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UCL logo courtesy of ©UEFA.
UCL logo courtesy of ©UEFA.

Predicting Champions League groups

Running down the storylines from new signings to what looks to be a brutal Group F

Hoosier Network writer Jovanni Salazar will be covering European and international soccer this year, starting with a breakdown of every UEFA Champions League group this season.

Group A: Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Galatasaray, FC Copenhagen

Winners: Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich were perfect in the group stage last year in the Champions League as they got all 18 possible points from the six matches they played. This continued their impressive streak in group-stage play as they now are undefeated in their past 34 matches in this stage of the tournament.

Bayern lost Robert Lewandowski before the start of last season and were left with Eric Choupo-Moting leading the line for the year. Choupo-Moting has proven to be a serviceable squad player, but he’s not someone you want to rely on scoring week in and week out. 

Bayern addressed this problem by signing one of the best strikers in the world, Harry Kane. It was a late deal but Harry Kane will join an already exciting attack with Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Kingsley Coman. Kane will contribute more than just goals as his link-up play for a number nine is second to none and the team will benefit greatly from that. Bayern also brought in center-back Kim Min-jae, who played a big role in Napoli, winning the Serie A last season as well as making a decent run in the Champions League.

Runner Up: Manchester United

There’s definitely a possibility that Manchester United could win this group, but it might be too early in Erik ten Hag’s project to expect them to beat out a team like Bayern Munich for the top spot in the group. 

Manchester United already surprised many by even qualifying for the Champions League, as most expected Liverpool and even Chelsea to finish above them before last season started. Ten Hag’s squad finished third in the Premier League and solidified themselves a spot in the Champions League after a one-year absence. 

United will rely heavily on contributions from Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes. Rashford has 12 goals and three assists in his Champions League career. Fernandes led the Champions League in assists in the 2021/2022 season despite only playing up to the round of 16. 

Some players United brought in this summer include Mason Mount, Rasmus Højlund, Andre Onana and Sofyan Amrabat. Mount and Onana have impressed in the tournament before and time will tell if they continue this with United. While Rasmus Højlund only has two Champions League appearances, in which he scored one goal.

Group B: Arsenal, PSV, Sevilla, Lens

Winners: Arsenal 

Arsenal are in the Champions League for the first time in seven years. Manager Mikel Arteta has finally got them back in the tournament as they continue their quick ascension in the Premier League. 

Some see Arsenal as a potential contender for the Champions League title but they will have to take care of business in a tricky group first. They are the clear favorites in this group but Sevilla and PSV have proven to cause problems for some top teams before. 

Most of Arteta’s young squad will be playing in the Champions League for the first time, so there might be some growing pains at the beginning. New signing Declan Rice is one of these players as well as Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli. These players have shown their quality in England and now they have a chance to display it in Europe’s top competition.

Runner Up: PSV

This pick may surprise some, but PSV have a group of young talented players who can definitely help them get through to the next round. They’ve had a great start to the season and played great in the qualifiers to get here. Young talents such as Joey Veerman, Johan Bakayoko and Ismael Saibari showcased their abilities in the qualifying round against Rangers. Hirving Lozano is also making his return to the club this summer to boost an already exciting young team. 

Sevilla would probably be the more popular pick to finish second here, but their success in the Europa League shows that they have struggled to stay in the Champions League.

Group C: Real Madrid, Napoli, Braga, Union Berlin

Winners: Real Madrid

The kings of the tournament don’t need much of an argument in their favor, as their results and experience speak for themselves. Their midfield options consist of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Federico Valverde, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Eduardo Camavinga and new signing Jude Bellingham. A mix of proven winners and elite young talents should be enough to win them the group, although they do have some problems in other phases of the field. 

They lost Karim Benzema after he departed to the Saudi Pro League, as well as Thibaut Courtois and Éder Militão who both suffered season-ending injuries. They will also be without Vinicius Junior for several weeks as he recovers from his injury.

Despite these injuries, Real Madrid sits at the top of La Liga with four wins in four matches. Jude Bellingham has made an immediate impact for the club and has shown he was worth the big price tag.

Winning the group won’t be easy as Napoli are a legitimate threat to win it, but Madrid have shown time and time again they know how to win in this tournament.

Runner Up: Napoli

Napoli will surely challenge Real Madrid for the top spot but second place is where they’ll probably finish. Napoli lost some key pieces this summer including their manager Luciano Spalletti and center-back Kim Min-jae. 

The duo of Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will return though and their talent alone should be enough to solidify Napoli a place in the knockout rounds. Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia both broke out last season as their performances led Napoli to a Serie A title and a good run in the Champions League. 

Group D: Inter Milan, Benfica, Real Sociedad, RB Salzburg

Winners: Inter Milan

Inter Milan made it to the final last year where they lost 1-0 to the reigning champions Manchester City. They find themselves in an interesting group where there doesn’t seem to be a weak link but there is no absolute favorite either. 

They lost Romelu Lukaku and André Onana who were important players for them. But key players including Nicolò Barella, Alessandro Bastoni and Lautaro Martinez will return. 

With that being said, Simone Inzaghi’s squad has enough quality to help them win this group.

Runner up: Benfica

Benfica is another team loaded with young talent, but a lot of these young talents have proven themselves for one or two seasons now. Antonio Silva, Alexander Bah and Orkun Kökçü. The Portuguese champions also have a good mix of experience with players such as Rafa, Angel Di Maria and Nicolas Otamendi. They have a pretty good chance of competing for the top spot in the group and will probably at least finish second.

Group E: Atlético  Madrid, Feyenoord, Lazio, Celtic

Winners: Atlético Madrid

Atlético Madrid find themselves in a group they’d be disappointed not to win. Diego Simeone has put together some good campaigns in the Champions League and this group will give them at least a good chance to get into the knockouts.

Their defense should be as good as always and with Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann

In their current form, they should be able to win this group.

Runner Up: Lazio

Lazio will surely battle Feyenoord for the second spot in the group, but their depth and experience should help them beat out Feyenoord for that second spot.

Group F: PSG, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Newcastle

This is the obvious choice for the “Group of Death” in the tournament, and every game projects to have a knockout match feel to it.

Winners: PSG

Despite their disappointing results in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, PSG normally advance past the group stage and usually win the group as well. It will obviously be tougher this time around but they are the most talented team in the group and have enough experience among the squad to get the top spot.

Kylian Mbappé decided to stay with the team and his impact alone could win PSG the group. This year he will lead a dangerous attack with new signings Ousmane Dembélé, Gonçalo Ramos and Randal Kolo Muani all as options.

Runner Up: AC Milan

Choosing a runner-up in a group like this is arguably harder than picking a winner, but AC Milan’s current form gives them the edge here. They’ve had a great start to their Serie A season while Dortmund and Newcastle have had poor ones in their respective leagues.

Milan also made a good run in the Champions League last year, as they made it to the semi-finals before being eliminated by rivals Inter Milan.

AC Milan are a very organized team that picks and chooses when to attack their opponents, and with a winger like Rafael Leão, one or two opportunities for him might be enough to win them a game. 

Dortmund and Newcastle are very worthy opponents for the two teams above and could certainly challenge for either spot, but they are just a level below them at the moment.

Group G: Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Young Boys, Crvena Zvezda

Winner: Manchester City

Runner Up: RB Leipzig

This group is pretty straightforward with the current holders Manchester City showing no signs of slowing down. They should win this group comfortably.

RB Leipzig are a decent enough team to solidify themselves a spot in the next round, as Young Boys and Crvena Zvezda are among the weakest teams in the tournament.

Group H: Barcelona, Porto, FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Antwerp

Winners: Barcelona

Runner Up: Porto

Barcelona have had their group stage struggles in the past two editions of the Champions League, being sent down to the Europa League twice. But the La Liga champions have made strides since then and should win the group without too much struggle.

Porto might give Barcelona a tough game or two, but they will most likely finish second in an otherwise weak group.

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