The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest to be crowned kings, with the Champions League kicking off next week.
The group stage phase of the competition will produce the 16 teams which will feature in the last-16 draw in December.
Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to leave a mark right from the word go, there are legitimate excuses to be thrilled about the Champions League right from matchday one.
We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group F …
Manager: Ernesto Valverde
The Spanish giants will look to shake off the 4-0 humiliation at Anfield from last season and make a fresh attempt at being crowned kings of Europe for the first time since they won the treble in the 2014/15 season. However, they have hardly been troubled in the early stages of the competition, having made it to the knockouts every season since 2004/05.
However, the Catalans must refrain from letting this record produce complacency ahead of the new campaign. They have been drawn alongside Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund – two dangerous opponents capable of making the top two.
Barcelona endured a disappointing start to their La Liga campaign, winning just two of their first four games. Injuries to star players Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele also hampered their chances in the opening games. Dembele will definitely be out but in rosier news, Messi is set for at least the bench – and then there’s the emergence of 16-year-old prodigy Ansu Fati.
Elsewhere, the Blaugrana have added players such as Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong to their ranks to ease the pressure on Messi in European fixtures. It remains to be seen if the players step up and confirm the Catalan side as favourites with a strong group stage show against some of the best teams in the competition.
Key player: Lionel Messi
Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Manager: Lucien Favre
The finalists of the 2012/13 season were drawn into Group E from pot two but they could comfortably have taken up Bayern Munich’s spot had they not collapsed in horrific manner in the second half of last season. This slide also comprised conceding a Champions League quarter-final to Tottenham despite being favourites ahead of the last-16 clash.
Dortmund reacted to this disappointment with some clever business in the transfer market in which they roped in top Bundesliga players such as Thorgan Hazard, Mats Hummels and Julian Brandt. Retaining teen sensation Jadon Sancho despite foreign interest should also count as one of the brilliant bits of business ahead of the new season.
Dortmund have rarely faced any complications qualifying for the last-16 ever since they made the final. But this group could be the trickiest one they have ever faced. Although the German giants are still favourites to qualify as the runners-up, it could come to a coin toss between them and Inter.
Favre’s men must ensure no slip-ups against Slavia Prague and attempt to churn out as many points against Barcelona as possible.
Key player: Jadon Sancho
Inter Milan (Italy)
Manager: Antonio Conte
The three-time winners of the Champions League will play their second consecutive season in the competition after a six-year wait. The Serie A side was unlucky to be drawn alongside Barcelona and the eventual runners-up in Spurs last season and find themselves as the third-best side yet again.
Inter Milan experienced a steep decline after winning the treble in the 2009/10 season. They could only make the quarter-final in the following season, the last-16 in the next and failed to qualify for the Champions League in the next six years.
The Nerazzurri were one goal away from making the last-16 last year, with an away draw against PSV Eindhoven in the last match-day combining with Spurs’ draw against Barcelona sending them to the Europa League.
However, Inter will be optimistic about their chances this season and they have every reason to be so. They now have a new manager in Antonio Conte who can build them into a force to be reckoned with. They have also made some interesting summer signings including Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku – two players who endured a tough time at Manchester United but are still world-class players who can play a pivotal role in their campaign.
Conte’s men will hope to beat Dortmund and knock points off Barcelona in the home leg to strengthen their chances of a top-two finish. Finishing third and qualifying for the last-32 in the Europa League would not be a bad result either, given that is a competition better suited to their abilities.
Key Player: Romelu Lukaku
Slavia Prague (Czech Republic)
Manager: Jindrich Trpisovsky
With all due respect, Czech club Slavia Prague are the fodder of the group and would consider it an achievement to garner more than three points. This will be Slavia Prague’s second season in the group stage of the Champions League but unfortunately, the draw has been harsh on them.
When Slavia last qualified for the main event in 2007/08, they finished above Steaua Bucuresti and below Arsenal, Sevilla to qualify for the last-32 of the Europa League. Jindrich Trpisovsky’s men will be delighted to match this result this season but that will require some inspirational performance, especially at home.
The Czech First League champions boast of a solid defence that kept two clean-sheets against CFR Cluj in the play-offs but they will now be up against some of the fiercest attacks in Europe. A third-place finish will be a tremendous achievement but Prague must not be disheartened if they finish last.
Key player: Ibrahim Traore
2. Borussia Dortmund
3. Inter Milan
4. Slavia Prague
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