Without being jaw droppingly magnificent, Real Madrid have managed to win three Champions League trophies on the bounce now. But with the departures of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, surely a fourth in a row is unlikely? Well, we’ll find out soon enough. Only the 2018/19 Champions League is upon us.
Before we start getting too carried away about who exactly will be picking up the trophy at the end of the 27th Champions League season, we need to first concern ourselves with the not insignificant matter of the group stages. So let’s do just that now, shall we…?
The inclusion of Belgian types Club Brugges in Group A won’t scare the other three sides here. Ivan Leko’s Blauw-Zwarts might currently be the strongest team domestically but they’re European minnows and highly unlikely to bother anyone here. Monaco have pedigree at this level but have started their Ligue Un campaign poorly and lost players over the summer. Most notably, Thomas Lemar to group rivals Atlético Madrid.
Our prediction? Stronger than ever, Atléti should sail through this group, with Lucien Favre’s Borussia Dortmund snatching second place and qualifying alongside them.
First games: Tuesday 18th September – Club Brugge vs. Borussia Dortmund (8pm), Monaco vs. Atlético Madrid (8pm).
Plenty of football fans will remember the classic Spurs vs. Inter Milan ties that saw the emergence of Gareth Bale on the European scene. The two clubs have been matched up again in Group B with Dutch legends PSV Eindhoven and the giants of Spanish football that are Barcelona. This is definitely a group to keep an eye on. Inter have started a little sloppy so far this season under Luciano Spalleti and Spurs will approach their ties as they did last season when topping their tricky group – without fear.
Our prediction? Barca and Tottenham to go through with Inter and PSV missing out
First games: Tuesday 18th September – Barcelona vs. PSV (5.55pm), Inter Milan vs. Spurs (5.55pm).
Want goals? This is the group for you. With last season’s top scorers Liverpool here alongside Neymar and Cavani – as well as the often free-scoring boys from Naples, you’ve got to assume it’ll be goals galore here. Red Star Belgrade (or ‘Crvena Zvezda’ as they’re now known) are likely to take a series of hammerings here, you’d think.
Our prediction? Jurgen Klopp’s penchant for Europe makes Liverpool slight favourites for us. Obviously Paris Saint-Germain will run them close, though. They’ll go through with Napoli narrowly missing out and Crvena Zvezda lucky to register a point.
First games: Tuesday 18th September – Red Star Belgrade vs. Napoli (8pm), Liverpool vs. PSG (8pm).
The draw made for some fascinating and intriguing-looking groups. For that to be possible, we needed a group of four also-rans. And Group D is it. Let’s face it, only fans of Porto, Schalke, Locomotiv Moscow and Galatasaray will check for results here.
Our prediction? The experience that Porto have in the competition should see them through, alongside Schalke, perhaps.
First games: Tuesday 18th September – Schalke vs. Porto (8pm), Galatasaray vs. Locomotiv Moscow (8pm).
German champions Bayern Munich, under their Croatian boss Niko Kovač, have been handed a kind draw. They’ll presumably have little trouble up against the likes of Greek underdogs AEK Athens, Benfica and Ajax. Joshua Kimmich will be looking to atone for a poor World Cup, but carry on his otherwise blistering 2017/18 form here.
Our prediction? Bayern should dominate, with AEK the whipping boys. It’s then up to the Amsterdam and Lisbon sides to work out who squeaks into the knockouts with the Germans. Our hunch is it’ll be Benfica.
First games: Wednesday 19th September – Ajax vs. AEK Athens (5.55pm), Benfica vs. Bayern Munich (8pm).
Lyon had a darn good season last time out in the league, narrowly missing out on second spot to Monaco and scoring more than any other side outside of Paris. They lost Mariano Diaz back to Real Madrid, but picked up Moussa Dembélé from Celtic and can be backed to do well in Europe again, we reckon. Obviously, Man City are no slouches themselves and both sides will fancy overcoming Hoffenheim and Shakhtar here.
Our prediction? Manchester City could go all the way this year and should find this group something of a cinch. Lyon might struggle against Pep’s lot, but have enough to get past their German and Ukrainian foes and into the knockouts.
First games: Wednesday 19th September – Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Hoffenheim (5.55pm), Man City vs. Lyon (8pm).
We started off with a rather bold prediction that Julen Lopetegui is unlikely to win himself a Champions League medal at the first time of asking. But then few people would have anticipated Zidane winning three out of a possible three. Real are, after all, a special club. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo is big, though and they didn’t exactly buy anyone huge over the summer (apart from Courtois who is, of course, massive…). That said, with Modric, Bale and Isco, they’re hardly likely to struggle. Roma made the semi-finals last year, narrowly losing out on goal difference to Liverpool. They’ll be confident of repeat heroics, although losing their ‘keeper to their Merseyside tormentors won’t help their chances. Czech boys Viktoria Plzen and Russians CSKA Moscow are just along for the (all too brief) ride.
Our prediction? Real Madrid to blast through the group, taking Roma with them.
First games: Wednesday 19th September – Real Madrid vs. Roma (8pm), Viktoria Plzen vs. CSKA Moscow (8pm).
Real might not have Ronaldo in their ranks, but Juventus do. The Portuguese star will line up against his old Mancunian employers in Europe this season too. Along with former Spanish rivals Valencia and the Swiss boys of, er, Young Boys.
Our prediction? Juventus have started well in Serie A this season, winning three out of three. Ronaldo has, unsurprisingly, been central to it all – racking up more shots on target than any other player in the league. He is, though, yet to score. That’ll change in Europe, no doubt. Juve should qualify well and Young Boys should taking a few canings. It’s a straight fight between United and Valencia for second and we’re siding with the Spaniards.
First games: Wednesday 19th September – Valencia vs. Juventus (8pm), Young Boys vs. Man United (8pm).
When the best clubs from across Europe meet, you expect to have difficulty in picking a winner. And we do. But not for the usual reasons. Ordinarily we would look at the clubs competing and complain that there are too many amazing sides that could compete for the trophy. While we’re hardly telling you that everyone is rubbish this year, it’s true to say that the usual big hitters have reasons to oppose them. Real are much changed, Barca don’t look as strong as last year (and came nowhere near last time out) and PSG are still getting used to their new boss and his tactics.
Where does that leave us, then? Well, English sides or an outsider. Manchester City are 9/2 favourites currently, so plenty of people are tipping them. While we fancy them, there’s very little value in backing them. Liverpool though, at a healthy 12/1 do appeal. We can see a small upset this year and like the look of 14/1 on Atlético Madrid. Last year’s Europa League winners have an improved squad, retained their excellent manager and never get rolled over. They might not be pretty about it, but we can see the 2014 and 2016 runners-up going one better and winning the thing this year.
You don’t really need us to tell you by now, but we will anyway… We will, of course, be bringing you all live Champions League games at Rileys over the season. So whoever you support – a team involved or not – don’t miss the best football on Earth. Head on to your nearest Rileys and watch the game!