Assi di Coppe: Our Preview of Champions League 2018-19

Last Thursday, the draw for the world’s biggest club football competition took place. It had been anticipated ever since the conclusion of last season’s Champions League final, when Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev.

Controversy surrounded the draw venue in Monaco when organizers and players were made aware that Cristiano Ronaldo would not be attending. If gossip is to be believed, the Portuguese discovered that he would not be awarded winner of Best Player of the tournament for the previous season and decided not to show up – even after hearing the prize would go his former teammate Luka Modric.

But let’s focus on what really matters: The draw itself.

Every year, one group is labelled the “group of death” and this year the moniker went to Group C. Paris Saint-Germain, the richest club on earth, has been a perpetual candidate for winning the tournament in recent years. This season they have run out of excuses – anything short of reaching the semi-final stage will be extremely disappointing, following huge investment in their squad. It will be interesting to see how new manager Thomas Tuchel handles a changing room bulging with egos.

In Napoli’s side we find an extremely experienced manager – three times Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti – who was hired in part to help push them further on the European stage. His team appear more mature than in previous seasons.

Liverpool meanwhile are ready to continue their love story with the competition after performing to an excellent standard all the way to last season’s final. This summer the team made two additions that could make the difference – the second most expensive goalkeeper in history, Alisson, and the Guinean midfielder Naby Keita.

To complete the group, Red Star Belgrade return after 26 years. The last time they participated, they won the tournament with players such as Dejan Savicevic and Robert Prosinecki, who remain in the memories of football lovers all over Europe.,h_768,q_auto:good,w_1366/
Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and Neymar…With such a trio of strikers, Paris Saint-Germain are among the favorites to win the European title…Will this be the right time for President Al-Khelaifi’s side?

Group B is almost as difficult as C. With the Spanish champions Barcelona finally willing to overcome Neymar’s departure, they have reinforced the team with excellent additions; the very experienced Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, young Brazilian winger Malcom and French defender Clément Lenglet. Not to mention the very expensive transfers of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Démbéle last year.

Tottenham Hotspur on the other hand, didn’t sign any new players but managed to keep hold of all of their stars, demonstrating the confidence coach Mauricio Pochettino has in his players. Most important of these was this summer’s World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, who received a significant salary increase for his trouble.

The Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven appear the weakest team in the group, but will no doubt aim to surprise us.

We welcome back Internazionale too. It is their first Champions League participation since 2012. Will Mauro Icardi, Radja Nainggolan, Lautaro Martinez, Sime Vrsaljko and company be able to overcome such a difficult group?
Midfielder Malcom seemed close to landing a deal with Roma, before suddenly changing direction in favor of Barcelona. The Brazilian joined Arturo Vidal and Clément Lenglet to reinforce the Azulgrana (Photo: Reuters)

Group A
also has some interesting fixtures.

With the Europa League winners Atlético Madrid’s preoccupation with lifting La Orejona, Antoine Griezmann was tempted to stay – in doing so making him one of the best paid players in the world. In addition, they added great names like world champion Thomas Lemar (the most expensive player in Atlético’s history), the Colombian right back Santiago Arias and midfielder Rodri, recently called-up by Luis Enrique to the Spanish national team.

Probably the second strongest team in the group are Borussia Dortmund who will endeavor to rediscover their European glory days through new striker Paco Alcacer, joining from Barcelona.

AS Monaco have always been an unpredictable team – great European performances often followed by disappointing ones. They have sold most of their stars in the past two seasons so it will be interesting to see how they overcome this handicap.

With little chance of making it through, the group is completed by the Belgians of Club Brugge.

In Group H we find Juventus – one of the biggest favorites, especially after the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo. After playing two finals in the last four seasons, will this finally be their year?

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are losing status year after year in Europe. After a very disappointing start to the English Premier League season, they may struggle to progress especially as Valencia are back in the competition. Manager Marcelino leads a team including some interesting new signings such as Goncalo Guedes, Kevin Gameiro and Michy Batshuayi.

To complete the group, the Swiss team of Young Boys will make their debut in the competition. Reaching the group stage is already a great result for them.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus will be one of the biggest draws not only in Group H, but in the whole Champions League

Group D
might be the least interesting for many, but at the same time it features four teams with a very similar level of ability. Russian champions Lokomotiv Moscow will try to make it through with a very experienced squad composed of players such as Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jefferson Farfan, Vedran Corluka, Benedikt Howedes and local star Fedor Smolov.

Portuguese champions Porto will try to relive their glory days when they were coached by Jose Mourinho. Galatasaray and Schalke 04 complete the group.

In Group G we find the current holders Real Madrid, who are soon to reach the milestone of being reigning European champions for 1000 days straight. The biggest challenge will be to see how the team reacts after the departure of their biggest star CR7. Interestingly the chairman, Florentino Pérez, has decided not to make any major investment, preferring to rely on youngsters.

After reaching the semi finals last season, Roma should have no major difficulties in making it through their group since the other two teams, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen, appear of a much lower standard.
The Champions League will pick up from where it left off: Real Madrid and their captain Sergio Ramos lifting the trophy for the third time in a row, and the fourth time in five years! (Photo: Reuters)

In Group E Bayern Munich are favorites to (easily) win their pool, and are one of the candidates to lift the cup this season.

Fighting for second place in the group will be Benfica (twice European Cup winners), as well as Ajax (four times winners) who return to the competition after four years. They are a very attractive team to watch, combining experienced players such as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic, with young talents like Hakim Ziyech, Frenkie De Jong and Donny Van de Beek.

Nevertheless, all of them will struggle to get points from Greece when they play against AEK, considering the hostile atmosphere guaranteed at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

Group F features another one of the biggest favorites for the title, and one of the teams that plays the most aesthetically-pleasing football: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City seem ready to play their first ever final, and return English football to the top of the football tree.

They will be challenged by the perennially dangerous Ukrainian team of Shaktar Donetsk, who are becoming a staple of the competition, getting stronger and more experienced year after year.

After losing Mariano Díaz to Real Madrid, Olympique Lyonnais will nevertheless try and show the great football style that made them popular at the beginning of this century.

German club Hoffenheim will make their debut under one of the youngest managers in Europe, Julian Nagelsmann, who is only 31 years old.

In summary, the usual suspects seem likely to continue their domination of the competition, and the Champions League trophy will be newly etched with the name of any one of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich. If one thing is for certain though, it is that football is often unpredictable.

Time to make your bet!