This season’s Champions League looks extremely competitive, but is it the most competitive we have ever seen?
With the draw completed this week the fans and clubs have voiced their personal reactions regarding their individual groups, but as a whole there is a striking difference this year that makes it for me, one to seriously look forward to.
It is fair to say that in the past, Europe’s elite competition has lacked elite clubs. The numbers in the past have been made up by various clubs who lack the pedigree or quality to seriously put up any sort of challenge against the bigger, or more established of clubs. This has led to some seriously dull group stages; we’ve seen weakened line-ups, half empty stadiums and matches to yawn over. But this year I suspect we’ll witness something more competitive and enticing.
There is maybe three or four clubs that you would say are a certainty to get knocked out in the group stage. I say that with respect, but Celtic, Viktoria Plzen, Austria Wien and Steaua Bucharest are four I would consider the weakest from the 32.
The fact that there are so few of those weaker clubs is a big bonus for European football followers. It means we know the group stage will be competitive and there is a far smaller chance of seeing weakened squads in those early games. However, even Celtic will be a tough fixture as Barcelona were shown last season, as they lost away in Scotland.
The rest of the groups are highly competitive. With the exception of Chelsea‘s group looking a breeze for them, I feel every single place is going to be fought for well. It’s not easy to call.
Group A includes Manchester United, but also decent sides in Bayern Leverkusen, Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk; none of those mentioned are European giants, but they’re no push overs.
As you go through the groups, you can pick out three teams in each one who will stake a claim to go through. There is arguably more than one group of death, too, with AC Milan, Celtic, Barcelona and Ajax in Group H looking just as difficult as Group F, which includes; Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli and Marseille.
Even that group that Chelsea are in, considered an easier one, is competitive. Schalke are no push overs, whilst Basel have shocked more than a few clubs in the past (notably Manchester United in 2011-12).
It’s nice to see a competition with a blend of tough groups and competitive variations. Whether it’s due to the increase in wealthy investors providing talented squads or tough trips to eastern grounds, I hope we’re not let down and instead are set to enjoy a brilliant season of Champions League action on our Tuesdays and Wednesday nights.