September has arrived, and with it the 2015–2016 UEFA Champions League group stage. There is the potential of plenty of gorgeous goals and heart stopping saves, so this season is bound to be a doozy. Here are my thoughts on each group:
Group A will have 2014 champions Real Madrid face off against rising European power PSG, who hope that their new signing Angel Di Maria will help the Ligue 1 winners win their first ever Champions League title. PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimović will also be excited at the opportunity to showcase his talents back in his home country, as Sweden’s Malmo FF was drawn into his group.
Group B will see the return of Manchester United to European action after a one year hiatus. Buoyed by their big-money signings Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial, they’ll hope to overcome a tough opening day loss to Depay’s former team PSV, as well as navigate CSKA Moskva and VfL Wolfsburg.
If you’re both a soccer fanatic and a geography nerd, then Group C is just what the doctor ordered. Benfica and Kazakhstani debutants Astana are both in the group, and the travel distance between the two clubs is approximately 7350 km, the longest ever in Champions league history. What Astana might lack in skill they more than make up for in unpronounceable (and therefore awesome) names. They’ll hope that starting the likes of Zhakyp Kozhamberdy and Bauyrzhan Dzholchiev will help baffle the other teams into submission.
Manchester City will be wondering what they did to anger the soccer gods after they were put into Group D, arguably one of this season’s toughest groups. To advance to the final 16, they’ll have to get through last year’s Europa league winners Sevilla, last year’s Champions League runners up Juventus, and Borussia Monchengladbach. Their task is made even tougher after their opening day loss to Juve, who came back from a 1–0 deficit to beat them.
Last year’s champions Barcelona have a relatively simple task ahead of them in Group E. Their opponents Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, and Belarusians BATE Borisov will definitely put up a fight, but Messi and Suarez should have no problem making the next round, even after their draw with Roma.
Arsenal fans will be dusting off their well-worn Lederhosen as they prepare to visit German opposition for the fifth straight season. Bayern Munich vs Arsenal will be the marquee matchup in Group F and should decide who tops the group. Though the other two sides, Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb, definitely have talent, the German and English giants should navigate comfortably into the next round.
Someone who might have trouble traversing the treacherous tides of the group stage is Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side. Their horrendous start to the league campaign has them sitting 17th in the Premier League, and has definitely given hope to Group G sides FC Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, and even Maccabi Tel-Aviv that they could potentially defeat the lads from London.
Finally, Group H brings us probably the most even group, containing the likes of Russian Champions Zenit St. Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon, and Gent. Zenit and Valencia might be slight favourites, but both know a slight slip up will open the door wide open for the other two clubs.
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