagues.
To call a outright winner would be really hard and foolish, as we do not know how will the teams perform on the pitch. In my (and probably most of the other people’s) eyes, Barcelona, Real and Bayern Münich are the teams that will probably battle it out in the end. If in any circumstance, they face each other before the finals/semi-finals we could see one of the underdogs shine . But as I said let’s give it some time and wait for the UEFA Champion’s league draw and the first match on 13th of September.