The Champions League group stage is expected to be competitive once again this season. Here’s a preview of the eight groups and the 16 teams favored to advance.
The group stage of the Champions League will be competitive once again this season, maybe even more than usual given that it will be contested over a condensed span of just nine weeks in order to accommodate the World Cup in November.
The opening round, which features six matchdays, will kick off on Sept. 6 and conclude Nov. 2.
Here’s a group-by-group breakdown and the 16 teams favored to advance to the knockout stage.
Group A: Ajax, Liverpool, Napoli and Glasgow Rangers
Liverpool, UCL runners up last season, are off to a slow start this season in the Premier League. Life after the departure of star striker Sadio Mane has impacted them, but the English club still remains favored to take the group.
Napoli, off to a flying start in Serie A, and Rangers will prove to be tricky opponents, while Ajax look weaker than they have been compared to recent years.
Liverpool and Napoli advance
Group B: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Club Brugge
This remains a wide-open group given that Porto, Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen can all certainly come in first. Atletico, under manager Diego Simeone, certainly has the pedigree and experience to advance.
Porto, too, has been known to pull off some surprises in recent editions. Bayer, meanwhile, are winless in the Bundesliga and that slow start could impact them here.
Atletico Madrid and Porto advance
Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Viktoria Plzen
Arguably the toughest group to emerge from the draw, former Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski, now at Barcelona, will be pitted against his old club. The Germans, however, remain a formidable side capable of scoring plenty of goals with Mane now part of their attack.
Barca, meanwhile, will need to show that its summer spending spree will translate into wins in Europe. Inter Milan, the Serie A champions, feature Romelu Lukaku, another striker capable of scoring big goals.
Bayern Munich and Inter Milan advance
Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt, Tottenham, Sporting CP and Olympique Marseille
Tottenham are the team to beat out of this group, with Sporting Lisbon not far behind them. Spurs, under manager Antonio Conte, are fit and tactically astute.
Eintracht Frankfurt, last season’s Europa League winners, are struggling this season and could falter against tougher opposition.
Tottenham and Sporting CP advance
Group E: AC Milan, Chelsea, RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb
Chelsea are often inconsistent, but they remain favored to win this group. AC Milan is back in the tournament, winners of the Serie A title for the first time in 11 seasons. Whether the Italian club can channel the winning Rossoneri sides of old remains to be seen.
RB Salzburg remains the most successful Austrian side of the last few years and even reached the last-16 last season.
Chelsea and AC Milan advance
Group F: Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic
Real Madrid, UCL winners last season, are expected to breeze through this group. The Spanish giants still have last season’s Champions League top scorer Karim Benzema on the roster, making them unstoppable at times.
RB Leipzig are a tough team and should get the points needed against Shakhtar and Celtic to finish second.
Real Madrid and RB Leipzig advance
Group G: Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund and Copenhagen
Man City are favorites to win the UCL at the start of every season. Every year they fail to do so. That doesn’t mean the Premier League champions won’t dominate against a relatively comfortable group. Sevilla and Dortmund will compete for second place, with the Germans slightly favored to advance.
Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund advance
Group H: Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Benfica and Maccabi Haifa
Like Man City, PSG is a wealthy club that has consistently fallen short of lifting the trophy. The attacking trio of Neymar-Lionel Messi-Kylian Mbappe appeared energized heading into the World Cup, although there are dressing room problems at the club.
Nonetheless, they are just too strong not to at least finish second here. Juventus, with the additions of midfielder Paul Pogba and former PSG striker Angel Di Maria, appear stronger than last season.
PSG and Juventus advance