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UEFA Champions League Group D Preview: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow

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In the Bavarian Football Works’ UEFA Champions League previews, we hit the important topics like who are these teams, how’d they get here, and what players you should keep an eye on. Next up: Group D.

Juventus v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Tullio Puglia - Juventus/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Juventus (by Ineednoname)

Who are they?

THE CHAMPIONS OF ITALY. Now under new management.

How’d they get here?

See above. Last season was quite painful for Juventus fans, as they purchased Cristiano Ronaldo but somehow managed to do worse in both the league and Champions League. Eventually, someone decided that enough was enough, and the decision was taken to let Max Allegri go.

Now, Juve are starting afresh with Maurizio Sarri at the helm, and a possession-based system of football that could not be more different from the style they are used to. Expect some growing pains this coming campaign.

Player to Watch

Currently, there is player who could make or break Juve’s season. With Giorgio Chiellini out injured, Juventus really need Matthijs de Ligt to step up and justify his massive transfer fee. Thus far, the Dutchman has struggled to adjust to his new environment and a new style of defending, and it came to a head against Napoli where he was at fault for all three goals conceded.

If De Ligt comes into his own, then under Maurizio Sarri Juve will be a force to be reckoned with. The question is how long it will take to get there. There aren’t any teams strong enough in Serie A to provide Juve with a real challenge, so the Champions League will be the real litmus test. Given de Ligt’s struggles, it will be fascinating to see how he deals with it.

Matthijs de Ligt of Juventus FC in action during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid (by Chuck Smith )

Who are they?

Atlético Madrid is a very strong squad from top to bottom this season after a bit of an upheaval over the summer. Gone is high-scoring France international Antoine Griezmann, but newcomer Joao Felix looks to be quite capable in helping replace Greizmann’s production. Teaming with players like Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, Thomas Lemar, Marcos Llorente, Saúl Ñíguez, and Thomas Partey, Felix headlines a very strong midfield and forward group for Atléti. Former Tottenham Hotspur man Kieran Trippier also joined the squad this summer and provides yet another able body with Mario Hermoso in front of goalkeeper Jan Oblak for coach Diego Simeone.

How’d they get here?

Atlético Madrid earned its Champions League nod by finishing second to FC Barcelona in La Liga last season. Considering that this season’s version of Atléti looks even stronger than last year’s version, it would not be shocking to see the 2019-2020 team advance farther than the Round of 16 where the squad bowed out last season. After downing Juventus 2-0 in the first leg of the tie, Atléti collapsed and let Juventus win 3-0 in the return leg to move on.

Player to Watch

Joao Felix. The 19-year-old phenom is taking La Liga by storm and looks to be worth every Euro of the €120 million that Atlético Madrid spent on him. Felix is an explosive and technically-skilled talent, who has the ability to shift between either wing or play centrally as a second striker or attacking midfielder. Simply put, the Portugal international is one of the best young talents in Europe and could be one of the great stories of this Champions League season.

Atletico Madrid v Eibar - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Bayer Leverkusen (by John Dillon)

Who are they?

Founded in 1904 by Bayer employees, Bayer Leverkusen is famed for its run of second-place finishes and other disappointed results. The club’s fortunes have fluctuated widely in the past few years, but they may finally have hit something like a stride under Peter Bosz. Leverkusen has been a regular in the Champions League over the past decade, but this is their first time back since a dramatic collapse in the 2016-2017 season that saw them finish 12th in the Bundesliga. Bayer qualified for the Europa League group stage for the 2018-2019 season, and under Peter Bosz they are now back with their exciting offense around star midfielder Kai Havertz.

Jamaican star Leon Bailey still prowls the left wing; a revived Karim Bellarabi mans the right, Kevin Volland leads at center, and of course superstar-in-the-making Kai Havertz orchestrates it all from the 10. Leverkusen bought Kerem Demirbay from Hoffenheim to bolster its central midfield. The defense is anchored by the Brothers Bender.

How’d they get here?

Bosz guided Leverkusen to a fourth-place finish in the Bundesliga last season, securing direct qualification to the Champions League. It’s a pity they landed in this group of death.

Player to Watch

Kai Havertz. Havertz is the man Bayern Munich and the rest of the major clubs will be watching very closely. Havertz is only 20 years old, but he is already a beast of a player in the Bundesliga and a rising star on the German national team. Bayern has been watching him already for some time, but Leverkusen’s Rudi Völler will not sell Havertz until he is good and ready, and then for a massive price. Havertz’s performance in the Champions League could boost not only Leverkusen’s fortunes, but also his own. Bayern would obviously be pleased by his success, but it will cost them.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v SC Paderborn 07 - Bundesliga Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Lokomotiv Moscow (by Chuck Smith)

Who are they?

Lokomotiv Moscow is at a big disadvantage in this group, but does have some talent including former Germany international and Schalke 04 man Benedikt Höwedes, who is playing a role on the Lokomotiv Moscow defensive unit. 33-year-old goalkeeper Guilherme will be tested often within this group, but Höwedes, Vedran Corluka, Dmitry Zhivoglyadov, and Murilo Cerqueira Paim will offer support. Within the forward and midfield group, Polan internationals Grzegorz Krychowiak and Maciej Rybus, along with Aleksey Miranchuk, Anton Miranchuk, Rifat Zhemaletdinov, Joao Mario, and Fedor Smolov will be relied upon to power the offense for coach Yuri Semin.

How’d they get here?

Lokomotiv Moscow finished second in the Russian Premier League last season and received an automatic pass to the Champions League Group Stage for that accomplishment.

Player to Watch

Grzegorz Krychowiak. Krychowiak is Robert Lewandowski’s international teammate and one of the most important players for Lokomotiv Moscow. The 29-year-old midfielder is one of the key cogs to the Lokomotiv Moscow effort and should be the most integral player for the squad’s effort within this group. As a player that float between central midfield roles, we could see Krychowiak’s role and focus change from game-to-game.

FC Lokomotiv Moscow vs FC Tambov - Russian Premier League Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images

Predictions

Callum Seniuk, Tom Adams, Chuck Smith, Logan Chugg, MiranKoFCB, John Dillon, Yams, Ryan Cowper, Phillip Quinn

1) Juventus, 2) Atletico Madrid, 3) Bayer Leverkusen, 4) Lokomotiv Moscow

Mike Lynch, Josh Tobolt

1) Juventus, 2) Bayer Leverkusen, 3) Atletico Madrid, 4) Lokomotiv Moscow

Marcus Iredahl, Gopika, Brian Burton, Fergus Tong

1) Atletico Madrid, 2) Juventus, 3) Bayer Leverkusen, 4) Lokomotiv Moscow

Ineednoname, Jake Fenner

1) Juventus, 2) Atletico Madrid, 3) Lokomotiv Moscow, 4) Bayer Leverkusen