With the UEFA Champions League starting on Tuesday 12th September, ENRG Sport is previewing the famous European competition by analysing each of the eight groups. Providing you with all the information so you know what to expect as the tournament progresses.
By Luke Barry
Next up is Group B. A group of two battles? That’s how it may feel for fans of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic and R.S.C. Anderlecht, with the German and French outfits likely to be squabbling over who can call themselves top dog, while Celtic and Anderlecht will have their eyes on third place and the Europa League knockout ticket that comes with it. At least that’s what we should expect.
Here’s a run-down of each of the team’s chances.
Do Bayern have anything else to prove? Certainly not at domestic level, with the Bavarians taking a fifth Bundesliga title in succession. It wasn’t as plain sailing as that mere fact would suggest, with the young and rising Red Bull Leipzig challenging Bayern early on before seeing their assault falter.
With little left to achieve in their homeland, Carlo Ancelotti’s second season in hinges on their European fortunes. Everybody connected with the club will feel hard done by after last year’s controversial quarterfinal against eventual winners Real Madrid, but the focus has to be on the present rather than the past. Bayern haven’t won the Champions League since they beat arch rivals Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in 2013, but perhaps more importantly they haven’t even made a final since. For a team as large as Bayern Munich, is this good enough?
The German champions were quiet about their business in this summer. The main stories surrounded who left rather than who came in, with the exception of their loan swoop for Columbian star James Rodriguez. Club legend Philipp Lahm and midfield maestro Xabi Alonso both retired, with winger Douglas Costa and centre back Medhi Benatia moving to Juventus, the former on loan, with Kingsley Coman going the other way, the Frenchman signing permanently for Bayern.
Their squad isn’t all that thick in comparison with others but it is brimming with quality. There is no key man for Bayern per say in that the whole team is so well sorted, particularly at the back with Manuel Neuer in between the sticks, the ever reliable Mats Hummels just in front and two exciting full backs in David Alaba and the versatile Joshua Kimmich. And of course, Robert Lewandowski will bang in a goal or two.
Tournament odds: 13/2
It’s no secret the Qatar owned club’s aim is to become the powerhouse of Europe. To be the ones they all want and need to beat. This summer is proof that the Parisians are serious about their ambition, and the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League could well be their best tournament to date.
The focus may well be on the rest of Europe, but PSG have a score to settle at home first. Second in the league to ASC Monaco was underwhelming last term given the wealth of the club. In this cut-throat, modern game, many were surprised that manager Unai Emery kept his job.
Keep his job he did, and now he has some of the world’s best attacking talent at his disposal.
PSG’s summer transfer window was record-breaking. They didn’t just smash the transfer record, they more than doubled it and even obliterated it again later in the window with the signing of French teenager Kylian Mbappe from league rivals Monaco.
The big news was of course the acquisition of Neymar Jr; to many the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne. The Brazilian has started quickly in the French capital, scoring three in as many games but then again he ought to., given he cost PSG just shy of £200m.
To compensate for such an enormous spending spree, the squad had to be lightened. Out went Blaise Matuidi, Serge Aurier and Grzegorz Krychowiak (loan), with Dani Alves coming in on a free to rekindle his relationship with PSG’s number 10.
Neymar is unquestionably the man most likely to do the damage, but he has some very capable team mates. Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, Lucas Moura, Julian Draxler, Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore: would you want to come up against any of them?
Tournament odds: 13/2
Are the Belgian champions the underdogs in this group? The Costa-Rica in the 2014 World Cup up against Uruguay, England and Italy? That’s a matter of opinion, but they certainly have been drawn in an unfavourable group with two European giants and a former European Cup winner.
Anderlecht, the most successful team in Belgian football history, had a hard fought campaign last term with rivals Club Brugge. It came down to the final day of the regular season, with Anderlecht stealing the top spot from Brugge with a 3-0 win over Waasland-Beveren. This gave them the upper hand heading into the championship play-offs, which they duly won to earn automatic qualification into this year’s UEFA Champions League.
The Belgian champions spent last season in the Europa League, advancing to the quarterfinals before being disposed by Manchester United. This year Rene Weiler’s side will be looking for a solid Champions League run, and to avoid the prospect of no European football at the turn of the calendar year.
Anderlecht’s transfer window was quiet quiet, with three players coming in and three leaving the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. Midfielders Sven Kums and Pieter Gerkens joined from Watford and Sint-Truidense respectively, with Uros Spajic moving from Toulouse to strengthen the defence with Fabrice N’Sakala, Rafael Galhardo and Bram Nuytinck all leaving the club.
Expect Polish striker Lukasz Teodorczyk and Algerian attacking midfielder Sofiane Hanni to make the difference.
Tournament odds: 500/1
Celtic are currently the undisputed kings of Scottish football. Under Brendan Rodgers they went the entire domestic season undefeated, lifting the league title and both cups in Scotland, with the Northern Irishman trying to instil a new style of play in Glasgow.
Not much to improve at home then, but their European exploits last season are best forgotten. The campaign started incredibly with a 3-3 draw at home to the in-form Manchester City, but from there it crumbled, with an embarrassing defeat to Bayern Monchengladbach at home and a crushing 7-0 battering by Barcelona destroying the Scots’ dreams.
Both ties looked worrying at stages, but Celtic successfully reached the group stages after defeating Linfield and then Astana to have a second stab at Champions League football under the former Liverpool manager.
Entering Rodgers’ third European push, the focus will be on improving from last year with the chance to seal third in the group and a Europa League spot a challenging but very real possibility. The return of Patrick Roberts on loan is a big coup for the Celts, with Leigh Griffiths, Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair all remaining at the club after successful terms last year. Midfielders Jonny Hayes, Kundai Benyu and Olivier Ntcham all join the Glaswegian club in what looks to be a more solid squad all round.
When it comes to key men, the 60,000 fans at Celtic Park are their most likely key to success. Even Lionel Messi has commented on the special European atmosphere at Celtic’s home ground, it’s a place his Barcelona side famously lost at in 2011. For Celtic this season however, it will all be about their performances against Anderlecht.
Tournament odds: 250/1
Luke’s Group B prediction:
- Bayern Munich