The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League is upon us, and Bavarian Football Works is here for your preview and predictions. Our writers predicted the finish of the groups.
Winners: Bayern Munich
Depending on your perspective, Bayern Munich either got really unlucky or won the lottery with this draw. While it’s still the Champions League, the Bavarians missed out on all the heavyweights of the competition, making them clear favorites to top their group. In fact, considering their pedigree, the German champions will be expected to come first with a flawless win record — anything less than that, and expect the media’s attack dogs to descend on Niko Kovac. The trickiest fixture comes first — on matchday 1, Bayern travel to Lisbon to face Benfica on their own turf. If Kovac can successfully navigate this fixture, then the rest of the group stage should be a formality.
How did they qualify: Bayern Munich qualified directly into the Group Stage by winning the 2017-18 German Bundesliga.
Benfica will be the favorites to follow Bayern Munich out of this group and into the knockout rounds. They’ve started the Portuguese Premeira Liga with three wins and a draw out of four games, but so have Sporting and Braga. Then, there are three more teams behind them with 9 points each. It’ll be interesting to see if the league remains competitive and deep all season long and how that affects Benfica and Porto in the Champions League. As for the summer transfer window,, Benfica was as busy as they always are during the summer transfer window, bringing in talented players like Facunda Ferreyra and Nicolas Castillo. They open with Bayern, but the return leg isn’t until Matchday 5. That gives them three matches in a row against Ajax and AEK Athens. If they grab at least seven points in those three matches, they will have nearly guaranteed themselves their knockout round spot.
How did they qualify: Benfica qualified directly into the Third Qualifying Round by finishing in second place in the 2017-18 Portuguese Premeira Liga. They beat 2017-18 Turkish Super Lig second place finisher Fenerbahce 2-1 on aggregate in the Third Qualifying Round, and 2017-18 Superleague Greece second place finisher PAOK 5-2 in the Playoff Round to advance to the Group Stage.
— Phillip Quinn
Europa League: Ajax
The Dutch powerhouse did not catch much luck in being grouped with Bayern and Benfica, but de Godenzonen could present some interesting match-ups against either of those squads and has some extremely good, young talent on its roster. 19-year old Matthijs de Ligt is the key player to watch for Ajax as the youngster is considered one of the brightest defensive starlets in the world. Rumored FC Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur target Frenkie de Jong is a 20-year old midfielder, who also is worth watching compete. Ajax, however, will likely have its hands full in creating offense in this group and will need other to step up and support 35-year old forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and 21-year old winger David Neres.
How did they qualify: Ajax qualified directly into the Second Qualifying Round by finishing in second place in the 2017-18 Dutch Eredivisie. They beat 2017-18 Austrian Football Bundesliga second place finisher Sturm Graz 5-1 on aggregate in the Second Qualifying Round, 2017–18 Belgian First Division A second place finisher Standard Liege 5-2 on aggregate in the Third Qualifying Round, and 2017–18 Ukrainian Premier League second place finisher Dynamo Kiev 3-1 in the Playoff Round to advance to the Group Stage.
— Chuck Smith
Eliminated: AEK Athens
The good news for AEK Athens is that they avoid Bayern Munich for their first two matches in Group E. The bad news for Athens is that games three and four are against Bayern. It’s very possible that they will enter Matchday 5 with anywhere from 0-3 points with no realistic shot at advancing. We’re at the point in the Champions League life cycle where nations that used to sneak teams into the knockout rounds really don’t have a shot any longer. This could be an ugly group stage campaign for Athens.
How did they qualify: AEK Athens qualified directly into the Third Qualifying Round by winning the 2017-18 Superleague Greece. They beat 2017-18 Scottish Premiership champion Celtic 3-2 on aggregate in the Third Qualifying Round, and 2017-18 Hungarian 2017–18 Nemzeti Bajnokság I champion MOL Vidi 3-2 in the Playoff Round to advance to the Group Stage.
— Phillip Quinn