First, a brief word from our sponsor:
Yeah, I don’t know, man. I mean… I guess that’s a positive outlook? “We’ll all be immortal, but we’ll be that in an apocalyptic world of war and crime! It’s like Highlander and that’s why I look like Sean Connery these days.” There can certainly only be one Cantona. I honestly could have dispensed with most of the ceremony, just texted a grid with the eight groups on it, handed the baubles to their recipients, and spent another hour hearing about the nightmare world of super-regenerative warriors. But, on second thought, let’s get to the draw.
Group A: PSG, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray. There’s little standing in the way of the top two teams, even with Madrid’s uncertainty from the rebuild and PSG’s occasionally delicate psyche. I’m sure the Cimbom have had enough of running into Real over the years, though. PSG and Los Blancos should get through without much trouble.
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Olympiacos, Red Star. On the face of it, this is Bayern and Spurs’ group. But, as we learned last year, playing in the oversized bomb shelter that is Red Star’s stadium is anything but a given. Also, Bayern is sorting out its new puzzle pieces and Spurs are having coherence issues. The most interesting matches might be between Olympiacos and Red Star, since the clubs know each other well and both sets of fans are, uh, fond of flares. Reason suggests Bayern and Spurs should progress.
Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta. City fans are convinced these days that everyone is out to get them. Clearly, UEFA didn’t get that memo, giving them the most casual stroll to the knockout stage of any of the pot 1 contenders. What’s worse is that it’s a boring stroll, since this is the third year in a row that they’ve been grouped with Shakhtar. The only real note of interest might be Atalanta’s high powered offense… which Pep will no doubt choke to death. It’s obviously City and I’ll say Atalanta here.
Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Beyer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moskva. This is one of the more interesting groups, despite Juve and Atleti having knocked heads so recently. Juve piled on more ammo, while Atleti did a bit of re-tooling (that many people think is a huge improvement; I’m not there yet), and Leverkusen is one of the more exciting teams in the Bundesliga. There could be some really great games here, with Sarriball vs Simeone’s outsized ones. Juve and Atleti should have the talent to move on.
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, RB Salzburg, Genk. I’m OK with it. It’s a little disappointing to get Napoli again, but at least the games will be exciting, as Carlo and Co. don’t appear to have slowed down. Plus, we don’t have to go any farther than Italy (i.e no trips to Russia or Turkey in the middle of the week.) It’s not really one of the more exciting groups, though, since both LFC and the Azzurri should get through without too much trouble. Been a long time since I’ve seen Genk, though.
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Internazionale, Slavia Praha. This is the only one that might be considered a “group of death” and it’s still not one that should trouble the Catalans that much. Dortmund has improved and Inter is now running a potential front line of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, and Mauro Icardi but, even so, both Barca and BVB still outclass the other two sides by some distance. The games between the top two should be great, though. Nice to see the directors of Slavia Praha appreciating their circumstances with some humor.
Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig. So, the pot 1 side everyone in pot 2 wanted AND the pot 2 side that most in pot 1 wanted. It started out looking like the WTF Group… and then Lyon and Leipzig showed up. Now, we’re talkin’. There might be some great games in this group with all of the sides running in the same strata of overall strength. Benfica probably thought they were going to coast. At first glance, I’d actually say they and Leipzig should make it out, but I’m honestly not sure.
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille. This is another great group in terms of overall competition. Ajax lost two big pieces in de Jong and de Ligt (and is still waiting for Van der Beek to return from injury) but is still solid, while Chelsea is trying out new players and a new manager. Valencia and Lille aren’t walkovers, either. This might be the most exciting group of the competition. I’m tempted to say the reserves of talent on Chelsea and Ajax do end up telling the tale, but it’s far from a sure thing.
More trophies. Our own Alisson won Goalkeeper of the Year, while VVD won Defender of the Year, and then followed that with Male Player of the Year.
That’s a nice acknowledgment of some fantastic play over the last season. It also makes Virg the only defender to have ever won the award and he did it while sitting next to the two guys who’ve dominated it for the past 15 years. Have to say, though, that this conversation was probably the most awkward moment of what is always a generally weird ceremony (see Cantona, above):
I mean, yeah, everyone knew she was going to bring this up, but with Messi sitting right there and her dismissing his knowledge of English… ehhhh. I’m pretty sure he understands the words “Camp Nou” and “Anfield”, so even if he’s not fluent, you can see that he understood what was going on. Meanwhile, Ronaldo is all “Hey, free trip to Monaco.” Whatevs. That was last year.
And this year starts out right in the fire, as our first group match is the toughest one: away at the newly-renovated San Paolo in Napoli on Sept. 17th. So, at least it’s downhill from there?