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UEFA Champions League Group G Preview: Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig

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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 G.

RB Leipzig - Eintracht Frankfurt Photo by Jan Woitas/picture alliance via Getty Images

Zenit Saint Petersburg (by Miran)

Who are they?

Zenit Saint Petersburg is a Russian club from Saint Petersburg founded in 1925 (or in 1914, according to some Russian sources). During its long history, Zenit didn’t win many titles, but when the club was bought in 2005 by Gazprom, the club saw a major improvement. Since then, Zenit was always a fierce contestant for the national championship and won it five times.

How’d they get here?

Since they won the Russian Premier League, they secured their place for the Champions League’s group stage.

Player to Watch

It will be very interesting to see how former Barcelona youngster Malcolm will prove himself at Zenit. After an unsuccessful spell at Barcelona, the 22-year-old is revitalizing his career in Russia. He will get more opportunity now to prove his talent and all eyes will be on him during the Champions League matches.

FC Zenit Saint Petersburg vs FC Krasnodar - Russian Premier League Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Benfica (by Miran)

Who are they?

Benfica is a football club based in Lisbon, Portugal. The club was founded in 1904 and is one of the “Big Three” clubs in Portugal that have never been relegated from the Primeira Liga, along with rivals Sporting CP and FC Porto. Benfica is the most decorated club in Portugal with 83 titles. Their biggest European success was when they won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962. Since then, they have lost every final in a European competition. Rumor has it that the reason for this failure is because of a curse from Benfica’s former manager Béla Guttmann, who guided the team which won the European Cup twice. The club is also famous for its youth academy.

How’d they get here?

Since they won the Primeira Liga, they’ve directly secured their place for the Champions League’s group stage.

Player to Watch

Pizzi proved himself time and time again. He’s been a crucial player for Benfica for years now. Last year he played 34 matches and started every single one. He scored 13 goals and assisted 18 times. Great stats for an attacking midfielder. He is definitely the engine of Benfica and will represent a threat to every team.

SL Benfica v PAOK - UEFA Champions League Play Off Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

Lyon (by Joshua Tobolt )

Who are they?

Olympique Lyon. Les Gones. They’re one of the stronger squads from France having won the Ligue 1 cup an incredible 7 straight times from 2001 to 2008. While they have to compete with the incredible spending power of Paris-Saint Germain, they still often times field a competent and balanced squad. Leader their attack up top, they have current Ligue 1 top scorer and dutch star Memphis Depay and French international Maxwell Cornet. In the midfield they are marshaled by upcoming French youngster Houssem Aouar who has thus far shown to be an elite attacking talent at the young age of 21. Leading the back line it Portuguese shot-stopper Anthony Lopez who is one of the more underrated but consistent keepers in Ligue 1.

How’d they get here?

They finished 3rd place in Ligue 1 last year accumulating 72 points thus securing the final automatic entry into the UEFA Champions League and spot in Pot 2. The first half of the season would’ve seen Lyon barely register 4th which was Europa League entry, but they rallied for a very strong second half of the season to comfortably securing their Champions League spot.

Player to Watch

Moussa Dembélé, Lyon’s 23 year old attacking midfielder led Lyon with 15 goals last season. Viewed by many as a tactically adapt and technically skilled player, Dembélé has the necessary skills and eye for goal that will ease the burden off of Lyon’s attacking star Depay and offer Lyon another outlet to score. If Dembélé is able to maintain his current form and connect with Depay, that could mean big trouble for the defenses of Group G.

Montpellier HSC v Olympique Lyonnais - Ligue 1 Photo by Alexandre Dimou/Icon Sport via Getty Images

RB Leipzig (by Chuck Smith)

Who are they?

RB Leipzig has a formidable core group of players that seems to be getting stronger each week. Forwards Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen are tough tandem for anyone to deal with up-top, while Emil Forsberg, Marcel Sabitzer, Konrad Laimer, Kevin Kampl, and Diego Demme are all versatile and capable players who contribute offensively.

The RB Leipzig defensive unit is very talented as well. Outside-backs Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg are both excellent players, while Willi Orban, Ibrahima Konate, and Dayot Upamecano (currently injured) give coach Julian Nagelsmann depth and flexibility on the back-line. One x-factor could be Tyler Adams, a defensive midfielder and USMNT stalwart, who is also currently banged up, but should be ready to return in time to have an impact in the competition. Finally, Peter Gulasci is a proven and underrated goalkeeper, who will be a vital component of Leipzig’s ability to win this group.

How’d they get here?

RB Leipzig enters the competition by virtue of their fourth place finish in the Bundesliga. After what was sort of an up-and-down season, Leipzig rallied enough to side into the last Champions League berth, which is fortunate since this year’s squad looks much more stable and mature than last year’s iteration. This team has the capability of winning the group.

Player to Watch

Timo Werner. Werner, Leipzig’s 23-year-old striker, is an explosive weapon with speed, tenacity, and a nose for the goal. When on the pitch, he has to be accounted for by the opposition, but Germany international has a bit of freedom to roam, which makes him even harder to contain. While his pace and finishing are probably his greatest weapons, Werner is also capable of getting out-wide and creating offense through cutting-in or crossing the ball into the box where Poulsen does some of his own best work. Given his recent contract extension and ability to seize the moment, Werner is confident and looking to lead RB Leipzig deep into this competition.

RB Leipzig v Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

Predictions

Phillip Quinn, Ryan Cowper, John Dillon, Logan Chugg, Ineednoname, Chuck Smith, Mike Lynch

1) RB Leipzig, 2) Benfica, 3) Lyon, 4) Zenit Saint Petersburg

Yams, MiranKoFCB

1) RB Leipzig, 2) Lyon, 3) Zenit Saint Petersburg, 4) Benfica

Josh Tobolt, Fergus Tong, Gopika, Marcus Iredahl, Callum Seniuk

1) RB Leipzig, 2) Lyon, 3) Benfica, 4) Zenit Saint Petersburg

Jake Fenner, Tom Adams

1) Lyon, 2) RB Leipzig, 3) Benfica, 4) Zenit Saint Petersburg

Brian Burton

1) Zenit Saint Petersburg, 2) RB Leipzig, 3) Benfica, 4) Lyon