Group A: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco, Club Brugge
Group A is pretty straightforward with a number of competitive games, a clear leader in Atleti, and a tight battle for second between Dortmund and Monaco. Club Brugge will likely be the whipping boys, but they will look to steal points off Les Monegasques, if they can.
Dortmund should be overjoyed that they avoided strong pot 3 teams like Liverpool and Valencia and instead drew a Monaco team who are trending down. After being raided two summers in a row, Les Rouges et Blancs are nowhere near as strong as they were when they won Ligue Un in 2016-2017. While they have a chance of claiming second in the group, the Europa League spot seems a more appropriate goal.
Group B: FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspurs, PSV Eindhoven, Inter Milan
Group B is one of the more difficult groups from this draw. Barca, Spurs, and Inter all represent top teams, who rightly feel they should progress to the knockout stages. Eindhoven probably wish they could switch places with rivals Ajax in group E, as there is likely no way out for them after this draw.
Winner: Hirving “Chucky” Lozano
Although Eindhoven will struggle to do any damage as a team in this group, exciting Mexican winger Hirving Lozano should use these games as a huge opportunity to impress some of the top clubs in Europe. He has already scored in the qualifier rounds of the tournament, and a goal against Barcelona at the Camp Nou would raise his profile even further after an excellent World Cup.
Loser: Tottenham Hotspurs
Tottenham may very well progress from this group (they may even win it, considering they won a group with Real Madrid in it last year), but drawing undoubtedly the strongest team from pot 4 in Inter Milan will do the Spurs no favors. Last season, Juventus snuffed Tottenham’s European campaign out in the round of 16. This year, another Italian giant, the Nerazzurri , who are not only returning to the Champions League for the first time in years but also had one of the best summer windows of any team, may play spoilers.
Group C: Paris Saint-Germain, SSC Napoli, Liverpool FC, Red Star Belgrade
This group has a lot of tension in it. Liverpool will try to stake their claim as a superpower, PSG will try to hold on to their status as outside contenders, and Napoli will attempt to prove that the magic didn’t leave with Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho.
Coming from pot 3, Liverpool could have ended up facing a whole host of European giants. Instead they got a PSG side, who don’t really have direction, and a Napoli squad that is retooling under Carlo Ancelotti. Topping this table convincingly would be a big statement, even facing against PSG and Napoli teams that aren’t at their peak powers.
PSG will rely heavily on Neymar and Mbappe’s combined brilliance in this group. Hamstrung slightly by FFP regulations because of the prior two’s transfer fees, PSG have been unable to build their squad at all this summer and instead have let a number of role players like Pastore and Berchiche go. The nightmare scenario would be for PSG to finish third in this group behind Liverpool and Napoli, a result which would almost certainly move Neymar and Mbappe to leave come summer 2019. This group is no less than a referendum on the whole PSG project.
Group D: Lokomotiv Moscow, FC Porto, Schalke 04, Galatasaray SK
Everyone’s a winner in this group. This group has parity like no other and pretty much any combination could go through. While Porto and Schalke probably see themselves as favorites, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv are no pushovers. While this group is competitive, it is not exciting, and whoever progresses from this group will be viewed as dream draws in the knockout rounds.
Group E: Bayern Munich, Benfica, Ajax, AEK Athens
New Bayern manager Niko Kovac will be breathing a huge sigh of relief after avoiding teams such as Liverpool and Napoli early on his coaching tenure. Benfica and Ajax will have to fight tooth and nail to obtain progression, or else its back to Europa league obscurity for one of these continental giants.
Winner: Impressive Young Talent
Benfica and Ajax both boast many of the game’s most highly sought after young players, and they will all need to bring their A game to ensure a place in the knockouts for their club. Ajax will look to the likes of Barcelona target Frenkie De Jong, Hakim Ziyech, and Donny Van de Beek to operate a technical and fluid midfield, while young Netherlands prodigy Matthijs De Ligt anchors the defense. Benfica will look to Andrija Zivkovic to motor down the flanks, and young full back Alex Grimaldo to provide a sturdy spark running from the back.
Loser: Bayern Munich
Wait…here us out. Bayern often struggle late in the Champions League due to the lack of competitivity in the Bundesliga leaving them less sharp than most top sides. Now, without a team such as Spurs, Roma or Napoli, the Bavarian giants have a chance of falling into the trap of complacency much earlier this season. They will cruise through this group sure, but not earning opportunities through hardship may hurt Bayern come the later stages of the competition.
Group F: Manchester City, Shahktar Donetsk, Lyon, Hoffenheim
Group F will feature many interesting tactical battles, especially with the highly touted young coach Julian Nagelsmann of Hoffenheim coming up against Pep Guardiola and City. A trip to Ukraine is never an easy task for any club, and Lyon have enough weapons such as Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay to be considered fairly dangerous.
Winner: Manchester City
For the second year in a row the Cityzen’s have avoided any big name challenges in the group stage. The absence of Kevin De Bruyne for three months could have a massive effect on the longevity of their European and domestic title challenges, so a simple passage through to February’s matches will be ideal for Guardiola who must mount a better showing in this competition than last season’s epic collapse to Liverpool.
Loser: The Underdog Story
Hoffenheim’s first ever foray into the group stage won’t be easy whatsoever. They will need to be at their absolute best to make fans believe in them. Taking a point away from City will be difficult, and Shakhtar are no pushover, especially when an away trip to Ukraine is on the cards. While Nagelsmann is a prodigy in the coaching realm, this task might be too tall for the newcomers.
Group G: Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen
Make no mistake, all eyes will be on the rebuilding Madrid in this group. New manager Julen Lopetegui will be under pressure to replicate dominance in a competition that Madridistas associate with victory, and he’ll be going at it without Madrid’s best ever performer in Europe. It won’t be easy without Cristiano Ronaldo; however, the gap in quality between Roma and Madrid is deceptive, especially considering how well Roma performed to dump Barca out of the quarter finals last season.
Winner: Gareth Bale
Once the most expensive player in the world, the Welshman has often been overshadowed by Ronaldo in Europe’s top competition, until Madrid faced Liverpool in Kiev. Bale, a second half substitute, scored an incredible bicycle kick two minutes after coming on, and added a second goal later in the match to secure the trophy for Madrid. Bale must now prove he can pick up where Ronaldo left off, and he’ll be eager to provide more goals against whipping boys CSKA Moscow and Plzen to finally cement his place as Madrid’s top dog.
Loser: Fan Interest
There’s almost no universe where Madrid and Roma both don’t progress out of this group against minnows in Moscow and the Czech Republic. The lack of intrigue surrounding this group will harm fan interest, especially considering Madrid need a statement win against marquee opposition to prove they’ve truly moved on from CR7.
Group H: Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys
Speaking of marquee matchups, group H will provide fans with 90 minutes soaked in narrative: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford. Ronaldo’s first big test in Europe with his new club will be against the team that made him a star, and he will look to punish them en route to a fourth straight finals appearance for the Portuguese international.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
The spotlight never seems to stray too far from CR7. Juventus fans will be eager for the five time Champions League winner to finally lead them to the promised land, after stars such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo failed to deliver the biggest prize in club football to Turin. The Champions League is Ronaldo’s competition: he broke the single season scoring record last term, and a high profile victory against his former club is the perfect way to announce himself to the Italian faithful.
Loser: Jose Mourinho
A high pressure group stage clash is exactly the type of drama Jose Mourinho wanted to avoid. United are firmly in crisis mode, and are in no shape to face a team as organized as Juventus with a forward as prolific as Ronaldo. Valencia will prove a stern test for The Red Devil’s as well, who have high flyers Rodrigo and a returning Goncalo Guedes to attack United’s suspect back line. Mourinho needs to start game planning now, or else he could be facing the sack come the end of the group stage. More humiliation will not be tolerated.