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UEFA Champions League Group A Preview: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray

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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. First up: Group A.

Paris Saint-Germain v Toulouse FC - Ligue 1 Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain (by John Dillon)

Who are they?

Pure dysfunctionality. PSG is that supervillain who is both hilariously evil and hilariously inept. The Parisians boast a frightening front three of Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappé, but the first two potentially hate each other and all three of them are currently unfit to play. Neymar is exhausted from spending the summer trying to flee Paris, Cavani has a hip injury, and Mbappé has a bum hamstring. Fortunately for them, German-Cameroonian superstar Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting has been holding down the fort.

But I digress. PSG has attempted to address its weaknesses by acquiring castoff Keylor Navas from Real Madrid (dumped for Thibaut Courtois after winning three UCL’s in a row). And lo and behold, PSG found yet another dysfunctional player to complement their current cast of egos: Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi, a prolific goal-scorer when not suspended, whom Inter stripped of his captaincy and booted out the door along with his charming wife Nara. He’ll fit right in.

PSG has tried to shore up its midfield by signing Everton’s Idrissa Gueye, and they have at last rid themselves of Adrien Rabiot and his mother, who are now Juventus’ problem. But lovable coach Thomas Tuchel is still sorting out PSG’s defense. Thiago Silva is in the last year of his contract. Marquinhos is solid, and Thilo Kehrer has lost time to injury and an even younger Colin Dagba. PGS also now has former Dortmund defender Abdou Diallo to help. And I got two words for ya: JUAN BERNAT!

How’d they get here?

Take one poulet, saturate in heavy oil, shake well. Garnish with Brazilian mohlo. Roll vigorously on the ground.

PSG qualified directly by winning Ligue 1 last season, although they did their very best not to. Their only other title last season was the Trophée des Champions, equivalent to the DFL-Supercup. They lost the Coupe de France (= DFB-Pokal) to Rennes and were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue (another knockout tournament) by Ligue 2 side Guingamp. Inconceivable!

Player to Watch

Mbappé! He’s amazing. He is just 20 years old and arguably the best player in the world. But enough about great soccer! Watch Neymar! He might be brilliant; he might be bored; he might be catapulted across the pitch by the lightest touch. You never know. But we’ll all be watching to see how he reintegrates with his teammates after trying to ditch them all summer. Perhaps he’ll finally learn French. PSG sporting director Leonardo Araújo recently said players who can’t understand him should take a course. Wouldn’t that be swell?

Anyway, I’ll be watching my man Choupo-Moting.

Paris Saint Germain v Toulouse - French League 1 Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid (by Phillip Quinn)

Who are they?

You know them. You hate them. They’re Real Madrid. They’re one of the world’s most prestigious clubs. Real have won La Liga 33 times, Copa Del Rey 19 times, the FIFA Club World Cup 4 times, and unfortunately the UEFA Champions League a record 13 times. It’s impossible to argue their status.

However, it wasn’t that long ago that Real became a failure meme in the Champions League. For a period of six straight season from 2005-2010, Real were dumped out of Europe’s most prestigious competition in the Round of 16 despite the tens of millions of euros spent on transfers. So what was the solution? They spent hundreds of millions of euros on transfers. That’s when everything changed into the behemoth you remember from recent memory.

How’d they get here?

Real was pretty bad last season. They finished third in La Liga, nineteen points behind Barcelona. So, that’s how they sneaked into this season’s Champions League. Fantastic news for them, because...

Otherwise, what a terrible season. They lost the UEFA Super Cup to Atletico Madrid. They were knocked out of the Copa Del Rey Semifinals by Barcelona. Ajax beat them in the Champions League Round of 16. Finally, after years of them winning the Champions League, they looked like trash.

Player to Watch

The guy to watch is Eden Hazard. When you spend €100 million on a single player, he better be the one to watch. After missing out on Antoine Griezmann and Neymar, Real are going to need Hazard to live up to the billing. Otherwise, the club will be forced to rely on Gareth Bale and/or James Rodriguez to win games for them, and that’s a proposition that Real certainly don’t want.

RB Salzburg v Real Madrid - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

Club Brugge (by Phillip Quinn)

Who are they?

Club Brugge Koninklijke Voetbalvereniging have won the second most Belgium championships in history (15, though, to be fair, that’s a lot less than Anderlecht’s 34). However, they have pipped Anderlecht to both Belgian Cup wins (11 vs 9) and Belgian Super Cup (15 vs 13). Club Brugge is also the only club from Belgium to appear in a European Final, losing the 1977-78 European Cup (now the Champions League) 0-1 to Liverpool.

While Anderlecht remain their main rival in all things title-wise, they do contest the Bruges Derby against city-rival Cercle Brugge. Cercle, however, has only beat Club one time in their last ten encounters.

How’d they get here?

Last season, Brugge finished second in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League. That league position dumped the Belgians into the Third Qualifying Round for the Champions League. There, they defeated Dynamo Kiev 4-3 on aggregate to advance to the Playoff Round. Brugge won both games against LASK, 3-1 on aggregate, to advance to the Champions League Group Stage.

Player to Watch

The battle between Brugge and Galatasaray for the Europa League spot will likely be an intense one. The man for Brugge to keep an eye on it Hans Vanaken. Vanaken scored 14 goals and added 16 assists in the Belgian Jupiler League last season. The Brugge vice captain will need to come up big in the group games against Galatasaray for the Belgians to advance. Maybe they’ll figure out how to steal a point against PSG or Real Madrid?

Club Brugge vs LASK - Champions League Play-offs Photo by Philippe Crochet / Photonews via Getty Images

Galatasaray (by Phillip Quinn)

Who are they?

Galatasaray are the record winners in Turkey of both the Super Lig (22) and the Turkish Cup (18). They’ve long been one of Turkey’s “Big 3” along with Fenerbahce and Besiktas. The Istanbul Derbies between the three are always among the world’s most intense, so if possible, those are matches you should try to catch during a season.

With Turkey slipping among the world’s elite as more and more money floods Western Europe, Gala has seen it harder and harder to get out of the Group Stage of the Champions League. The last time they ventured into the knockout rounds was the 2013-14 season when they were bounced from the Round of 16.

How’d they get here?

Galatasaray won the 2018-19 Turkish Super Lig, two points ahead of Istanbul Basaksehir (who were eliminated in the Champions League Third Qualifying Round). It was their second straight championship. Last season, Gala dropped out of the Champions League Group Stage and were knocked out of the Round of 32 in the Europa League by Benfica.

Player to Watch

For three straight seasons now, Galatasaray’s top scorer has left the club at the end of the season. Lukas Podolski, Bafetimbi Gomis, and Henry Onyekuru all left following their scoring chart-topping season for Gala. Now, the pressure is on returning attacking midfielder Sofiane Feghouli and newcomer Ryan Babel.

This will be Feghouli’s third season in Galatasaray’s squad, and after last seasons’ 13 goals in all competitions, a bigger load will fall upon his shoulders with the departure of Onyekuru. If Feghouli can grow and build upon those numbers, he could push for 17-20 goals this season.

Babel is returning to Turkey after one season in England with Fulham. Prior to that, Babel spent two seasons with Fenerbahce where he managed to get back into the good graces of the Netherlands national team with his twenty two goals. Babel will need to knock back some goals if Gala is to perform this season.

Galatasaray vs Medipol Basaksehir : Turkish Super Lig Photo by Onur Coban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Predictions

Phillip Quinn, Ryan Cowper, Josh Tobolt, Jake Fenner, MiranKoFCB, Fergus Tong, Ineednoname, Brian Burton, Gopika, Tom Adams

1) Paris Saint-Germain, 2) Real Madrid, 3) Galatasaray, 4) Club Brugge

Yams, Chuck Smith, Mike Lynch

1) Real Madrid, 2) Paris Saint-Germain, 3) Galatasaray, 4) Club Brugge

John Dillon, Marcus Iredahl, Callum Seniuk

1) Paris Saint-Germain, 2) Real Madrid, 3) Club Brugge, 4) Galatasaray

Logan Chugg

1) Real Madrid, 2) Paris Saint-Germain, 3) Club Brugge, 4) Galatasaray