With the usual flair and glitz, the groups for the Champions League were decided on Thursday. Legends Paolo Maldini and Javier Zanetti were just two of several former players that helped out during the proceedings in Monaco.
The final will be played at the San Siro in Milan, which explains why Maldini and Zanetti were helping out with the draw. But neither AC Milan nor Inter Milan are in the tournament this season after disappointing campaigns last year in the Serie A. But let’s focus on the teams that did make it. Here is the full rundown of the groups.
Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö
Seb’s Take: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden’s biggest star and he will travel back to Sweden with PSG to take on Malmö. Ibrahimovic going back to face his former team will be a huge event in Sweden, and will be Malmö’s biggest game in modern history.
PSG’s meetings with Real Madrid will also be a must-watch for people as the two star-studded teams will most likely fight for the group win. Shakhtar is a good side, but they have sold off some of their big name players, including Douglas Costa, who left for Bayern Munich.
Malmö needs a couple miracles if they are to avoid last place in the group, but they will be more than happy to welcome stars like Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo to Swedbank Stadium.
PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Wolfsburg
Seb’s Take: United got a favorable group in their Champions League return. After missing out last season, the Red Devils will be looking to make a mark this time around. On paper, it’s a pretty even group, with PSV, CSKA and Wolfsburg all having the capability to make it to the next round. But there’s little doubt United are the big favorites to win the group.
Memphis Depay will travel back to Eindhoven and take on his former team. Depay left PSV in the summer and has had a decent start to his United career. CSKA has a couple of good players, including Russian internationals Alan Dzagoev and Igor Akinfeev. Wolfsburg finished runners-up behind Bayern Munich last season in the Bundesliga and Nicklas Bendtner has been on fire to start the season.
Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray, Astana
Seb’s Take: Astana is the first team from Kazakhstan to ever make it to the Champions League group stage, and it will be interesting to see if they can upset one of the other teams in Group C. The travel to Kazakhstan will be a challenge for the other teams, but Astra will be huge underdogs in every single game.
Benfica and Atletico Madrid will be the favorites to go through, but Galatasaray is a good team that is even better at home inside Turk Telekom Arena. Turkish fans are some of the most fanatic in the world and they always play their part to give their side the advantage. Benfica won the Portuguese league last season.
The Portuguese teams are often a bit underrated, but they usually perform well in the competition. Atletico has a solid team and could be a team that could be a real thorn in the side in the knockout stages.
Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Seb’s Take: Juventus and Man City will lock horns in Group D. City has had a habit of drawing some really tough opponents in the past, and this year is more of the same. Sevilla, who won the Europa League last season, and Mönchengladbach will most likely be fighting for the third spot and a place in the Europa League.
It will be interesting to see if City manager Manuel Pellegrini can adjust his team’s style of play this year in the Champions League, as that is something that has cost them in the past. Juventus should be considered a slight favorite seeing that they have a knack of doing well in the tournament, and they made the final last season.
Sevilla is a good side, but it’s a lot to ask to expect them to get enough points to get above either Juventus or Man City. Mönchengladbach finished third in the Bundesliga last season, and it remains to be seen if the squad is deep enough to handle fighting on both fronts.
Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov
Seb’s Take: Not the easiest of groups for reigning champions Barcelona. With the transfer sanctions still in place for Barcelona, they can’t register any new players until January. That means that they will be without summer signings like Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal. That could force them to play more of the youngsters as they have a pretty packed schedule.
Bayer Leverkusen has done alright in the past in the tournament and the German teams are always entertaining to watch. Roma still hasn’t gotten over the hump in the Champions League era, and they could use some positive results to boost their confidence if they would make it to the knockout stages.
BATE Borisov are making their fifth appearance in the Champions League, and is the only Belarusian side to ever make it into the group stage.
Despite the thin squad, Barcelona will be huge favorites with players like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Andres Iniesta in the lineup.
Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
Seb’s Take: Bayern Munich against Arsenal will be one of the highlights of the group stage. It’s two teams that can play some very attractive soccer and these two will battle for the group win. Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb will have to settle with duking it out for third place and a spot in the Europa League.
Bayern is seen as one of the best teams in the world, and with the additions they’ve made this summer, there isn’t any reason to not think they won’t be one of the favorites to win the tournament. Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa have slotted into the starting lineup perfectly and have made a great team even better.
Dinamo Zagreb is back in the group stage after missing out in the qualification playoffs for two straight seasons. Dinamo is Croatia’s most decorated club, and they will look to at least get that third spot in the group.
Olympiacos made it to the Round of 16 two seasons ago, but had a hard time last year when they ended up in the same group as Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Malmö.
Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Seb’s Take: Chelsea and Porto will be pleased with the draw of the group, whereas Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv would have hoped to avoid both these sides. Chelsea and Porto are leaps and bounds above the two other teams in the group. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will go up against his former team Porto, the club where his career really picked up speed.
Dynamo and Maccabi will fight for third place in the group and will surely provide some entertaining moments, but it’s clear that neither of them have the quality to go up and rack up more points than Chelsea or Porto over six games.
Zenit Saint Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon, Gent
Seb’s Take: By far the least interesting group for neutrals. Zenit won the Russian Premier League last season, but doesn’t have too many players that your average Champions League fan will know besides maybe Hulk and Domenico Criscito.
Valencia got by Monaco in the qualification playoffs, and will surely fancy their chances to win the group. Lyon has some interesting players, especially Alexandre Lacazette, but there’s question marks if the squad is deep enough to cope with the heavy schedule.
Gent won their first Belgian title last year. They followed that up by qualifying for their first ever appearance in the group stage of the Champions League. Together with Malmö and Astana, Gent is one of the smallest clubs in the competition and it will be more about just participating than actually having a real shot at moving through.
The opening games take place on Sept. 15-16.