For the first time ever, the Premier League will have five representatives in the Champions League group stage. Automatic qualifiers Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester City will be joined by fourth place finisher Liverpool, who advanced to the group stage after a commanding performance against Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim, and Europa League winners Manchester United. The draw was cruel and kind in varying measures, and more than one side will expect to advance to the knockout rounds.
The league champions were drawn in Group C and will face Atlético Madrid, AS Roma, and Champions League newcomers Qarabag. Two-time finalists Atlético will of course provide the sternest test for the 2012 champions and challenge them for top place in the group. AS Roma are a quality side that pushed Juventus for the Serie A title last year, and they are capable of making life difficult for Antonio Conte’s side. The trip to Azerbaijan may be the most difficult part of the Blues’ two matches against Qarabag.
Though one of the tougher draws for the English sides, Chelsea ought to advance. To finish second in this group is no shame, as Atlético are a top class side. Roma are the side Chelsea need be wary of. Worst case scenario, Chelsea end up in the Europa League, though that would no doubt disappoint the faithful.
The draw was particularly unkind to Tottenham. The Londoners face holders Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and APOEL in Group H. Spurs failed to advance out of an easier group a year ago, and are faced with an uphill challenge if they want to improve on that third place finish. Back-to-back champions Real are favorites to win the group. 1997 champions Dortmund are no strangers to the knockout rounds either. Though APOEL have advanced from the group stage before, it is entirely possible that they will finish with zero points.
Six points from two ties against APOEL is a must for Tottenham. Assuming Real and Dortmund manage the same, Spurs need to take points off at least one and hope they cancel each other out in their two meetings. Not an impossible task for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, but one that would require an improved performance and a fair share of luck.
Pep Guardiola’s side will feel confident heading into Group F play. Drawn against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, and Dutch champions Feyenoord, City are favorites to top the group. Shakhtar will provide a test, as trips to Ukraine are always difficult, but Napoli may be City’s best competition in the group. Feyenoord have the quality to complicate proceedings, but look unlikely to advance.
The Citizens ought to win this group reasonably comfortably. Three home wins is definitely doable, and bagging another three plus points on the road would almost certainly mean advancing. The knockout stage will be expected by the City faithful.
After finishing fourth last year, the Reds faced a two-legged tie against Hoffenheim to qualify for the group stage. Jürgen Klopp’s side turned in a devastating attacking display to advance 6-3 on aggregate. The Group E draw was fairly kind to Liverpool, pitting them against Russian champions Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, and Slovenian league winners Maribor. Liverpool look likely to advance from the group, with Sevilla their main competition for first place. Spartak and Maribor will be out to spoil the party.
Five-time Europa League winners Sevilla will provide Liverpool with the stiffest competition. The added motivation of avenging their 2016 final defeat at the hands of the Spanish side may help propel the Reds to top spot. Spartak, who have failed to feature in the Champions League since 2001, and Maribor, who have never advanced beyond the group stage, will compete for third place.
José Mourinho’s team, drawn in Group A, will face Portuguese champions Benfica, Swiss Super League winners Basel, and CSKA Moscow. Though United could have drawn Real, Bayern Munich, or Juventus, their group is not as straightforward as it may seem. The Red Devils finished third in a group with both Benfica and Basel in the 2011-12 season, and dropped points to CSKA in their disappointing campaign four years later.
That being said, finishing anywhere but top of the group would be a surprise. United have too much quality in their side not to advance; the way they have started the league season suggests they could win the group by some margin. Mourinho is no doubt eager to lead his side deep into the competition’s knockout stage, a place the club have not seen since they reached the 2011 final.
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