Champions League 20/21 – Group Stage Overview
Most groups have two strong teams. From a fantasy perspective, you want to target the teams that have a weaker third and fourth team in their group, as that should lead to more attacking returns and clean sheets (CS), which equals more points.
Defending Champions Bayern Munich are the favourites to win this group, followed by dogged rivals Atletico Madrid. RB Salzburg are the best team from Austria, they scored three goals away at Anfield last season, two at home to Napoli and comfortably defeated Genk (recording 16 goals in total). They won’t be whipping boys. Lokomotiv Moscow managed to beat Bayer Leverkusen away last season, but they were the only points they did manage to pick up. They managed to score in their defeats to Juventus, but Atletico shut them out twice in comfortable victories, and their forward has been sold to Atalanta. Moscow should be the whipping boys in this group.
Real Madrid have some pedigree in this competition; however, they are a shadow of who they used to be despite currently sitting top of La Liga and winning it last season. They struggled against the press when they faced Manchester City last season, and all three of their opposition like to play this way. Inter Milan will fancy their chances in this group, after missing out last season in the group of death with Barcelona and Dortmund. Shaktar are an experienced UCL team, but they rarely escape the group stages. Both Manchester City and Atalanta didn’t struggle to score goals against them last season, and their attack isn’t the most dangerous, either, which is something to look out for. Borussia Mönchengladbach haven’t started the season well, losing 3-0 to Dortmund, however, they do have a decent squad with an exciting manager.
Manchester City are strong favourites to qualify from their group, especially as they are one of the sides that are fortunate enough not to have a strong second team alongside them. However, there isn’t an obvious whipping boy here. Porto have a lot of history in the competition, but they’re no longer a strong force having sold several key players. Marseille are a good young side with two familiar names, they’re managed by Andre Villas-Boas and their chief creator is former West Ham man, Dimitri Payet. Villas-Boas likes to operate a high press with a high line; however, he doesn’t quite have the personnel to pull it off, leaving them vulnerable to the likes of Manchester City. Olympiakos troubled both Wolves and Spurs, as well as knocking Arsenal out of the Europa League last season. They won’t go down without a fight.
Liverpool will be strong favourites in this group, but they face some tricky games. Atalanta took everyone by surprise last season, they’re currently top of Serie A and are one of the most exciting teams around. They nearly eliminated PSG last season, and they’ve managed to hold on to their key players, with the exception of Timothy Castagne. The Ajax side that reached the semi-final two years ago has been pillaged, but they still have an excellent manager and a youth system that continually pumps out talent. I expect the previous two to qualify, but Ajax will bloody some noses. Midtjylland are expected to be the whipping boys, however they’re an interesting side owned by Matthew Benham (who also owns Brentford). They have evolved quantum leaps in recent years thanks to his data driven ‘Moneyball’ approach. They could surprise some people, especially with their set-piece prowess, potentially providing some useful cheap enablers for your squad.
Chelsea have been gifted a very kind group, and although Sevilla came from pot one, they don’t seem to have the same fortunes in the UCL as they often do in the Europa League. They’re a solid defensive side, though, and a defender wouldn’t be a bad addition to any squad. The other two sides are a lot weaker. Krasnador came third in Russia last season, and currently sit 8th in the league. In the Europa League group stages, they were beaten 5-0 by Basel. Rennes finished 3rd in Ligue 1 last season, they’re flying at the top now, and are the most likely to trouble the top two sides. However, Chelsea have stolen their keeper, and Raphinha has gone to Leeds.
Dortmund should walk this group, they haven’t lost any of their stars under than loanee Achraf Hakimi – a player well worth keeping an eye on at Inter. Second place is likely to be contested by Zenit and Lazio. Zenit monoplise the Russian league and they, not Dortmund, were the pot one team. Leipzig beat them comfortably in the group stages last season, but they can put up a reasonable fight at home. Lazio finished 4th in Serie A last season, and haven’t started very well. In the Europa League they were beaten twice by Celtic, to give you an idea of their relative strength. Club Brugge are arguably the weakest side in this group.
The eagerly anticipated Messi v Ronaldo sequel awaits when Barcelona face Juventus with both sides expected to qualify. Both Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros are effectively whipping boys that are worth targeting.
Lastly, the group of death. PSG were defeated finalists last season, and they have a similar squad this time around. Leipzig crushed Spurs and defeated Atletico Madrid on their way to the semi-final last season, where PSG ended their run. Losing Werner is a massive blow, but they’re still a good side. Then there’s Manchester United, who haven’t started the season well, but have the ability to hurt anyone. Istanbul won the Turkish league last season; however, they’ve started awfully this time around. Despite being an experienced side, they’re unlikely to trouble any of the above three.