Champions League group stage: Which teams will advance?

Champions League group stage: Which teams will advance?

Soccer

Champions League group stage: Which teams will advance?

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With the draw finalized for the Champions League, 32 teams in eight groups will provide top-shelf football competition beginning next week. In keeping with the rules of past tournaments, no teams from the same country will compete against each other in the initial stage of play. With the top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout stages of competition, let’s take a closer look at which teams will be advancing to the round of 16 so that you can win your Champions League Bets.

Group A- Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid. 

While both PSG and Real Madrid are coming off disappointing seasons in their last campaigns, they must be considered the cream of the crop in group A. PSG is starting the CL with their two goal-scorers (Cavani and Mbappe) nursing injuries but will be boosted by the return of Neymar. Real Madrid seems to be improving under a revamped system orchestrated by manager Zinedine Zidane.  With their group competition of a second-place Brugge in the Belgian League and current 5th place Turkish side Galatasaray, look for both PSG and Real Madrid advancing to the knockout stages of the CL, followed by eliminated teams Galatasaray and Brugge.

Group B- Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade, Olympiacos, Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham eliminated Ajax and Manchester City on their road to the CL finals last year. They may have lost to Liverpool, ending as runners-up, but they have an opportunity to get to the finals again this year. With German champions Bayern their only formidable opponent, look for Spurs to finish top of the group. They will be followed closely by Bayern Munich, who were disappointing last year and fell in the round of 16.  But they should have little trouble beating their Serbian and Greek opponents to clinch a spot in the next round. As for the other two group teams, look for Olympiacos to finish third, edging out Red Star Belgrade on goal differential.  

Group C- Atalanta BC, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester City.

With Manchester City virtually assured of advancing to the next stage, look for Ukranian side Shakhtar Donetsk to advance as well, having won their last 5 consecutive matches in the Ukranian Premier League under new Portuguese head man Luis Castro.  While Dinamo Zagreb has won 13 of the last 14 Croatian league titles, they have only managed to garner four points from 18 prior CL matches and appear poised for an early exit. As for Atalanta, this appearance represents their first CL competition. Currently mid-table in Serie A, garnering enough points to surpass Manchester City or even Donetsk in the group is too high a mountain to climb.  Look for the Atalanta players to be focusing all of their efforts in Serie A after their CL run ends in December.

Group D- Bayer Leverkusen, Atletico Madrid, PSV Locomotiv Moscow, Juventus.

With a ninth-straight domestic league title seemingly in hand, the Old Lady will focus her attention on the CL.  After a disappointing loss to Ajax in the quarterfinals last year, look for Ronaldo and company to take the top spot in group D, edging out Atletico Madrid. While Atleti are going through a transformation of their own, they have more than enough talent to see their way past group play.  While Bayer is a top six team in the Bundesliga, a 4-0 loss to Dortmund on Saturday shows they still have room for improvement, while Russian side Locomotiv Moscow was unable to defend its domestic title last season and can be expected to finish bottom of the group.

Group E- FC Salzburg, KRC Genk, Liverpool, Napoli.

With defending champions Liverpool clearly the cream of the crop in group E, look for Serie A side Napoli to advance out of group play as well.  Led by veteran manager Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli finished in second place in Serie A last season (behind Juventus) and should be seen as the other team to advance to the knockout stage.  While not advancing, we give Red Bull Salzburg the nod to take the 3rd spot, with new American manager Jesse Marsch getting the opportunity to match wits with some of the greatest managers of this generation. As for Genk, the loss of striker Leandro Trossard and manager Philippe Clement will facilitate an early CL exit for last year’s Belgium champions.

Group F- Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague.

In what could be seen as the group of death, our sympathies are extended to last year’s Czech League winners Slavia Prague for being drawn into a group where it is all but certain they will finish in last place.  As far as the other three teams, only two can advance, and it appears that new manager Antonio Conte doesn’t have quite enough quality in place yet to advance past the other two powerhouses. The memories of Barca’s CL match at Anfield earlier this year should be enough to propel them out of group play.  As for Dortmund, they finished just behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga last season. With the additions of Mats Hummels, Thorgan Hazard and Nico Schulz during the summer, they are a stronger team this season. Look for Barca and Dortmund to battle it out for the top spot in group F, with Inter Milan and Slavia Prague eliminated from current CL competition. 

Group G- FC Zenit, Olympique Lyonnais, RB Leipzig, FC Benfica.

With group F being the group of death, group G should be seen as the most evenly matched with no one team standing out.  This is potentially the group to stay away from if you’re involved in sports betting as the outcomes for group G may be unpredictable. Having said that, look for Leipzig and Lyon to advance. Lyon has seen the return of legend Juninho as sporting director, as well as the addition of goal-scorer Thiago Mendes.  Leipzig has started the season strong under new manager Julian Nagelsmann, who at age 32 is considered one of the top tactical minds in the Bundesliga. Zenit St Petersburg should finish in the third spot, having acquired Malcom from Barcelona and Douglas Santos from Hamburg in the summer window.  Look for the lone Portuguese entrant Benfica to finish bottom of the table, having lost their young phenom Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid without a suitable replacement.

Group H- AFC Ajax, Chelsea, Lille, Valencia.

Another evenly matched group, the group has the distinction of rostering three Americans, Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Sergino Dest (Ajax) and Tim Weah (Lille). While Ajax has lost a couple of their players in the transfer window, they still have enough talent to advance to the knockout stage of the CL once again.  Europa League winners Chelsea lost key offensive midfielder Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, are under a FIFA-mandated transfer ban for the season and have an inexperienced manager (Frank Lampard). While having some success in the EPL thus far this season, they are fielding a youthful squad who are inexperienced on the world stage. Valencia reached the Europa League semifinal match last season before bowing out.  This season, however, they’ve started their La Liga campaign slowly, and fired their manager earlier in the week. As for Lille, the loss of Thiago Mendes, Nicolas Pepe and Rafael Leao has proven to make them less of a contender than their second-place finish in Ligue 1 last season. Look for Valencia and Lille to finish 3rd and 4th in group play, thus ending their season’s CL run.

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