Old Futbol Buffet–European Silverware Thoughts

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Don’t know what to think about the draw.  Guess it’s the usual, with most groups having two favorites and a possible wild card that could progress and the one dud to make up the numbers.  For me, the most intriguing groups are B, D, and E.

Group B

A very balanced group, or looks to be.  Arsenal will progress due to their experience, but even though Montpellier (French champs) are debutants, surely they will have a chance against the third German team, Schalke, and Greek champs Olympiacos.

Group E

Juventus return to the Champions League after a long absence and got a favorable draw.  Chelsea will provide stern opposition but I think the bianconeri will find their feet against Ukrainian champs Shaktar (although the trip in December will be tough) and Danish champs Nordsjælland.

Group D

Group of Death does not even begin to describe this selection.  Four team, four domestic champs, four teams that surely will feel that they can progress and do damage.  Ok, Ajax can only hope to not do a Villarreal and lose every game.  Real Madrid against ManchesterCity is mouth watering on every level and means that if they progress, they couldn’t meet again until at least the quarters.  Dortmund are the outsiders.  Can they perform at the highest level, learning from finishing dead last in 2011-12?

Moving on . . .

Manchester United’s group is straightforward.  Yet another year with Portuguese opposition but the Reds should be fine in this group.  (That’s what everyone said last year).  Six points against Cluj, an away draw against Gala and we’ll see how they do against Braga.  They need to win the group, which would keep them away from Barca, Real, and Bayern.  That combined with City and Chelsea progressing should give them a Round of 16 tie they can manage.

As for the other Spanish participants . . .

Valencia should progress behind Bayern Munich in a group with Lille, third in France, and the Belarusian champs BATE.  To be fair, Los Che will need to beat Lille at home and get at least four points against Borisov to be sure.  Don’t see them getting anything off Die Roten and any slip will allow Lille to sneak in.

Barcelona will be fine, with yet another trip to the frozen tundra of the former Soviet Republics ahead of them.  I think the most entertaining games will be against Benfica, while the games against Celtic will be one way traffic.

Finally, first time participants Malaga have a chance but I’m worried about Pellegrini’s men this season.  Los Boquerones could have gotten a much tougher group but can they cope with two games a week after having been decimated in the summer?  Zenit has strengthened by adding Hulk and Witsel, which could tip the balance in the group.  A good start is needed in order to progress (home against Zenit and away to Anderlecht) before the doubleheader with Milan, but I think a third place finish is the best they can hope for.

The panel at Revista on Sky examined the groups involving Spanish sides ahead of the tournament kicking off.  Also Ravi and Elisa from Forza Futbol spend the opening portion of their latest pod talking about the draws for the Spanish teams.

A couple of programming notes: MatchDay 1 will be impossible to keep up with (unless you take time off): Real Madrid/City; Bayern/Valencia; Chelsea/Juve; and United/Galatasaray, while MatchDays 3 and 4 will showcase Real Madrid/Dortmund; United/Braga and Bayern/Lille.

EUROPA LEAGUE

Skimming the twelve groups for the Europa League, a couple of groups jumped out at me.

Group A

Udinese dramatically crashed out in the Champions League qualifiers while Anzhi will bring their petro dollar all star team into Europe, where Liverpool will be waiting.  The Reds will be tested but should they come through this, I think this might be catalyst that sparks them in 2013-14.

Group F

PSV and Napoli could provide fireworks in both fixtures and these two teams will set the tempo for the group.  A year on from having Chelsea on the ropes in the Champions League, I think Napoli will want to at least make the knockout stage.

Group J

Spurs should progress this year.  I think AVB will take this a little more seriously due to his desire to bring success to the London side and the fact that they strengthened just before the transfer window closed.  The away games will be rough but Spurs should be able to get 7 to 9 points at White Hart Lane.

Looking at the Spanish teams . . .

Athletic’s European adventure will end much earlier than last year.  Lyon is the class of the group and I could see Sparta knocking out Los Leones, which is probably for the best as they may be fighting for survival in La Liga.

Levante have a legitimate chance of advancing . . . if they want to.  Tricky proposition.  Maintain domestic momentum or try for a cup run.  There isn’t a team in the section that is overpowering.  If Los Granotes can keep it tight and grab the odd goal they can make it.

I’m drafting this post hours after Atleti’s annihilation of Chelsea Super Cup.  This group should be a breeze and after that, perhaps only an unfortunate draw or injury to Falcao can stop them from defending their title.

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