The Champions League returns Tuesday (20th October) and yes it does feel like it has never been away. It has been just 51 days since the 2019/20 final took place in Portugal and wrapped up an exciting mini-tournament. The result that day saw Bayern Munich defeat PSG
1-0 to lift the trophy thanks to a Kingsley Coman goal.
Despite finding a format that fans and critics alike both loved, it is back to the long group stages of 32 teams broken into eight groups of four. Each side will be hoping to progress to the last 16 which is also sadly back to two-legged knockout games. It does though gives us plenty of games and most importantly many opportunities to hear that wonderful theme song. It also provides something else to do on a Tuesday night that does not involve soggy bottoms and creme anglaise. Just me with the Bake-off obsession then?
Here is your guide to all eight groups and all 32 teams. Along the way we offer our recommended bets and of course give you the heads up to which one you can tick off on your football cliche list as ‘the group of death.’
Champions League Group A
- Bayern Munich (Germany, defending Champions)
- Atletico Madrid (Spain, runners up 2013/14,2015/16)
- RB Salzburg (Austria, group participants 2019/20)
- Lokomotiv Moscow (Russia, last 16 2003/04)
Bayern Munich managed the seemingly impossible and have made a strong team even stronger by adding the speed and dribbling of Leroy Sane and Douglas Costa to a unit that already was the best in Europe.
This gives them further options to a side that already looked the strongest on paper. They should have far too much talent and depth for the other sides in this group and will easily come out on top.
The race here comes down to who will finish second between Atletico Madrid, RB Salzburg and Lokomotiv Moscow. The Austrian side are not ones to ignore given their performances last season including a narrow 4-3 loss to Liverpool. They no longer have goalscorer Erling Haaland though and might not be as prolific without him. The Russian outfit are probably the weakest of the four though Premier League fans will recognize captain Vedran Corluka and Moscow is never an easy trip.
It is the Spanish side then who should progress. Though not as strong as previous seasons and missing the departed Thomas Partey they should have enough talent in their midsts to follow home the German powerhouse which is the recommended bet.
Champions League Group B
- Real Madrid (Spain, 13 time winners most recently 2017/18)
- Inter Milan (Italy, 3 times winner most recently 2009/10)
- Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany, 3rd time in group stages)
- Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine, made last 16 in 3 of last 8 tournaments)
Real Madrid are the most decorated side in Champions League history with 13 titles while Zinedine Zidane is one of only three managers to lift the trophy three times. They possess obvious talent and Benzema and Hazard can win games on their own. That being said this is not the strongest side in their history and qualification is not guaranteed from their name alone.
The German side are dangerous opponents and managed a victory over Bayern in the league last season to show what they are capable of. Nobody will relish facing (or spelling) Shakhtar Donetsk either with the Ukranian outfit having got out of the group stages in three of their last eight and both teams will think they can qualify.
It is the Europa League runners-up Inter who are the value to win this group as they showed real improvement in the league last season and were unlucky to get out of a group with Dortmund and Barcelona in 2019/20.
Conte will have taken note of the way Madrid were beaten by Man City in the last 16 and has similar players available at his disposal to replicate the tactics of Guardiola while not to mention has a wealth of options up front.
Champions League Group C
- Man City (England, still seeking that elusive first Champions League)
- Porto (Portugal, made the knockout stages in last three seasons)
- Marseille (France, Winner 92/93, QF in 2011/12)
- Olympiakos (Greece, not made out of Groups in last 5 attempts)
Man City have been given what can only be described as a Man City draw and should have few problems wrapping up the group by matchday 4. Pep Guardiola and his side will have a point to prove after a shock loss to Lyon last season and should have more than enough to see off these opponents.
The battle will be on to finish second and all three sides will believe they are capable of ending up just behind the English side. Porto do what they do by selling players and discovering new ones who in turn will return a profit and they should be close. Marseille finished second in France last season so have to be respected but expected goals data suggested performances flattered them and they have started the new season slowly. Olympiakos have failed to make it out of the groups in their last five attempts but they have some good players including recent signing from Wolves left-back Ruben Vinagre.
The three outsiders have little to separate them and as such Olympiakos look the team worth the play to qualify at the biggest price of the other three and with question marks over their two market rivals.
Champions League Group D
- Liverpool (England, winners 2018/19)
- Atalanta (Italy, QF 2019/20)
- Ajax (Netherlands, SF 2018/19)
- FC Midtjyyland (Denmark, Debutants)
Liverpool have now won two major trophies in two seasons and now the intention is to claim them both in the same season. The addition of Tiago and no key losses means this is an experienced side who will go close again. Despite the tricky group they should be able to progress.
They might however not finish top as Atalanta showed last season in both domestic and European action just how capable they are. The Italians are a joy to watch and were minutes away from the semi-finals in 2019/20. Their pace and attacking movement could cause the Merseysiders real problems and they will have taken notice of the way that Aston Villa got about Liverpool in the Premier League.
It is likely to be those two and these two alone who progress as Ajax are not the same side who made the 2018/19 semi-finals. A natural cycle of the Dutch team is to lose key players and talent and this has happened the last two summers. They should finish third though ahead of an FC Midtjyyland side who could have caused problems in another group but will be out of their depth against this quality of opposition.
Champions League Group E
- Chelsea (England, made it out of the groups in last 5 CL appearances)
- Sevilla (Spain, Europa League holders)
- Rennes (France, Debutants)
- Krasnodar (Russia, Debutants)
Chelsea look to have an easy draw on paper and they will like their chances of qualifying here but they should be careful as all three opponents are dangerous. The London outfit have yet to hit full stride in the Premier League and are still working out their best 11 but they do have good squad depth which will help them compete on two fronts.
Sevilla are the Europa League champions (yup I’ve written and you’ve read that sentence before) but in doing so saw off both Inter and Man United. They are no mugs and might be the new third best team in Spain (ahead of Atletico and just behind the Big two). Julen Lopetegui is a sharp manager and should out-think Lampard to claim the top spot.
Of the other two Rennes are a dangerous side after a strong season in Ligue 1 last time out though the sale of keeper Edoaurd Mendy to their group rivals Chelsea could impact them. Krasnodar and a trip to Russia represents a tricky away day and the bigger sides in the group will have to be at their best with Swedish striker Marcus Berg a dangerous forward capable of getting among the goals.
Champions League Group F
- Borussia Dortmund (Germany, Made KO stages in 6 of their last 7)
- Lazio (Italy, failed to make it out of groups in last 5 appearances)
- Zenit St Petersburg (Russia, never made it past last 16)
- Club Brugge (Belgium, never made it out of the groups)
Dortmund are strong favourites to win this group as they have a wealth of firepower at their disposal with Sancho and Haaland expected to get among the goals. They do though have question marks at the back while it is a surprise to see Lucien Favre still at the helm of the German given that they seem to have become stuck at a certain level under the guidance of the Swiss coach.
Lazio are second in the betting and the side most likely to make it out after finishing fourth in Serie A but they are heavily reliant on Ciro Immobile and showed vulnerability at the back in a 4-1 loss to Atalanta earlier this season.
Zenit are lead by the talented Artem Dzyuba and with Russian football in general on the rise they are worth watching here.
It is the Belgian side though who get the nod as they showed last season in the groups what they can do. They grabbed a point at the Bernabeu and were unlucky to be grouped alongside PSG and Real Madrid. Diatta, Badji and De Ketelaere are an exciting front trio and can fire Club Brugge into the next round.
Champions League Group G
- Barcelona (Spain, have not made the final since 2014/15)
- Juventus (Italy, in just 2 of their last 15 have they failed to get out of the groups)
- Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine, only made last 16 in one of last 14 appearances)
- Ferencvarosi (Hungary, only second group stage appearance)
Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo is a mouthwatering prospect here in Group G and whichever team comes out on top of those fixtures should top the group in a section where the top two are head and shoulders above the other duo.
Ronald Koeman is at the helm for the Catalan side and while he has kept Messi he has not been able to do the business in the transfer window he hoped. The best hope for backers of the Spanish side is the club strengthen in January though if they finish runners-up here they could be left with a difficult last 16 tie.
Andreas Pirlo is in the dugout for the Italian side who made a mistake in their previous appointment by giving Maurizio Sarri the job. Pirlo is likely to prove more popular with Ronaldo and Co but will he have the tactical acumen needed to get the elusive Champions League trophy that this era demands.
Dynamo Kiev will be dangerous opponents as 17 of the side are part of the national set up and Ukraine recently beat Spain. The Hungarian outfit though look as they will be the whipping boys in what is only their second appearance in the group stages.
The recommendation is to take Juventus to see off Barcelona in the battle of the big two as they just look to have a little bit more about their squad than Barca.
Champions League Group H
- PSG (France, Beaten 2019/20 finalists)
- Man United (England, In two of last six appearances gone out in groups)
- RB Leipzig (Germany, made the semi-final in 2019/20)
- Istanbul Basaksehir (Turkey, Champions League debutants)
If any group is the group of death it is likely to be this one with three very strong sides battling it out for two places.
PSG are looking to go one better last season and lift the trophy after going down in the final to Bayern Munich last season. The French outfit possess arguably the best front three in Europe with Mbappe, Neymar and Icardi. At the back they are not as strong but should be the team to beat here.
RB Leipzig looked impressive last season en-route to the semi-finals of the Champions League and while the loss of Timo Werner is important they looked well equipped elsewhere to remain competitive.
Man United have made a poor start to the domestic season and they have looked a mess at the back while they have yet to find a formation to fit all their attacking talents together in. The Red Devils could be the one of the big three to miss out.
Istanbul Basaksehir are unfortunately in the group with three strong teams and not ending the campaign pointless would be seen as a major achievement.
The best here is backing the German side to come through as they have a strong manager in Julien Nagelsmann should have the nous to outthink Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Who wins the 2020/21 Champions League?
Bookmakers make three sides single figure prices to win the tournament with Man City and Bayern battling for favouritism with Liverpool just outside the duo. Of the three the Germans would appeal much more and while we could not put anyone off backing them it is better to look elsewhere for the value.
Three teams catch the eye in the outright markets with Inter the first option coming in at 33/1 with bet365. Antonio Conte has a fabulous attacking partnership in Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez alongside this you add the creativity of Ivan Persic and Achraf Hakimi with a solid spine and nobody will want to face the Italians.
The side who beat them in the Europa League final Sevilla go at 40/1 with various bookmakers and this looks great value. Julen Lopetegui is an excellent coach who showed in Europe last season that he can adjust personnel and system depending on the fixture.
The final option is RB Leipzig who can be found at 66/1 with bet365 and this is an insulting price on a side who made the last four last season and have shown they can still win at this level without Timo Werner.
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