Now let’s see what expects us in C and D.
After last season’s unlucky defeat against Tottenham, City will once again do everything to win the UCL. Guardiola’s team is considered by many to be the first candidate for the title this year, due to, among other factors, an astonishing depth of the squad. Every position in the team is covered by world-class players, whose replacements are only a notch below in quality.
Guardiola’s recognizable style of football allows him to control every second of the match, with average ball possession higher than 63%. This year they have a relatively easy group, which will allow Guardiola to use rotation players a bit more. With last season’s 30 goals, they were the most effective team in the UCL. Guardiola will show the true quality of his team against the knockout stage opponents, and maybe this year he could become the winner of the Champions League for the third time.
Atalanta were the biggest surprise of Serie A, when they finished at the third place and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history. They play a very offensive and attractive style of football with a lot of goals. Last season they were the most effective team in Serie A, scoring 77 goals. But this effectiveness has another side to it – it costs them a lot of conceded goals as well. In 2018/19 they had only nine clean sheets in Serie A.
In the group with City, Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar they have every right to expect to pass the group. In the matches against City, they will try to catch a point or two, but with Dinamo and Shakhtar they will have to take the maximum amount of points. Although, it feels like they play better against top clubs, than the average ones; they didn’t lose a single game against Juventus, Inter and Roma last season.
Since 2010 Shakhtar have missed only one Champions League season. This year they will play against Manchester City for the third time in a row, which surely causes them a headache (the UCL goal difference is 12:2 for the Cityzens). They started their season in style with a 100% ratio of league wins, and they already have seven points of advantage ahead of their first companion. This allows them to put more focus on the Champions League.
They will have to fight really hard with Dinamo and Atalanta to reach the second place in the group. They probably hope they can repeat the surprise from two years ago, when they beat City at home. They surely have the quality to reach the second place, and with Taison, Marlos and Konoplyanka in front, they will attack it.
After reaching the round of 16 in the Europa League last season, the most successful Croatian club hope they can leave a mark in the Champions League. They have a really solid squad depth, which allows them to use backup players in the league, so the first-team players can play in the European matches.
Dinamo have a talented squad with nine national team players, and a lot of players from the U-19 and U-21 national teams, including the star player Dani Olmo, captain of the Spanish U-21 team. They hope they can catch some points in away games against Atalanta and Shakhtar, and they will go for all six points at home for sure. The third place would be a great achievement for Dinamo and they will fight for it because, in the end, they have nothing to lose.
The absolute rulers of the Italian football for the past eight years hope they can win the Champions League for the first time since 1996. After another transfer window in which they demonstrated how to do business, their squad is full of superstars. Led by one of the best players of all time, they are a perfect mix of experience and young talents.
The crucial factor that will determine this season is their ability to adapt to the “Sarriball”. It seems like they will have to invest more effort to win the Serie A than they did in the previous seasons. Their quality surely allows them to dominate on several fronts, but last season Ajax showed us that, in football, names can often be less important than tactic. They have quite a challenging group with Bayer and Lokomotiv, and of course, an extremely hard opponent, Atlético Madrid. But Bianconeri have a solution for Rojiblancos – Cristiano Ronaldo who sank them last season with an outstanding hat-trick.
What a summer for Atlético! They have fully refreshed their squad with eight new signings, including the record one of João Félix from Benfica. The main task of the newcomers will be to adapt fast to Simeone’s pragmatic style of football. They started the season with three wins and they currently hold the first place in La Liga. Atléti are often considered as the best defending team in the world, but with Felix, Costa and Morata in front, they certainly know how to put the ball in the net.
Atlético’s Champions League history shows us what they can (and cannot) do. They can go as far as the final, as they did in 2014 and 2016, but they are also capable of being eliminated against Quarabag in the group stage. With this learning experience, they will be very careful against Bayer and Lokomotiv this season, and the matches against Juventus will decide on the first place.
Bayer’s young and talented squad hope to shine under the spotlight of the most popular club football competition. All the positions in the squad are covered by highly-rated players, among whom the biggest role has the supertalented Kai Havertz.
Peter Bosz’s team like to control the game; last season they had an average possession of more than 60%. They are definitely not a team to underestimate: in the past six seasons, they qualified four times for the UCL, and they passed the group three times. Interestingly enough, out of those four times they played in the UCL, they were eliminated twice by Atlético.
They are pretty lethal in front of the goal and they use every chance to score. This year it will be very difficult to pass the group, but the third place should be theirs.
The Russian vice-champions have a very experienced squad with players like Höwedes, Éder, Ćorluka, Farfan and the European champion João Mário. But the most important figures in the team are the twin brothers Miranchuk. They haven’t had a great start to the season; after eight rounds they are only the fifth in the league. Last UCL season they finished last in a relatively easy group, and this year they have to play against teams with more quality than in 2018/19.
But they always have one thing going for them. It’s a well-known fact that most of the teams don’t like to play in Russia during the winter due to extreme weather conditions. And that’s a factor that Lokomotiv should use to steal points from the giants covered above.