Excited about a draw

No. Not that kind of draw, which isn’t really exciting for anyone, except inasmuch as you sometimes get one point rather than none, but the Champions League draw. There’s some buzz among paid talking people that this may be the most competitive CL assembly ever and in at least one group, it turned out that way, albeit not for the reasons everyone assumed.

Group A: Atletico Madrid, Dortmund, Monaco, Brugge

The potential for great games is obvious here as soon as you mention the top two. With Atleti slated as one of the favorites this year in all of their competitions, they’re the obvious leader. But Dortmund, barring concerns that Bob has raised, are always a tough out at the Westfalen and Monaco, despite having been raided for their stars in the last couple seasons, is still a capable side. But I say Atleti wins and Dortmund snags the second spot.

Group B: Barcelona, Tottenham, PSV Eindhoven, Internazionale

If there’s a “group of death” this year, it’s either this one or C. Perennial contenders Barca, still-consistent from last year’s quarters Spurs, and Inter, a side that barely qualified, but which has shown some signs of a revival to the form of yore, when they regularly contested the top division title with AC Milan and Juventus. Be sure to pour one out for PSV, who qualified for the CL for the first time since 2010, only to run into two expected knockout round choices and the best pot 4 team ever. This one is as obvious as A. Barca and Spurs should finish 1 and 2.

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Group C: Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, Liverpool, Red Star Belgrade

The other possibility for the “group of death” title, given PSG’s enormous talent, Napoli pushing the Old Lady to the limit in Serie A last year, and Liverpool having run to the final and being cited as the most likely contender with City for the EPL crown this season. That said, as a Liverpool fan, I don’t have any real concern about qualifying out of this group. We can match up with PSG on the field and we ran Napoli off it, 5-0, in a friendly this season (yes, it’s a friendly, but it was still most of their starting XI and ours and it was a rout.) Red Star is, unfortunately, an afterthought here where they might have been tagged with upset potential elsewhere. It’s also their first meeting with LFC in 45 years. I’ll call it: Liverpool and PSG finish 1 and 2.

Group D: Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray

I present the “group of life.” I’m trying to remember the last time a CL group was noted as being this competitive, not because the sides were almost all strong, but because they weren’t. You can just imagine all of the teams in this group thinking to themselves: “These guys are all easy. We can walk to the knockout rounds.” And then looking at each other and realizing they’re all thinking the same thing. That’s what might make these games entertaining, so at least there’s that. Looking at last year, the best team is probably Schalke, so I’m saying Schalke and Porto finish 1st and 2nd.

Group E: Bayern Munich, Benfica, Ajax, AEK Athens

There’s nice history here, with 2 of the three teams to win the tournament 3 times in a row (Bayern, Ajax) and another 2-time winner and the most successful team in Liga Primeira (Benfica.) Oh, and a Greek team. But, really, none of the other three has the firepower to compete with Bayern and Benfica is still better than most of the teams in pots 3 and 4. It should be Bayern in 1st and Benfica 2nd… but I’m tempted for history’s sake to say Ajax could pull the upset.

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Coulda been. (Sporting Tribune)

Group F: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon, Hoffenheim

All of the teams after City are good teams. They’re not great teams; just good ones. Which means that City should demolish all of them on their way to the knockout rounds. You really couldn’t have picked an easier path unless City somehow got switched to group D. And, even then, I think Schalke would give them more of a fight than anyone here would. City obvious wins the group, but I think Lyon pulls 2nd spot; not because I think they’re definitely better than Donetsk or Hoffenheim, but my faith in perpetual Europa League challenger Donetsk is weak, as is my belief in Hoffenheim outside the careful confines of the Bundesliga.

Group G: Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen

There are a lot of questions surrounding Los Blancos this year. They’re still enormously talented, but the question remains as to how good they’ll be without their talisman of the last nine years, who wandered off with some old lady. It makes me tempted to pick Roma to win the group… and I think I’m going to, especially since Lopetegui may be feeling the pressure of being on the touchline of the Bernabeu and the fact that RM has only won La Liga twice in the past decade, so it’s clear where the emphasis should be this season. I’ll say Roma 1st and Madrid 2nd. Then, of course, they’ll probably hammer their way into the final again. Ugh.

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Group H: Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys

Degree of difficulty rules in effect for the Old Lady plus Young Boys jokes. If you think you have something original, Reddit already beat you to it. As usual, the main question in this situation, as in most he gets involved with, is: Which Jose are we going to see? The one that actually takes advantage of United’s awesome attacking talent or the one that tries to bore you to death and win the group with 3 draws and a couple squeakers over Boys and Valencia? This is a tough group, by any estimation, as I think Valencia has something going on with the transfers they made. But… nah. It’s still Juventus in 1st and United’s inertia allowing them to squat in 2nd.

One side note: The other draw today was for the (sigh…) League Cup (we use no sponsors names here.) Liverpool ended up with Chelsea; the same team we have to play four days later in a regular league game. Seriously, look at this schedule:

Wow. Other than the match with Liverpool Jun- ahem… Southampton on the 22nd, that’s kind of a murderer’s row. Of matches that we can reasonably get 18 points and a cup round from! PSG without Verrati and Buffon (both suspended) at Anfield? Same Tottenham as last year? Chelsea still finding their feet under Sarri? Napoli being Napoli? And City whom we beat 3 out of 4 last year even with De Bruyne? Bring it on.

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