CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PREVIEW 2014-2015

Friday, September 12 2014, 03:43 PM
THE BEST FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT IN THE WORLD

The World Cup probably means more. The national leagues have longer histories. The other intercontinental competitions have their own measure of prestige. And Sepp Blatter's a big fan of the FIFA Club World Cup. But if you're interested in watching football being played as well as football can be played, then the Champions League is, quite simply, the pinnacle. As good as the game gets. The highest quality football tournament in the world.

Like everything else football has to offer at this particular point in human history, this cuts both ways. What was conceived as an international response to Wolverhampton Wanderers proclaiming themselves Champions Of The World, what developed into a chaotic tournament that made heroes of Nottingham Forest and let Maradona's Napoli crash out in the first round, is now an all-consuming juggernaut that looks, from its most unflattering angles, like a European Super League in all but name. Barcelona will play Paris Saint-Germain, you say? Again?

From its most flattering angles, though, there's nothing to compare. It helps, of course, that the core idea is still a simple and brilliant one. Wouldn't it be fun if the best teams from around Europe played each other? Wouldn't it be great if all the best players in the world came along? Well, duh.

As ever, there are plenty of continental titans with points to prove, with records to tick off, with ambitions to be sated. The union of Pep Guardiola and Bayern Munich has led to domestic dominance, yet the Bavarians never really convinced in Europe last season, and eventually found themselves exposed by a rampant Real Madrid. An undignified exit for such a union of club and coach, particularly since they'd been handing out the thrashings just the year before.

Elsewhere, Guardiola's old rival José Mourinho is attempting to become the first coach to lift the big-eared beauty with three different clubs, while Carlo Ancelotti attempts to become the first manager to win the thing for the fourth time, an achievement that would make Real Madrid the first side in the modern era to retain the trophy. Barcelona, wounded on and off the pitch, have an aura to repair, and Juventus are carrying the ailing reputation of Italian football on their shoulders.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are starting to reach the stage where colossal spending needs to yield continental results, while Spanish champions Atlético Madrid come into the tournament with revenge on their mind, having got within seconds of perhaps the most surprising triumph since Liverpool's 2005 comeback. And, since we're on the subject, Liverpool, five-time winners, are back in the big time; asked before the tournament began who he wanted to play, captain Steven Gerrard ignored an easy draw for the glitz and glamor of Real Madrid. And he got his wish.

There's individual glory to be had as well, as a new front opens up in the (perhaps imaginary, but never mind) battle for supremacy between two of the finest footballers ever to grace the game, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both sit on 67 goals, just four behind the all-time top scorer Raul's total of 71. Given that they scored 25 between them last time around, it's a near-certainly we'll have a new record holder by the time the sharp end of the tournament rolls around.

All that stuff comes at the end, of course. In the beginning is the group stage, a sprawling exercise in big teams trying not to trip over smaller teams, smaller teams trying their damnedest to trip them over, and the occasional group of death. But if things are perhaps a little more predictable early on, then the significance doesn't diminish; it simply moves on to those sides who don't and can't rely on being here every season. Liverpool and Roma, back from the wilderness; Swedish side Malmö FF, taking their first crack at this new format; Bulgarian upstarts Ludogorets, flying higher than they've ever flown before and getting a trip to the Bernabéu as their reward.

Ultimately, the worth of any football tournament rests on the games it produces near the end, and the journey it provides while getting there, and it's here that the Champions League simply cannot help but deliver. The structure, perhaps cynically, ensures that the majority of the big teams get the majority of the big places, and so ensures that the viewers get the big matches; meanwhile, at the level of the individual matches, the ingredients are just right. The perfect blend of footballing excellence, nervous tension, prestige, arrogance, hubris, floodlights, emergent hilarity, lingering injustice, enmity, and that wonderful anthem. No, it is wonderful. No, you shut up. Here's the preview. Get excited.

Group A

There are two European giants in Group A, with Spanish champions Atlético Madrid set to face Italian champions Juventus. However, they'll probably both be pretty pleased with the draw, which pits them against the comparatively weak Greek side Olympiacos and even weaker Swedish club Malmö FF.

TOPPING THE GROUP: ATLÉTICO MADRID

The idea of a Spanish team breaking the dual dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid seemed impossible — until last season. Diego Simeone's Atlético Madrid took La Liga by storm in an extraordinary campaign, eventually pipping Barça to take their first league title since 1996, as well as finishing runners-up to Real Madrid in the Champions League. They lack the depth of world-class players of their domestic rivals, but Simeone's compact, counterattacking style should mean they're competitive in this tournament once again.

SITTING SECOND: JUVENTUS

Juventus have won the Italian title comfortably for the last three seasons, with their powerhouse duo of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba ensuring they could just break their domestic competitors down with brute force, while Andrea Pirlo added some silky smooth passing into the mix. However, this season they could find life a little more difficult, since coach Antonio Conte has been replaced by a rather less-reputable tactician, Massimiliano Allegri. They should still progress into the knockout stages, but it remains to be seen whether they have what it takes to genuinely challenge Europe's biggest teams.

HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: OLYMPIACOS

Reigning Greek champions Olympiacos are certainly no European powerhouse, but that didn't stop them from pulling off an upset to finish ahead of Benfica and Anderlecht last season. Under coach Míchel they'll be extremely well-organized, using the attacking talents of the likes of Kostas Mitroglou, Ibrahim Afellay and Pajtim Kasami on the break, though they shouldn't have enough to overhaul either Atléti or Juventus.

FINISHING LAST: MALMÖ FF

The last side in Group A is Swedish outfit Malmö FF, who comfortably saw off Red Bull Salzburg in the playoffs to make the group stage. They may be reigning champions in the Allsvenskan, but it's difficult to envisage Åge Hareide's side picking up even a point from such a tough group. If they do avoid a big fat zero, their European campaign should be considered a success.


SCHEDULE

Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
Olympiacos vs. Atlético Madrid
Juventus vs. Malmö

Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
Malmö vs. Olympiacos
Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus

Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
Atlético Madrid vs. Malmö
Olympiacos vs. Juventus

Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
Malmö vs. Atlético Madrid
Juventus vs. Olympiacos

Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
Atlético Madrid vs. Olympiacos
Malmö vs. Juventus

Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
Olympiacos vs. Malmö
Juventus vs. Atlético Madrid

Group B

Group B is fairly straightforward, and should fall neatly into a one, two, three and four. But that's not to say there isn't going to be some fun here: both Madrid-Liverpool games promise to be excellent, and Basel will be hoping to bloody a couple of noses. Pity poor Ludogorets, however. Their first Champions League adventure could be short and painful.

TOPPING THE GROUP: REAL MADRID

One of the odd quirks of the Champions League is that since it rebranded itself in 1992, no team has retained the trophy. Then again, no team before has had Cristiano Ronaldo. Gareth Bale. James Rodríguez. Karim Benzema … look, you know the drill. The defending champions are unparalleled in their attacking power, and the rest of the team isn't too bad either. Perhaps the unbalance in the squad will prevent Real from claiming their 11th trophy, but they've never failed to get out of the group stage since it was introduced, and there's almost no way they don't eat this group alive.

SITTING SECOND: LIVERPOOL

Back in the big time after five long years away, and they’re drawn straight into a group with the defending champions — but Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard wanted Real Madrid, and he got his wish. The departure of Luis Suárez robs them of the kind of firepower they'd need to unseat Real from the top of the group, but they still have plenty of goals about them, and the five-time winners should slot neatly into second place. Expect them to be a handful at home, where their fans will revel in the return of European football, though their defense could well get found out in Spain. Oh, and Mario Balotelli against Pepe is going to be a battle worth watching.

HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: BASEL

Swiss champions five seasons in a row, FC Basel have developed a habit of inconveniencing bigger clubs in Europe. In 2011-12 they beat Manchester United to reach the last 16, and in 2013-14 they beat Chelsea home and away in the group stages, though they didn't make it any further. However, coach Murat Yakin has left the club, and although they have retained plenty of their talented Swiss youngsters, they're unlikely to have enough to outstrip either of the teams above them.

FINISHING LAST: LUDOGORETS

There are no shootouts in the group stage, and so Ludogorets will not have the chance to repeat their maverick defender-in-goal-for-the-penalty kicks strategy that saw them through to the group stage. It's hard to see anything other than plucky defeats for the Bulgarian champions in the four games against the big two, so they'll be targeting the home game against Basel as their most reasonable chance for points.


SCHEDULE

Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
Liverpool vs. Ludogorets
Real Madrid vs. Basel

Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
Basel vs. Liverpool
Ludogorets vs. Real Madrid

Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
Ludogorets vs. Basel
Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
Basel vs. Ludogorets
Real Madrid vs. Liverpool

Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
Ludogorets vs. Liverpool
Basel vs. Real Madrid

Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
Liverpool vs. Basel
Real Madrid vs. Ludogorets
Responses (3)
  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, September 12 2014, 03:47 PM - #permalink
    Group C

    Group C is the most competitive group of the eight, with no superpower and no minnow. Every single team in the group has the ability to finish top or finish last. That said, summer rebuilds, early performances in the league and shifts in philosophy give us some idea where the chips may fall.

    TOPPING THE GROUP: BAYER LEVERKUSEN

    Bayer were slightly disappointing in last year's Champions League, barely scraping through a group with a weak Manchester United side before getting demolished by Paris Saint-Germain. This season, however, they’re the strongest in their group, and will have high hopes for this season after defeating Borussia Dortmund in their Bundesliga season opener.

    Emre Can and Sidney Sam are gone, but Hakan Çalhanoğlu looks like a great replacement, youngster Levin Öztunali is breaking into the first team and Josip Drmic bolsters their attack. Heung-Min Son and Bernd Leno are only getting better with age, and to top it off, Leverkusen have also strengthened their back line.

    SITTING SECOND: ZENIT SAINT PETERSBURG

    Last season's disappointing campaign led to a change in managers for Zenit Saint Petersburg, and so far, it's been to their advantage. André Villas-Boas got off to a great start with his new club last season, guiding them to a Champions League spot, and now has them sitting top of the Russian Premier League. Zenit's most recognizable stars are back, and they're joined by new recruits Javi García and Ezequiel Garay, who should both improve them defensively.

    Hulk hasn't quite lived up to expectations yet, and Danny and Andrey Arshavin can't be counted on to stay healthy, but Zenit have a solid squad that should be able to continue to the knockout rounds.

    HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: BENFICA

    As usual, Benfica have to reload after making a number of big sales. Stars Lazar Marković, Ezequiel Garay and Jan Oblak have all left, along with a handful of other useful fringe players. They've been replaced, as is customary for Benfica, with a handful of value signings and returning loanees. This team probably isn't quite as talented as last year's squad, nudged out of the Champions League only to make a deep run in Europa League, but they're still a solid side that will give the rest of the group a run for their money.

    FINISHING LAST: MONACO

    Whether he's scared of Financial Fair Play or decided that setting piles of money on fire is a bad idea, AS Monaco owner Dmitry Rybolovlev has backed off his campaign to build the club into a superpower. Some great players have stuck around, but James Rodríguez is now at Real Madrid, and Manchester United snapped up Radamel Falcao on the final day of the transfer window. Monaco can still compete, but their weakened squad and rough start to the Ligue 1 season suggests they’ll finish bottom.


    SCHEDULE

    Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Monaco vs. Bayer Leverkusen
    Benfica vs. Zenit

    Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 5:00 PM BST/12: PM ET:
    Zenit vs. Monaco

    Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Bayer Leverkusen vs. Benfica

    Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Bayer Leverkusen vs. Zenit
    Monaco vs. Benfica

    Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM ET:
    Zenit vs. Bayer Leverkusen

    Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Benfica vs. Monaco

    Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM ET:
    Zenit vs. Benfica

    Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Bayer Leverkusen vs. Monaco

    Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Monaco vs. Zenit
    Benfica vs. Bayer Leverkusen

    Group D

    Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal were part of a fairly impressive three-way duel in the group stages last season which ultimately saw both teams through (by the skins of their teeth) to the knockout round. And now they meet again in similar circumstances. While there's no Napoli in this group to push them all the way this time, Galatasaray represent strong opposition for both and Anderlecht are a worrying fourth-tier side — it's not going to be plain sailing for either.

    Still, both will expect to get out of Group D, so the real question will be who manages to finish first …

    TOPPING THE GROUP: BORUSSIA DORTMUND

    Since re-rising to prominence in 2011, Borussia Dortmund have been raided every summer, but never seem to collapse, making extremely intelligent moves to survive the losses of Shinji Kagawa (who has since rejoined the club) and Mario Götze. But now they’re down Robert Lewandowski, and it’s far from clear how they’re going to deal with that.

    But despite the loss of Lewandowski and his 28 goals scored last season, they still have plenty of firepower. Marco Reus might be the most gifted wide forward in the game who doesn’t already play for Real Madrid, and that alone should be enough to scare every other team in the group. If he stays healthy, that is.

    They’ve also got a strong, coherent supporting cast and a manager in Jürgen Klopp who knows how to get everything out of his players. They’re not as good as last year or the year prior, where they made it all the way to the final, but they should still be able to edge Arsenal out for the top spot. That said, this one is going to be a very tight call.

    SITTING SECOND: ARSENAL

    Arsenal limped into the Champions League group stages, just about sneaking past Beşiktaş via Alexis Sánchez’s goal — despite taking two red cards in their two-legged playoff. They’ll be hoping for much better here, and with talents like Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey at their disposal, they have every right to.

    Arsenal’s biggest issue has always been depth, but that tends to hit in spring rather than early on, and despite questions in midfield and defense they’ll almost certainly be too much for the non-Dortmund teams in the group. And with BVB looking more than a little bit wobbly so far this season, Arsène Wenger will have serious designs on topping the group outright.

    HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: GALATASARAY

    Galatasaray have had the misfortune of being drawn in a tough group. Again. But we should know better than to count them out: the Turkish side famously knocked Serie A champions Juventus out in the group stages last season before going out in the round of 16, and they’re unlikely to be intimidated by either Arsenal or Borussia Dortmund.

    Not that they're favorites to advance. Burak Yılmaz is still a dangerous goalscorer and there is life in Wesley Sneijder’s old boots yet, but if they’re going to beat one of Arsenal and Dortmund, they’re likely going to have to rely on their notorious home-field advantage. The Turk Telekom Arena is one of the most difficult places to play in football, and combine that with the long trip from Europe and it’s not at all crazy to say that Gala have a shot at going through. It’s not a great one, but don’t count them out.

    FINISHING LAST: ANDERLECHT

    And that leaves Anderlecht. A proud team, but alas not a particularly good one. The Belgian champions are a powerhouse in their home country, but their days of being a true European threat have long since passed and they’re currently better known for the players they produce (Everton forward Romelu Lukaku came through their system) than their actual football. They’re here to keep the rest of these teams honest, and a lot will have to go right for them to qualify for the knockout rounds. About the best they can hope for is a Europa League berth, and even that seems like a bit of a stretch.


    SCHEDULE

    Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Galatasaray vs. Anderlecht
    Dortmund vs. Arsenal

    Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Arsenal vs. Galatasaray
    Anderlecht vs. Dortmund

    Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Anderlecht vs. Arsenal
    Galatasaray vs. Dortmund

    Tuesday, Nov. 4 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Arsenal vs. Anderlecht
    Dortmund vs. Galatasaray

    Wednesday, Nov. 26 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Anderlecht vs. Galatasaray
    Arsenal vs. Dortmund

    Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Galatasaray vs. Arsenal
    Dortmund vs. Anderlecht
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  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, September 12 2014, 03:50 PM - #permalink
    Group E

    Here we go, here we go, here we go again — Group E features three of the four teams that competed in Group D last time around: Bayern Munich, Manchester City and CSKA Moscow. However, in the 2014-2015 version, Viktoria Plzeň are replaced by Roma. Yes, "E" truly stands for "Evil".

    Meanwhile, CSKA players are probably going to start having some traumatic flashbacks right about now, what with their getting just three points last season and having 17 goals put in against them. Having an even tougher group this year certainly won't help them sleep better at night.

    TOPPING THE GROUP: MANCHESTER CITY

    Two years ago, Manchester City were drawn with Real Madrid, Dortmund and Ajax. They finished last. Three years ago, City were drawn with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal. They managed third. Last year, they were again drawn with Bayern, but had Viktoria Plzeň and CSKA Moscow for company. City finally made it to the next round — only to lose 4-1 on aggregate to Barcelona. Well, they're with both Bayern Munich and CSKA once more, with the addition of Roma as well. But the strength of their stars and the depth to their squad suggests City will have no trouble advancing to the next round, and with the way Pep Guardiola loves to tinker with his Bayern side, it’s City that could have the edge on topping the group.

    SITTING SECOND: BAYERN MUNICH

    It's hard to discount the Bavarian giants, even if they did manage to get dumped out of the tournament in the semifinals last year. It was only two seasons ago that Bayern Munich won everything under the sun, including the Champions League, taking the trophy for the fifth time in their history. They may be under Pep Guardiola now, but they've still got the same core of players, many of whom lifted the World Cup in Brazil. Assuming Guardiola doesn't get too experimental with his squad, they'll be one of the favorites to win it all — yet we’re tipping them to finish behind Manchester City, based on little more than gut instinct.

    HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: ROMA

    Oh, poor Roma. Back in Europe's premier competition, and they get drawn with Bayern Munich and Manchester City. They've just lost their best defender, and Serie A starts later than the other European leagues, leaving them less time to prepare. Plus, with Juventus looking less certain to win the title this season, Roma will be prioritizing the league. We’re not saying the giallorossi aren’t talented, but a tough group and a focus on chasing the scudetto means they’re likely to land third.

    FINISHING LAST: CSKA MOSCOW

    Yes, again. Is it possible CSKA can compete against last year's Bundesliga champs, last year's Premier League title winners and the side that finished second in Serie A? Well, yes, it's theoretically possible. But that scenario probably involves a lot of snow and cold. Sorry, CSKA.


    SCHEDULE

    Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Roma vs. CSKA Moscow
    Bayern Munich vs. Manchester City

    Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 5:00 PM BST/12:00 PM ET:
    CSKA Moscow vs. Bayern Munich

    Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Manchester City vs. Roma

    Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 5:00 PM BST/12:00 PM ET:
    CSKA Moscow vs. Manchester City

    Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Roma vs. Bayern Munich

    Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Manchester City vs. CSKA Moscow
    Bayern Munich vs. Roma

    Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM ET:
    CSKA Moscow vs. Roma
    Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Manchester City vs. Bayern

    Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Roma vs. Manchester City
    Bayern Munich vs. CSKA Moscow


    Group F


    Group F is one of the most exciting groups to come out of the Champions League draw, with Barcelona, Paris-Saint Germain and Ajax all set to meet. Pity the unfortunate fourth team, Cypriot minnows APOEL.

    TOPPING THE GROUP: BARCELONA

    Last season Barcelona finished second in La Liga and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League. That their season was considered to be a disappointment tells you all you need to know about their incredible dominance in European football over the last few years. Sure, their old stars like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are no longer capable of crushing teams like they once were, but in Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, they have the strongest, deepest attack in all of world football. Their defense may not be good enough to win the thing overall, but they should still top the group.

    SITTING SECOND: PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

    With Paris Saint-Germain now one of the richest clubs in the world, it's quite remarkable to think they'd only won two French titles prior to 1994. They've now stormed to the Ligue 1 title two seasons running, and their outstanding squad means they should be able to make it three. They've found European success a little harder to come by, but Laurent Blanc's side have all the ingredients to be a genuine challenger in the Champions League this time around. With the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani in their ranks, it wouldn't be all that surprising if they even topped Barcelona in this group.

    HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: AJAX

    Ajax are one of the most storied clubs in European football history, having won the Champions League four times. However, they've not tasted victory in this competition since 1995, and they no longer look like a genuine challenger. Nevertheless, under the stewardship of bright young coach Frank de Boer, the reigning Eredivisie champions have introduced a host of talented young players into their ranks, including Jasper Cillessen and Davy Klaasen. They're less likely to progress than Barca and PSG, but an upset sure could be fun to watch.

    FINISHING LAST: APOEL

    Cypriot side APOEL will be the whipping boys of Group F, and will be lucky to pick up any points at all. It was only back in 2012 that they defied all odds to reach the Champions League quarterfinals, only to be knocked out by Real Madrid, though since then they've lost coach Ivan Jovanović and several star players and have struggled to make a dent in continental competition.


    SCHEDULE

    Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Barcelona vs. APOEL
    Ajax vs. Paris Saint-Germain

    Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona
    APOEL vs. Ajax

    Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    APOEL vs. Paris Saint-Germain
    Barcelona vs. Ajax

    Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Paris Saint-Germain vs. APOEL
    Ajax vs. Barcelona

    Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    APOEL vs. Barcelona
    Paris Saint-Germain vs. Ajax

    Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Roma vs. Manchester City
    Ajax vs. APOEL
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  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, September 12 2014, 03:52 PM - #permalink
    Group H

    Porto were drawn from Pot 1, though they're one of the weakest of the Champions League's big boys. That has led to a relatively balanced Group H, with three legitimately good teams and a fourth that isn't as bad as some of the others in this tournament. Group H has depth, and that should make for dramatic football on every matchday.

    TOPPING THE GROUP: PORTO

    Porto didn't end up in Pot 1 by accident. They may not be a powerhouse like Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, but they're a consistently strong club and now they’ve got a bit of good fortune, being drawn into a Group H that lacks a monster team. There aren't any terrible teams in this group so Porto will be challenged regularly, but nobody else has Jackson Martínez. The Colombian has led the Primeira Liga in scoring in consecutive seasons and should be too much for anyone else to handle.

    SITTING SECOND: ATHLETIC BILBAO

    Athletic Bilbao already showed their quality in beating Napoli to get to the group stage, and while that's hardly proof of a great team, Group H won't ask them to be great. Ernesto Valverde has stabilized the club and the team plays very disciplined. Combine that with the skill of Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Aritz Aduriz, then toss in the new San Mames, which should be rocking, and you have a team that can pick up enough points to get out of the group.

    HEADING FOR THE EUROPA LEAGUE: SHAKHTAR DONETSK

    It's tough for anyone to figure out what Shakhtar Donetsk will bring to the table this season. They probably don't even know. Conflict in Ukraine, particularly around Donetsk, has left the club in total flux. Earlier this summer, players threatened not to return back after a preseason friendly in France, and club operations — including matches — have now been moved west to Lviv. There's still talent at Shakhtar, including Alex Teixeira, Douglas Costa, Fred and Luiz Adriano, but it's tough to imagine the squad being near their best with so much turmoil around them.

    FINISHING LAST: BATE BORISOV

    BATE are the only team from Belarus to ever qualify for the Champions League group stage, and now they’ve done so four times in the past eight years. They've shown their quality time and time again, but they have also shown that they aren't quite good enough to compete on this level. Two years ago, they finished third in their group, and the year before that last. They could impact the group, taking some points off the other three teams, but the odds on them advancing are rather long.


    SCHEDULE

    Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Porto vs. BATE
    Athletic Bilbao vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

    Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Porto
    BATE vs. Athletic Bilbao

    Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7:45 PM BST/2:45 PM ET:
    BATE vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
    Porto vs. Athletic Bilbao

    Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Shakhtar Donetsk vs. BATE
    Athletic Bilbao vs. Porto

    Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM ET:
    BATE vs. Porto

    Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Athletic Bilbao

    Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM ET:
    Porto vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
    Athletic Bilbao vs. BATE
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