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UEFA Champions League Group H Preview: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille

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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 H.

Chelsea FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Chelsea (by Chuck Smith)

Who are they?

Chelsea is a squad in transition in some ways under first-year coach Frank Lampard. With a mix of veterans like Willian, Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante, Ross Barkley, Jorginho, Olivier Giroud, and Pedro, along with youngsters like Andreas Christensen, Kurt Zouma, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chrisitan Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Tammy Abraham, there is a base of talent for Lampard to work with. Chelsea, however, has been bitten by the injury bug. With Hudson-Odoi, Kante, and Loftus-Cheek among the key players who have been banged up or working back through long-term injuries to start the season, Lampard has not come close to seeing what the full potential of the squad is as of yet. Kepa Arrizabalaga is the goalkeeper and may need to always bring his “A” game to the pitch for Chelsea to have any Champions League success.

How’d they get here?

Chelsea qualified for the Champions League in two separate ways: By winning last season’s Europa League title and also by finishing third in the English Premier League.

Player to Watch

Christian Pulisic. Captain America himself is going to play a vital role for Chelsea if the club has any plans to get out of the group stage. Technically-skilled, creative, and with great pace, Pulisic is a known commodity these days, but he will need to produce on the pitch if Chelsea is going to advance. Pulisic is past the point of talking about potential now, so the focus is all about production and performance. There will be no room for growing pains in this group. If Chelsea plays to its potential, it should advance — and at least some of that responsibility falls on the club’s big acquisition from last winter, Pulisic.

Chelsea FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

Ajax (by Fergus Tong )

Who are they?

Afc Ajax are an historic club hailing from the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. Founded in 1888, the Dutch record champions have won four Champions leagues / European cup’s along with other major honors. Their famed youth academy has produced many legends of the games with the likes of Denis Berkamp, Johan Cruyff, Edgar Davids coming through the ranks.

The current team are coached by ex Bayern reserves manager, Erik ten Hag and carrying on with tradition, many players came through the esteemed Ajax academy into the senior team of the club who pioneered total football. Their young team plays a very attractive brand of football spearheaded by experienced professionals like Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic. It will be great watching them delight this season, again!

How’d they get here?

The legendary club had to go through the Champions League qualifiers to reach the group stage. In their two qualifying rounds they won their games by a aggregate score of 5-4 and 2-0, not an incredibly easy passage. Given their performance in last seasons CL, a sublime fairy tale run where they became everyone’s ‘second team’, it’s disgraceful that the Eridivisie champions still have to go through the treacherous ‘champions route’ qualifying section. However, despite qualifying struggles, I have a sneaky feeling that Ajax could win the whole thing this time round...despite losing two of their top players—who have been well replaced

Player to Watch

Dusan Tadic. While there are many options for this accolade such as de Beek, Tagliafico and Ziyech, Dusan Tadic is the most deserving. The Serbian delivered countless MOTM performances including his one against Real Madrid which should go down as one of the all time great performances. Equally superb domestically as in Europe, he was involved in forty one goals during 34 domestic league games and scored 9 goals in 18 Cl games! The Southampton reject lit up all ‘football purists’ hearts during the last campaign and has looked equally as threatening this season. Bold claim...one of the best players in the world at current.

Ajax v Apoel Nicosia - UEFA Champions League Play Off Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Valencia (by John Dillon)

Who are they?

Bat-crested Valencia CF has been a fixture near the top of La Liga since the turn of the century, when they reached the Champions League final in 2000 only to lose to Real Madrid. The very next season they lost the Champions League again, this time on penalties to Bayern Munich. Since those glory days, Valencia has regularly been fighting for UCL qualification. Valencia has a strong squad and beat FC Barcelona 2-1 last year to win La Liga’s Copa del Rey

How’d they get here?

Valencia qualified directly last season by finishing fourth in La Liga. They finished with 38 points for the second year in a row, with an overall record of 15-16-7, 51 goals for and merely 35 against.

Player to Watch

Spanish striker Rodrigo has been Valencia’s top scorer two years running (19 and 14 goals respectively), but 20-year-old left winger Gonçalo Guedes is one of the most exciting players to watch on the pitch. Valencia signed him from PSG last year for a whopping €40m, their record transfer, after taking him on loan from PSG for two seasons. Last year, he struggled with injury, but he scored 6 goals and assisted 11 in 2017-18.

Valencia CF v RCD Mallorca - La Liga Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Lille (by John Dillon)

Who are they?

Lille Olympique Sporting Club or Lille OSC for short (“LOSC Lille” is shamefully redundant) is a French club based in Lille, near the Belgian border. Founded in 1944, the club enjoyed early success before wallowing in the depths of La Ligue until a renaissance in 2000, after which it has regularly been among the best clubs in France. Lille is making its first Champions League appearance since 2012 and its third overall. Last season, bolstered by Nicolas Pépé’s 23 goals and a stubborn defense, Lille boasted an impressive overall record of 22-9-7, scoring 68 goals while conceding a league-best 33 (PSG: 35).

How’d they get here?

Lille qualified directly for the Champions League by virtue of an excellent second-place finish behind PSG in Ligue 1.

Player to Watch

Pépé’s successor at striker is young man from Nigeria named Victor Osimhen (20). Lille signed him from RSC Charleroi for €13m, their third-most-expensive signing after Bayern Munich’s own Renato Sanches (€20m) and attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici. The club also signed American Timothy Weah from PSG on a five-year contract to bolster the offense. In four games this season, Osimhen already has four goals. If he keeps it up, and Sanches at last flourishes in midfield, Lille could be a tricky opponent.

Stade de Reims v LOSC Lille - Ligue 1 Photo by Baptiste Fernandez/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Predictions

Phillip Quinn, Brian Burton

1) Chelsea, 2) Ajax, 3) Lille, 4) Valencia

Ryan Cowper, Fergus Tong

1) Ajax, 2) Chelsea, 3) Lille, 4) Valencia

Yams

1) Valencia, 2) Chelsea, 3) Ajax, 4) Lille

John Dillon, Josh Tobolt, Mike Lynch

1) Chelsea, 2) Ajax, 3) Valencia, 4) Lille

Jake Fenner, Callum Seniuk

1) Ajax, 2) Valencia, 3) Chelsea, 4) Lille

MiranKoFCB, Logan Chugg, Ineednoname

1) Ajax, 2) Chelsea, 3) Valencia, 4) Lille

Chuck Smith

1) Chelsea, 2) Valencia, 3) Lille, 4) Ajax

Gopika

1) Chelsea, 2) Valencia, 3) Ajax, 4) Lille

Marcus Iredahl

1) Valencia, 2) Lille, 3) Ajax, 4) Chelsea

Tom Adams

1) Ajax, 2) Lille, 3) Chelsea, 4) Valencia