Champions League Group G preview: RB Leipzig in first, Lyon runners-up

Sooraj Kamath - Writer 22:49 16/09/2019
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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 match-day one.

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

RB Leipzig

Timo Werner

Manager: Julian Nagelsmann

Founded in 2009, the Leipzig-based side sprang to prominence about eight years later. RB Leipzig first featured in a European tournament when they qualified for the group stage in the 2017/18 season. Drawn alongside Monaco, Besiktas and Porto, the German side finished third and qualify for the last-32 of the Europa League.

Leipzig surprised Napoli and Zenit Saint Petersburg before bowing out against Marseille in the quarter-final. This run remains their best-ever in a European competition.

Last season, Leipzig had to go through three rounds of qualifying ties before making it to the group stage of the Europa League. They did not make it to the knockouts but made the best of the situation by focusing on the Bundesliga and managing a top-three finish.

The fast-growing German club has now enjoyed a favourable draw and are tipped to finish on top. Leipzig roped in the likes of Ademola Lookman, Patrik Schick, Christopher Nkunku, Ethan Ampadu among others. But manager Julian Nagelsmann could prove to be their best signing of the summer.

The former Hoffenheim coach should be able to lead his side to a top-two finish. Anything less will be an underachievement.

Key player: Timo Werner

Lyon (France)

Memphis

Manager: Sylvinho

The French side will kick off their Champions League campaign with an aim to better their previous campaign when they were eliminated from the competition in the last-16 by a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona.

Lyon grabbed the headlines last season when they became the only team that English treble winners Manchester City did not beat. Sylvinho’s men will hope to replicate those results and finish in the top-two – a feat they are capable of.

Lyon’s impressive show from the group stage of the Champions League last season caused them to lose some of their key players to bigger clubs. Tanguy Ndomeble switched to the white side of north London, while Ferland Mendy and Nabil Fekir joined Real Madrid and Real Betis respectively.

Although the French side also recorded key arrivals in Thiago Mendes, Joachim Andersen and highly-rated Arsenal academy graduate Jeff Reine-Adelaide, it remains to be seen if the current crop of players can challenge the best of Europe.

Lyon are favourites for the runners-up spot but must be wary of an unpredictable Benfica and a challenging away trip to Russia.

Key player: Memphis Depay

Benfica (Portugal)

Alex Grimaldo

Manager: Bruno Lage

Benfica will fancy their chances of making it out of the group for the first time after two seasons, having been drawn in a relatively unpredictable group.

The successive European Cups in 1960 and 1961 have remained Benfica’s biggest achievements in Europe. Recently, they made it to the final of the Europa League in the 2012/13 and the 2013/14 season but lost to Chelsea and Sevilla, respectively.

In the Champions League, the Portuguese side has failed to breach the quarter-final after reaching the stage in the 2005/06, 2011/12 and 2015/16 seasons. They defeated fellow Group G side Zenit in the last-16 in the 2015/16 edition before being edged by Bayern Munich.

Joao Felix was Benfica’s breakout star last season. The forward fetched the club €126 million and has shone for Atletico Madrid so far. The Portuguese champions have not missed him much in the league, given they have accumulated 12 points of a possible 15 so far.

However, they could find a missing piece in the puzzle when they attempt to muscle out the best Europe has to offer.

Last season, Benfica finished behind Bayern and Ajax to qualify for the last-32 of the Europa League but they have a good chance of making the top-two this time.

Key player: Alex Grimaldo

Zenit Saint Petersburg

Zenit

Manager: Sergei Semak

The Russian champions have qualified for the group stage of the Champions League for the first time since the 2015/16 season when they were knocked out by Benfica in the last-16.

Zenit have been regular faces in the Europa League and peaked when they made the quarter-final in the 2014/15 season. They held the fort impressively against eventual champions Sevilla before bowing out to the smallest of margins.

The Russian giants have now been knocked out of the Europa League in the last-16 stage for two consecutive seasons. In the 2017/18 edition, RB Leipzig edged Zenit 3-2 on aggregate.

Despite being drawn from pot one, Zenit are least likely to finish in the top two. But inspired performances at home could propel them close to their objective and fetch them a berth in the last-32 of the Europa League.

Key player: Malcom

Prediction

1. RB Leipzig

2. Lyon

3. Benfica

4. Zenit

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