(Gareth Bale, Manager Zinedine Zidane, and Cristiano Ronaldo (center l. to r.) and defending champion Real Madrid – @Real Madriden)
The UEFA Champions League Group Stage kicks off on Tuesday afternoon.
Defending champion Real Madrid will be looking to repeat and win their third Champions League title in four years. They beat fellow Spanish club and crosstown rival Atletico Madrid in the Final in 2014 and 2016.
They will have to battle it out with Bayern Munich of Germany, who last won in 2013, and Barcelona, who has won it four times in the past ten years, with their last title coming in 2015. Atletico Madrid will also be in the mix, and maybe this is the year they get their long-awaited championship.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the Champions League field this year is who is representing the English Premier League, as stalwarts Manchester United and Chelsea are not here after down years, and surprise champion Leicester City and Tottenham are making their first appearances. The other two English clubs in the tournament are Arsenal and Manchester City, parent club of NYCFC.
Here is how the Champions League breaks down in the Group Stage, in which two of the four teams in each group advance to the round of 16, with analysis:
Group A: Paris (France), Arsenal (England), Basel (Switzerland), Ludogorets (Bulgaria)
Expect Paris and Arsenal to go through, but don’t be surprised Basel makes some noise.
Group B: Benfica (Portugal), Napoli (Italy), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Besiktas (Turkey)
This might be the least sexy of the groups, as there is no real marquee team. Expect Benfica to roll, and Dynamo Kyiv and Napoli to battle for the second spot.
Group C: Barcelona (Spain), Manchester City (England), Monchengladbach (Germany), Celtic (Scotland)
Barcelona and Manchester City will cruise to the round of 16. It will be fun when they play each other in this group, and possibly later in the tournament, because Barcelona’s old coach Pep Guardiola is in his first year with Manchester City.
Group D: Bayern Munich (Germany), Atletico Madrid (Spain), PSV (Netherlands), Rostov (Russia)
Bayern and Atletico should have no problem moving on, and they certainly could meet later in the Champions League, possibly the fFnal.
Group E: CSKA Moscow (Russia), Leverkusen (Germany), Tottenham (England), Monaco (France)
This might be the most competitive group, as any of these teams could advance and you could see tie-breakers like goal differential come into play. These teams are evenly matched, with a slight edge to Moscow, due to their home-field advantage, and Monaco.
Group F: Real Madrid (Spain), Dortmund (Germany), Sporting Clube De Portugal (Portugal), Legia Warsaw (Poland)
Real Madrid will win the group, with Sporting and Dortmund battling for the second group.
Group G: Leicester (England), Porto (Portugal), Club Brugge (Belgium), FC Copenhagen (Denmark)
Porto and Leicester are the best teams in this group, but Porto has the edge on experience. Leicester could face some adversity since they have never been here before, and will have to get used to playing the additional games during the week and traveling to other countries, They already are experiencing the challenge of being the defending champion in England and are off to a tough start at home.
Group H: Juventus (Italy), Sevilla (Spain), Lyon (France), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Juventus will win the group, and they are one of the best teams in the tournament. Juve has recovered well after losing a lot of top players like Andrea Pirlo (now with NYCFC), who got them to the Final in 2015. The other three clubs are pretty even and will have quite a battle for the second spot.