By Joseph Layele
Holders Manchester City are favorite to reach the knockout stages after drawing RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys in Group G and we all know that group F is the group of death in this year Champions league that comprise Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Newcastle United.
We shall assess and be predicting the two teams that we qualify from each group stages this season.
Bayern Munich, Manchester United, FC Copenhagen, Galatasaray
This is a group loaded with box office fixtures, with Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane heading back to England to face old foes Manchester United, a club linked for so long with the former Tottenham striker. Man United signed Atalanta youngster Rasmus Hojlund and the Denmark international will get the chance to face his first club, FC Copenhagen, after the Danish champions were also paired with United and Bayern in Group A.
Turkish champions Galatasaray completes the group and with the plethora attacking talents of Mauro Icardi, Dries Mertens and Wilfried Zaha at their disposal they will be a dangerous outsider to watch.
United should be wary of Galatasaray and Copenhagen having suffered group stage defeats against both teams in the past. The next match for Manchester United is a must win after losing their first match at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern Munich and Manchester United have nine Champions League titles between them (Bayern six times, United three) and every season in which they play in the competition, the objective is to win it. However, the two teams are at different levels of readiness. Bayern’s summer move for Kane makes them a genuine threat to overthrown Manchester City while Man united are still in rebuilding process. Bayern are likely to dominate the group and beat everybody while Man United should be careful of places of instabul and should make sure they get maximum point at every match at Old Trafford.
Dark horse: Galatasaray.
Prediction: Bayern Munich top the table while Man United get the second spot.
Sevilla, Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven, Lens
Arsenal are back in the Champions League for the first time in six years and Mikel Arteta’s side have gotten a soft group. Although Sevilla have become the perennial Europa League winners — last season’s success earned them a place among the seeded teams in Pot 1.
PSV made it through to the group stage with a comfortable win against Rangers in the qualifiers, but I don’t see them posing a threat to Arsenal, despite a 2-0 win against the Gunners in the Europa League group stage last October. And while Lens narrowly missed out on the Ligue 1 title last season, finishing just a point behind champions Paris Saint-Germain, they have lost last term’s 21-goal top scorer, Loïs Openda, to RB Leipzig this summer. Arsenal should win Group B comfortably, they have the strongest team on paper. They easily dispatch Psv Eindoven for 4 in their first group match.
Despite Sevilla’s lowly finish in La Liga last season, they are stacked with European pedigree, having won seven Europa League titles in just 17 years, but I’ve been unable to translate that form in the Champions league. They have enough quality to finish second behind Arsenal.
Prediction: Arsenal top, sevilla second.
Napoli, Real Madrid, SC Braga, Union Berlin
This looks likely to be a two horse race between Italian champions Napoli and Real Madrid unless Braga and Union Berlin come with a element of surprise. Braga finished a distant third behind Benfica and Porto in the Primera Liga last season, but they were still able to edge out Sporting for Portugal’s final Champions League spot. Union Berlin, meanwhile, finished fourth in the Bundesliga just four years after being promoted to Germany’s top division for the first time and are making their UEFA champions league debut.
Against such European heavyweights as Real and Napoli, there is no chance for Braga and Union Berlin to qualify out of this group.
A straight forward group for me. Real Madrid tops the group and Napoli comes second.
Prediction: Real Madrid top and Napoli second.
Benfica, Inter Milan, FC Salzburg, Real Sociedad
This group is the most wide open group in this year Uefa Champions league and any of the four teams could finish top, and make it into the round of 16.
Benfica were beaten by Inter at the quarterfinal stage last season, and they will be hoping for revenge against the Italian team. This will be a tough test for Benfica and Inter Milan to edge past this group with teams like Salzburg who have proved themselves to be a strong group stage competitor — especially at home — while Real Sociedad are also capable of beating every team in the group.
Salzburg are likely to be the team to watch because of their ability to constantly produce young talent to replace the players they have moved on. Sadio Mané, Erling Haaland and Benjamin Sesko have all been produced from this club and I’ve moved to a bigger Club.
Inter Milan will squeeze themselves to win this group, while Benfica and Real Socieda fight it for second place.
Prediction: Inter tops and Benfica second.
Dark horse: Real Sociedad.
Feyenoord, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Celtic
Atletico Madrid must be the favourites, though their form in recent European campaigns has not been great. They have started their season really well domestically and if Diego Simeone can make this team play a more attacking style in Europe, they will be hard to beat.
Celtic Park will have to be a fortress for Brendan Rodgers’ team to progress.
Lazio have been poor in Serie A so far this season, losing their first two games, and said goodbye to their best player, midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, in the summer. However, Feyenoord also lost their playmaker, Orkun Kökcü, and their lack of experience in this competition could be an issue.
I believe this is a group the Spanish team should win. There will be tricky away ties, but they are the strongest side. The three other team will tussle it out for second place.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid wins the group while Lazio comes second.
Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, Newcastle United
This is undoubtedly the group of death.
It’s a superb draw and an exciting match-up if you are a neutral fan; a nightmare if you’re a fan of any of these four teams. With Milan in Pot 3, there was always a risk of a stacked group, and this is it!
PSG should be slight favourites because they have Kylian Mbappé, one of the best player in the world, back in their ranks after another summer of wondering whether he’d be leaving. Luis Enrique is trying to make his PSG squad play likes his former team Barcelona and after a summer of transfers, they will be tested to the limit in this hard group with teams like Dortmund, Milan and Newcastle.
Milan are not far behind them after good recruitment in the summer — Christian Pulisic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Yunus Musah and Samuel Chukwueze are all great additions — and their semifinal run in last season’s competition should give them a boost to go further again.
Borussia Dortmund have struggled so far in 2023-24, and losing Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid this summer leaves a gap in midfield that they’ll struggle to fill.
And Finally, Newcastle have a block-buster draw for their return after a 20-year absence. They have nothing to lose, and will compete with PSG and Milan for a place in the last 16.
Newcastle must get good results in all of their Saint james park stadium match to have any chance of qualifying from the group.
I expect a big battle between PSG, Newcastle and Milan for the top two spots. Dortmund are clearly behind the others, meaning it’s between Milan and Newcastle for second place — and with Newcastle getting a point at Milan in their first fixture, I fancy them to slightly finish second behind PSG.
Prediction: PSG tops and Newcastle second.
Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade, Young Boys
If there were a potential dream draw for Manchester City, this is just it.
The holders will face RB Leipzig, whom they destroyed last season in their last-16 home tie, with Erling Haaland scoring five goals. Leipzig are still a good team, but after losing their two best players (defender Josko Gvardiol to Man City, playmaker Christopher Nkunku to Chelsea), they’re not the force they used to be. Then you have Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys, two of the weakest sides in this draw.
Guardiola and Man City were given another gentle draw for the group stage.
City very much got the luck of the draw here. Pep Guardiola will be able to rotate his team easily, and the European champions could qualify for the last 16 very early. Even for Leipzig, this is a good draw considering the level of the other two teams in the group. The Germans will fancy massively their chances to advance.
Manchester City didn’t lose a single game last season in their winning campaign, but the one time they were a bit rattled was actually in Leipzig, where the home side gave them a good run for their money and got a convincing draw. They were then battered back in Manchester in the second leg, but let’s see what happens this time in Leipzig.
There is no match for City in this group and there is no match for Leipzig outside of City either. They will both battered young boys and Red Star Belgrade.
Prediction: Manchester top, leipzig second.
Barcelona, FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Royal Antwerp
Barcelona will be happy with this group compared with a year ago! Last season, when they got the toughest draw, with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. This time, they got one of the easier groups and Xavi will be very happy with who they are facing.
Porto are always a good team to play against and Portuguese teams haven’t been fun for Barcelona. However, the Catalans will be hungry to show that they can do better in the competition than last year.
That said, Porto should come out second, as they project to be too strong for Antwerp but got to be wary of a banana peel match with Shakhtar.
The Belgian champions Antwerp, will enjoy every second after having waited 66 years since their last, and only, appearance in the competition. For the Ukrainians, it’s another chance to give some joy, hope and support to their fans and their people.
Barcelona will top this group easily. Only their away game in Porto might be a bit tricky. Porto will finish second without too much trouble.
Prediction: Barcelona top, Porto second.