While groups A-D hold names that bring individual stories of success that promise repetition, groups E-H make up the core of teams that are on every football fan’s mind. Although some teams are easier than others to select as either group winners or runner-ups, predictions can be drawn to build a probable outcome of the group stage.

Group E (Bayern, Benfica, Ajax, AEK)

With World Cup performances that disappointed millions, the German and Polish national teams exited the competition with their heads hanging low, image that reflects the shakiness of Bayern Munich this UEFA season. As the German core for Bayern, Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels, and Joshua Kimmich don’t convince with this summer’s output.

On top of that, they barely reached the semifinals last season, having the opposing teams score FOR them (opponents scored qualifying own goals for Bayern in the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals last season).

As the only Polish contribution to the roster, Robert Lewandowski has his own share of fault. He wasn’t able to score for Bayern in last year’s qualifiers, and repeated the feat in the World Cup, exiting with zero goals. Maybe this September he’ll get back to his old ways of dominating opponents’ defense.

Bayern Munich players, celebrating goals in their Bundesliga match against Stuttgart

In the end, their group-mates will make their job easier. Benfica may intimidate at home with their fandom, but Bayern’s experience will debilitate any attempts that can take from them the first place of Group E. It can’t be forgotten that the Portuguese also had a difficult trip when trying to earn a spot this year, exposing some weaker features of a smaller, but hopeful team.

Ajax and AEK will see to steal Europa qualifying points from each other, with AEK having the higher ground. As it is often typical of Greek teams, AEK poses a threat for a team like Ajax with their defense. Even though in the Dutch league Ajax finished second (four points away from PSV’s first place lead) it shouldn’t be forgotten that Eredivise’s quality has deteriorated.

While Ajax seemed to rely on home games to break the ice in the qualifiers, as they were able to get wins only at home and away draws, AEK promises for more. The Athenians won both their away and home games against Celtic, albeit suffering through red card-infested games.

Group F (Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon, Hoffenheim)

Without flinching, it could be said that Manchester City wins the group. The team’s success in last year’s EPL season speaks for the steady run that the team will have this year. Having convinced everyone of their strength in the league, Pep Guardiola and his boys will put less stress on the EPL title this year, with the UEFA title in focus. Elimination from Liverpool’s domination in last year’s quarterfinals will push them to seek the final, thing that would be the first one in the club’s books.

Leroy Sané – Manchester City star winger

On the other hand, the runner-up race will prove to be interesting, as the teams rank close to each other in either offensive or defensive quality. For my pick, I have Shakhtar reaching in just enough to squeeze out of the group stage. Their typical infatuation with Brazilian talent often pays off, but Lyon, will still be very dangerous. Among others, their roster contains names of French players who were contributors in the World Cup success this past summer.

Because Hoffenheim lacks the experience of a Champions League team, I think they won’t be able to survive the pressure, but they could take the third place away from either Shakhtar or Lyon, to then later compete in the Europa League.

Group G (Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moskva, Viktoria Plzeň)

Unless Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence has left the Real Madrid roster with a crippling heartbreak, then they will reach the top of the group with no issues. The only team that can maybe give them a hard time can be home game in Roma. Even in that case, however, they would still end up leading the group.

Real Madrid’s squad celebrating a La Liga 4-1 win against Leganes on Saturday

Although they’ve had a rocky start in the Serie A, the Italians of Roma can still taste the Final from last year, thing that will ignite their hopes once they wear the Champions League logo on their jerseys. Their surprising run last year could foreshadow surprises this year,  to later place them on a runner-up’s seat in December.

To wrap up Group G, CSKA Moskva, the other Moscow team in this UEFA edition will most likely secure qualification into the Europa League. Surviving Real Madrid is out of the question, and beating Roma is a long shot for them, so the points from the Czech underdogs of Plzeň will be the only feasible option. As for Plzeň; they should be content with having qualified this year in the Champions League, as it is truly a difficult competition to reserve a ticket for…

Group H (Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys)

Even though it’s been weeks now that Juventus awaits Ronaldo’s goals to pour in, they will win the group to enter the Round of 16 as strong contenders for the trophy. It’s just a matter of time for Cristiano to bring in his Real Madrid performances in Turin, and be the heavy weight on Juventus’ confident steps.

Parma v Juventus: Serie A live: goals, match report
Juventus players celebrating Mario Mandžukić’ goal after their 1-2 win against Parma on Saturday

Valencia will be my pick for the runner-up, as Mourinho’s efforts have already started to crumble early in this season. During the summer, he made it clear that his defense was most precious to him when he asked certain transfers to be made that would strengthen the center-back core. With the request turned down by United’s higher management, and with a roster that has already started to show signs of insecurity, Valencia will prove to be the more driven and prepared side.

Besides, I’m sure Mourinho would rather enter the Europa League with chances to lift a title, rather than leaving the competition in the Round of 16, which would be sure to happen if they are to make it through the group stage.

As for Young Boys, the same applies as Viktoria Plzeň in Group H…

* * *

More or less, these results are what is expected out of this year’s Champions League competition. Football will definitely see an entertaining page of its history, especially with teams and their stars being driven by the ultimate trophy of club football. Although it is too early to guess a certain winner, the confidence and maturity of contenders will make it easier for us to narrow down the search for the one true winner as each stage unfolds.

September 18th and 19th are the matchday one dates for all teams, withe 2:45 ET being the time when that grandiose anthem will be sung for the first time this season, and teams to show their true worth.

Cover photo: uefa.com
Bayern photo: dnaindia.com
Sané photo: independent.co.uk
Madrid photo: standard.co.uk
Juventus photo: en.as.com

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