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Champions League group stage draw promises some interesting matchups

The 2020-2021 Champions League draw gave soccer fans around the world excitement for some intriguing matchups coming in the not so distant future. The biggest news from the draw is that for the first time ever, league stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will face each other in the group stage. This will be the first time since November of 2017 that Messi and Ronaldo will face each other, as they have not faced off since Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Juventus. There are also some other juicy matchups we can look forward to as well. 

Starting off in Group A, we have defending Champions League winners Bayern Munich. Bayern Munich is the favorite to win the group, and the opponents they received from the draw are not the toughest. They got put in a group with Atletico Madrid, FC Salzburg and Lokomotiv Moscow. The toughest challenge for Bayern will certainly be Atletico Madrid. Atletico Madrid recently adding striker Luis Suarez will surely bolster their offensive abilities and be a headache for opposing defenses. Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are the two teams expected to advance, but FC Salzburg has made noise in the group stage before, so they need to be respected. FC Salzburg has lost striker Erling Haaland and winger Takumi Minamino since they almost advanced from the group stage last year, but Salzburg has a history of producing good young talent, so be on the lookout for one of their unknown stars to pop up this year. As for Lokomotiv Moscow, they have little to no chance of making it out of the group stage. Last year Moscow finished last in their group, only winning once. 

In Group B we have Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Monchengladbach. Real Madrid and Inter Milan are both favored to advance through to the knockout stage, but it will not be an easy task for either of them. Recently Borussia Monchengladbach has become a top tier team in Germany’s top flight, and Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk are regulars in the group stage and have made it out of the group stage in the past, most recently in the 2017-18 season. Real Madrid is the favorites to win the group, however, no one will be surprised if Inter Milan takes the group from them. Inter Milan has a very talented squad that will only get better as they build chemistry together. 

Manchester City may have the easiest path to the knockout stage of any team. Manchester City will have to go through Marseille, FC Porto and Olympiakos in Group C. For the second spot in the group, and a spot in the knockout stage it seems likely one of Marseille or FC Porto will claim it. Their matchups will be the most intriguing in the group because of how close they are in skill and ability. Greek champions Olympiakos would have to pull off a minor miracle to advance. It will be interesting to see how Manchester City responds after being upset in the quarter-finals last year by Lyon. 

Defending Premier League champions Liverpool should have a comfortable path to the knockout stage. In Group D they were placed with Atalanta, Ajax and FC Midtjylland. Expected to finish second in this group is Atalanta, the high powered offense of the Italian side which should give them a good chance to advance. However, no one is sleeping on Ajax. Champions League regulars, and 2019 Semifinalists, Ajax has proven in the past that they can hang with the best of the best. As for FC Midtjylland, this will be their first appearance in the Champions League, and I think they will be happy just to be there. 

In Group E the expected winner is up in the air, but the two advancing teams seem pretty obvious. Chelsea and last year’s Europa League winners Sevilla should both be in the knockout stage when the dust settles. Chelsea has an abundance of new talent after this summer’s transfer window. Bringing in striker Timo Werner, winger Kai Havertz, winger Hakim Ziyech and left-back Ben Chilwell should give Chelsea a better shot at going far in the Champions League this year. A battle tested Sevilla proved their worth in the Europa League last year, and Unai Emery’s squad should be one that has the grit to succeed in a competition like the Champions League. As for the other two teams in the group, Rennes and Krasnodar, they just do not seem to have the talent to contend with the two bigger clubs in the group. Both Krasnodar and Rennes finished third in their Leagues, and both will have to overachieve to make the knockout stage. 

Group F is probably the least interesting on paper, but may be a hidden gem for some good games. Borussia Dortmund, Lazio, Zenit St. Petersburg and Club Brugge will be the teams competing for the two spots in the knockout stage. Dortmund is the favorite to top the group, and if Jadon Sancho stays with them that will only help their odds. As for the favorite to get the second spot, it will most likely come down to Lazio and Zenit St. Petersburg. Zenit St. Petersburg has not had much success in the Champions League, but if there is a year for them to finally break through, this may be it. As for Lazio, they will be relying on their star man Ciro Immobile to carry them to the knockout stage. Belgium side Club Brugge probably will not have much success here, but you never know. 

The easiest group to pick the two advancing teams in has to be Group G. Juventus and Barcelona would need to have something go terribly wrong to not make the knockout stage. No disrespect to Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros but there are levels here. As for who will win the group between Juventus and Barcelona, it is a coin flip. Messi and Ronaldo as mentioned earlier have never faced off in the group stage, so this will be must-watch TV. I tend to favor Juventus here, I think their team is just slightly better. This is a real treat for soccer fans regardless of fandom. 

The last group, Group H, may be the most competitive for who will advance to the knockout stage. This group has three heavyweights, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and RB Leipzig. The fourth team is Istanbul Basaksehir. This is their first ever Champions League appearance and they got put in the group of death. Unlucky, but it will be a good learning experience for them. As for who is favored to win the group, that would be PSG. The annual French League winners made it to the finals of the Champions League this past August, where they came up just short against Bayern Munich. They will have a tough time in the group stage but should find a way out of the group. Manchester United is the favorite to finish second, but RB Leipzig seems to improve every year and made the Semifinals this past year in the Champions League. Group H is one to follow closely, as one of these heavyweights is likely to be eliminated in the early stages of action.

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