THE CHAMPIOOOONNNNSSS is back and it is officially time for group stage overreactions. Day 1 saw some titans of the competition begin their journey to UEFA Champions League (UCL) glory, while sleeping giants and plucky newcomers alike sought to assert themselves in the competition. With all the excitement surrounding the UCL and Bayern Munich’s chances, we identify the contenders and pretenders from the first day.
Losing at Anfield on a European night is nothing to be ashamed of, but this is not the year for PSG. An offside goal is all that kept them in the match and they were dominated by Jurgen Klopp’s side. The attacking trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani is deadly, but a lackluster midfield without a true holding midfielder and a sub-par defense (*cough, cough, Juan Bernat*) leave many question marks surrounding Thomas Tuchel’s side. Neymar’s disappearance yesterday didn’t help matters. The front three will have to carry the team, but individual brilliance won’t be enough for a team lacking a defensive identity. Tuchel can only hope that the return of Marco Veratti and Dani Alves works wonders. Look for them to make it out of the group, but spiral out early in the knockout rounds yet again.
BVB were on their heels for large parts of the match and escaping with a victory is an accomplishment considering their performance, but Club Brugge are not a top opponent. Dortmund have talent all over the park, but they are still developing an identity under new manager Lucien Favre. Paco Alcacer will be vital moving forward as the only pure striker on the roster to finish off chances created by BVB’s wealth of attacking talent. Although their struggle to victory indicates that Favre’s men have a long way to go, they will improve on last year’s campaign. Next year may be the year Dortmund return to prominence (if they can hold onto their players, that is).
Domenic Tedesco needs to right the ship... NOW. Not only are Schalke residing at the bottom of the Bundesliga table, a draw against FC Porto to start their UCL campaign is underwhelming to say the least. Schalke are too talented not to advance out of this group and it is about time they return to European prominence. The game-tying penalty was absolutely not a foul, but they won’t make it past the round of 16 if they can’t address their lack of cohesion.
Seriously? All that firepower and Ancelotti still can’t get it done... shocking. Red Star is a brutal place to play, but Napoli need to be challenging in Serie A and abroad. Ancelotti’s side created plenty of chances, but you can’t just rely on individual talent against teams that set up with a low block. With PSG and Liverpool in their group and an affinity for Domestic competitions, Napoli will crash out of the Champions League as they did under Mauricio Sarri.
Even in a dominating performance, Spurs did what Spurs do, failing to escape the San Siro with a single point. Mauricio Pochettino’s men may get out of the group, and they might even take all three points against Barcelona at Wembley, but their history of surrendering leads and limited squad depth will prevent them from making a deep run in this competition.
Inter stole all three points from Tottenham on the back of a Mauro Icardi wondergoal, but don’t let their position in the group fool you. This team was thoroughly dominated by Tottenham and despite the character they showed to mount a comeback, the Milan-side are still a few pieces away from returning to the European elite.
Despite a slow start in La Liga, the other club in Madrid is built for knockout competitions. Following a Europa League triumph and multiple appearances in the UCL Final (at Bayern’s expense), Diego Simeone has the most talented roster he has had to date. Koke, Saul, Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins, Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa make up an elite attacking force, while the Atletico back line can shut down a game in an instant. Yes, Atletico went down to Monaco, but Simeone managed the game masterfully, loosening the reins enough to allow the attack to prosper. Set pieces, defending and talent are vital in the UCL, and Simeone’s men can do it all. No one wants to see this team in the knockout rounds... no one.
Jurgen Klopp finally has the financial backing to support his tactical genius. A dominating display over PSG keeps the train rolling on the River Mersey as Liverpool look to challenge for the Premier League and the UCL. The center-back pairing of Virgil Van Djik and Joe Gomez, providing a shield for Alisson Becker, finally gives the Reds a defense to match their attacking talent. Klopp’s side has depth at every position and his Heavy Metal football is difficult to match up with in a knockout competition. Despite a tough group, Liverpool have what it takes to make another deep run in the competition. This time they may just finish it off.
Barcelona have suffered from a little Champions League hoodoo the last few seasons, which has largely been rooted in a lack of depth. That is no longer the case. The Blaugraunas have reloaded their midfield and provided cover up top. Ousmane Dembele looks to be fulfilling his potential as a world-class player, while Leonel Messi continues to be the best player on the face of the planet. Talent-wise, only a few clubs in the world can match up. The only thing standing in the way of Ernesto Valverde and Barca is themselves.
In preparation for tomorrow, take a look at BFW’s group previews and stay tuned for the Contenders and Pretenders following Day 2 of the action!