Champions League Group A preview: PSG favourites to finish top, Real Madrid will be second

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The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest for Champions League glory.

Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to make an early impact, there’s reason to be thrilled about the start of this season’s tournament.

We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group A …

Paris Saint-Germain (France)

VerrattiMbappeNimes (1)

Manager: Thomas Tuchel

Although the Parisians have failed to qualify for the quarter-finals since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left the club in the 2015/16 season, they have never had problems making it to the knockouts of the competition.

Should PSG make it out of the group, they will do so for the eighth time in a row. Thomas Tuchel has one of the best attacks in Europe with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Edinson Cavani at his disposal.

However, only Icardi will be available for what could be a decisive encounter against Madrid on match-day one. Mbappe and Cavani have been sidelined due to injury and Neymar will be serving a suspension for his comments on social media during the last edition.

The French side will find Madrid to be their biggest obstacle. A win over the 13-time European champions, their first against the opposition since 1994 should headline them as potential contenders at the end of the group stage games.

Key player: Neymar

Real Madrid (Spain)

EdenHazardRealMadrid (1)

Zinedine Zidane

Madrid have experienced a fall from grace ever since they won the in the 2017/18 season.

The Zinedine Zidane oversaw a historic ‘threepeat’ of Champions League titles before he announced his decision to leave the club. Madrid reappointed him as manager earlier this year after Santiago Solari’s side were knocked out by a young Ajax side in the last-16 stage.

Not much has changed on the field since then despite Madrid’s heavy investment in the transfer market.

Los Blancos boast a fiery attack with Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale leading the line and Vinicius Junior, Luka Jovic and Lucas Vasquez providing further options. This depth in quality in attack should carry them through the group comfortably.

However, failure to land any of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen or Donny van de Beek could leave them short in an ageing midfield.

A 3-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow at the Santiago Bernabeu last season should work as a reminder for Madrid that no team can be taken lightly in this competition. Should they give Galatasaray as much as an inch, the Turkish side could take a mile and cause an unlikely upset.

Key player: Eden Hazard

Galatasaray (Turkey)


Manager: Fatih Terim

Arguably the best side of Turkey for some time now, Galatasaray have shown no signs of replicating their domestic success in Europe. The 22-time Super Lig winners haven’t qualified for the knockout stages of the tournament since the 2012/13 season.

Last season, Galatasaray finished below Porto and Schalke in the group stage and qualified for the last-32 of the Europa League. But a 1-2 home defeat to Benfica sent them out of Europe much earlier than they would have expected.

The Turkish side made some key additions to their team in Jean Michael Seri, Emre Mor, Ryan Babel and Radamel Falcao as they attempt to make a statement in Europe. That the finals will be held in their home stadium in Istanbul should serve as added motivation for The Lions.

Given Real Madrid’s poor start to the season, Galatasaray will lurk behind to capitalise on any slip-up from the Spanish giants. A third-place finish and qualification to the Europa League knockout stage should be the minimum expectation, though.

Key player: Radamel Falcao.

Club Brugge (Belgium)

Hans Vanaken

Manager: Philippe Clement

Club Brugge are the underdogs of the group. They qualified by defeating Dynamo Kyiv 4-3 on aggregate in the third round and LASK Linz 3-1 on aggregate in the play-offs after finishing second in the Belgian first division.

Brugge have never been European champions but came tantalisingly close in 1978. Among recent European achievements, the Belgian side reached the quarter-final of the 2014/15 Europa League before going down against Ukranian club Dnipro.

Philippe Clement’s men are undoubtedly the minnows and a berth in the Europa League that accompanies a third place finish will be a good result.

Key player: Hans Vanaken


1. PSG

2. Real Madrid

3. Galatasaray

4. Club Brugge


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Champions League Group B preview: Bayern Munich to top, Tottenham to finish runners-up

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I like what I see: Niko Kovac.

The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest for Champions League glory.

Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to make an early impact, there’s reason to be thrilled about the start of this season’s tournament.

We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group B …

Bayern Munich (Germany)


Manager: Niko Kovac

The Bavarians have been one of the most consistent teams in the Champions League in the 21st century. The last time they failed to make the knockouts was back in the 2002/03 edition when they did not win a single game in a group that also comprised Deportivo La Coruna, Lens and AC Milan.

Bayern were last crowned champions in the 2012/13 season after defeating rivals Borussia Dortmund in the final. Ever since, they have been bested by Spanish clubs, being eliminated by Atletico Madrid and Barcelona once and three times by Real Madrid. Last season they were sent packing in the last-16 by eventual champions Liverpool.

Bayern were active in the transfer market, roping in Lucas Hernandez, Philippe Coutinho, Benjamin Pavard and Ivan Perisic among others. Expect them to be a force to be reckoned with yet again. The tie against Spurs could be the decisive one in the group. Bayern are also much more consistent against weaker opposition than Spurs are and this could help their case.

Key player: Robert Lewandowski

Tottenham (England)

Son Heung-min and Harry Kane

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

The runners-up of the 2018/19 season of the Champions League will look to better their performance last season and go all the way at Istanbul.

The North London side reinforced their weakest area from last season; the midfield. Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele were roped in to add depth in the centre of the park. While the former is slowly being eased into the starting line-up, the latter is already standing out as a key figure.

Spurs have not had a rosy start to their Premier League campaign, winning just one of their four games and are ninth in the table. But they have been resolute with their approach to European games in the past, as evidenced by how they qualified from a group that included Barcelona, Inter Milan, and PSV Eindhoven last season.

It’s only recently that the North London side have established themselves as regulars in the Champions League. This will be their fourth consecutive appearance in Europe’s top competition.

Spurs are an unpredictable side; they have the potential to shock the absolute best of Europe but can also falter in simpler games. Their performance against Olympiacos and Red Star Belgrade could determine whether they will win the group, given Bayern rarely slip against these teams.

Key Player: Harry Kane

Olympiacos (Greece)


Manager: Pedro Martins

Having qualified to the group stage by making it through three rounds, Olympiacos will be an interesting team to watch. The Greek side finished second in the league last season and had to defeat Viktoria Plzen, Istanbul Basaksehir and Krasnodar to make it to the last-32.

That they conceded just one goal and scored 13 in the six games shows that there is no room for complacency from the big teams in this group. The last time they featured in the competition (2017/18), Olympiacos famously held Barcelona to a goal-less draw at home.

The Greek side usually features in the Europa League and a berth in the last-32 of the competition following a third-place finish in the group stage will be a good result. But the long-term injury to star player Konstantinos Fortounis is a concern.

Key player: Mady Camara

Red Star Belgrade (Serbia)

Red Star

Manager: Vladan Milojevic

Last season, Red Star Belgrade managed something very few teams in the Champions League and Premier league did – inflict defeat on eventual European Champions Liverpool. Sadly, that was their only win of the group stages as they finished fourth.

The Serbian side edged Sudava Marijampole and HJK Helsinki by one-goal margins in the first two qualification rounds, before defeating Copenhagen on penalties and Young Boys on away goals to qualify for the main event. That they made it to the group stages two years in a row says a lot about their conviction.

Belgrade are undoubtedly the minnows of the group but they could complicate matters by surprising a big team in front of their intimidating home crowd. The Serbian side did so last season and Liverpool would surely acknowledge their ability to spring a surprise.

Key player: Milan Pavkov


1. Bayern Munich

2. Tottenham

3. Olympiacos

4. Red Star Belgrade

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James and Choupo-Moting can seize moment as depleted PSG and Real Madrid clash

Andy West 17/09/2019
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Real Madrid travel to face Paris Saint-Germain in a high-profile kick-off to Champions League Group A, and both managers have been forced into tactical reshuffles after being confronted by a long list of absentees.

Realistically, Thomas Tuchel and Zinedine Zidane should see their teams advance to the next stage irrespective of Wednesday night’s outcome, but pride and a sense of positivity will be at stake in a game which provides plenty of talking points.

Here are three of them.

Navas seeking sweet revenge?

KeylorNavasPSG (1)

This fixture’s most hotly-anticipated individual outing will have to wait for the return match, with Neymar unable to face Madrid – the club which reportedly considered signing him in the summer transfer market – due to a suspension incurred after his social media criticism of the officiating during his team’s exit against Manchester United in last season’s competition.

There is, however, still a personal battle to savour, albeit from a distance of 100 metres, as Keylor Navas takes on his former club and the man who usurped him in the starting position at the Bernabeu, Thibaut Courtois.

Navas was an undisputed starter for Los Blancos for three seasons, winning back-to-back-to-back Champions League titles and becoming a firm favourite of Zidane, who was reportedly highly reluctant to allow the Costa Rican to lose his place to big-money signing Courtois but caved in to pressure from the boardroom.

Navas certainly will not feel that he has anything to prove to Zidane, but he would certainly relish the chance to send a hefty reminder of his shot-stopping talents to Madrid club president Florentino Perez, and the PSG stopper’s motivation to keep out his former teammates could not be higher.

Can Choupo-Moting seize his moment?

ChoupoMotingPSG (1)

Neymar isn’t the only high-profile absentee for the hosts, with fellow superstar forwards Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani also out through injury and deadline day signing Mauro Icardi a doubt after only playing 27 minutes of football this season.

Cameroon forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – who has started the campaign with three goals in as many games – is therefore likely to lead the line against a Madrid defence also missing some familiar faces with Marcelo injured and Sergio Ramos banned for deliberately earning a red card in the first leg of his team’s tie against Ajax last season.

Nacho is also suspended, so Zidane will give a full debut to summer signing Eder Militao, who suffered a shaky half-hour from the bench as Madrid held on to a nervy 3-2 home victory at home to Levante on Saturday afternoon.

The lack of familiarity between Eder and central defensive partner Raphael Varane, who have played just those 30 minutes together, could provide an opening for PSG to exploit – especially with Ferland Mendy only making his second competitive appearance for the club at left-back.

After spending the 2017/18 season with Stoke City following three years with Schalke, Choupo-Moting could never have dreamed that he would be starting for PSG against Real Madrid in the Champions League. But considering the raft of absentees in the opposition back line, this could be his moment to truly shine.

James back in the limelight…or back on the bench?

One highly positive aspect of Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Levante was a bright and influential display from James Rodriguez. Like teammate Gareth Bale – who is also expected to start in Paris on Wednesday – James was expected to leave the club in the summer after being designated persona non grata by Zidane.

But no suitable bids were made and the Colombian playmaker was forced to stay put. And now, with Luka Modric, Isco and Marco Asensio all missing through injury, James has been thrust into the starting line-up and is playing very much as though he is determined to make up for lost time.

However, his place in the starting XI is by no means guaranteed because Zidane hinted that big summer signing Eden Hazard is set to start for the first time after recovering from injury and making his debut from the bench against Levante.

Bale, James, Hazard, Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez are battling for three places in the starting line-up, and Zidane’s long-term preference is thought to be positioning the Belgian in the centre of the field behind Karim Benzema. As that is exactly where James played on Saturday, he could well be forced back onto the bench just when he appeared to be finding his old form.

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