Last season’s Bundesliga runners up land in UCL Group G for UCL; that’s ‘g’ as in “gut”, right?
A quick review of the draw for the upcoming UCL group stage playoff for UEFA’s 2017-18 competition (see below) reveals a lot of death. Let me clarify: no one actually died. But football has a tradition of referring to the most competitive group in such a tournament system as “the Group of Death”. Or “el grupo de la muerte”. Or, “le groupe de la plume de ma tante…”. Okay, that last one was a joke. But you get the picture.
The complete 2017/18 UEFA Champions League Group Stage draw!
— #UCL (@ChampionsLeague) August 24, 2017
One of the important characteristics of “die Gruppe der Tod” is that it has no clear front-runner. Each team has a reasonably good shot to win. Looking at the UCL group draw just completed this past week, an objective person would have to say that half or more of the eight qualify as a GOD in that way.
Barça and Real up in the air
One of the main reasons of course is that this time around there is no clear favorite(s) to win the UCL title itself. Last year’s two finalists, Real Madrid and Juventus, are not likely to meet for a rematch in Kiev next spring.
Indeed, the clear favorites for the last few tournaments, including Real Madrid and their La Liga rivals, Barça, seem to be fraying at the edges. Many of their problems are arising, in fact, as a matter of their incredible run of high-profile success. Winning brings scrutiny and who amongst us can take a lot of that?
In the case of FC Barçelona, of course, the club has even infamously broken up their winning combination to a degree. While they’ve also made at least one very promising, last-second summer transfer, it remains to be seen if the club are up to the task(s) any longer. The core of the side is aged 30+. Neymar is gone. Messi is being baited to follow suit. And, perhaps most telling, even Iniesta is threatening to move on.
“Group of stealth”?
Leipzig and Monaco were two “teams of the future” last year. They now find themselves matched together as favorites in Group G. The German and French sides are joined by Porto, and Besiktas of Istanbul.
Both the Portuguese and Turkish sides are experienced in European competitions and both are difficult to defeat on their home grounds. Porto advanced past last year’s UCL group stage only to find Juventus waiting for them in the Round of 16. Besiktas have come first in the Süper Lig for the last two years. The side advanced as far as the quarterfinals of last year’s Europa League, eventually falling to Lyon in a tie-breaking penalty shootout.
Monaco re-emerged as a power in France’s Ligue 1 about 5 years ago under then manager, Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri left in 2014 and subsequently spent 18 tumultuous and very successful months at Leicester City. Prior to ASM’s current renaissance they were perhaps best known for Arsène Wenger’s term as manager in the late 1990s. Wenger’s club produced more than one star for the French national side that brought home the World Cup and European Championship titles between 1996-98. The current Monaco side fell to the magical run of Juve in the UCL semifinals last time.
For Leipzig, of course, everything is a first time. So it will be when they host their French rivals next month in the first tie for Group G in this year’s Champions League.
Perhaps, then, the future may be here as early as September 13.