Football

2015-16 Champions League group stage winners predicted

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A week ago, the UEFA Champions League draw was made to the usual fanfare and ceremony.

Here, let's take a look at the teams in each group, and where they could potentially finish.

Group A

A tasty group involving French Champions PSG and 10-time European Champions Real Madrid, as well as Swedish Champions Malmo FF and Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk.

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This year, with Real Madrid in somewhat of a transition, they could find the trip to Paris trickier than they otherwise would, especially in their searing form at the beginning of last season, where they won all six group games with consummate ease. 

Meanwhile, the French champions PSG are in full flow, winning all of their games this season so far and have recently acquired an ex-Madrid star in Angel di Maria, who will be itching to show what his former club let go.

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Both will be fighting for top spot, however Rafael Benitez' pedigree in Europe and the all-round quality of Real Madrid should show.

Shakhtar would usually be in with a shout of qualification, but not in this group, and Malmo would do well to get a win on the table.

VERDICT: 1st - Real Madrid, 2nd - PSG, 3rd - Shakhtar Donetsk, 4th - Malmo FF

Group B

Louis van Gaal said he was satisfied with the group he was given on United's return to Europe's most prestigious club competition, however he may eat those words.

Wolfsburg have lost their star man in Kevin De Bruyne, but have reinvested the money that got from that deal in Julian Draxler and Bayern's Dante. They finished second in last year's Bundesliga and have started this year's well with seven points from their opening three games, and if the new signings are successfully incorporated, then they could finish top of the pile.

Memphis Depay's old club PSV have lost their wonderkid as well as Georginio Wijnaldum, and it has shown, with two wins from four games, and the quality of their play somewhat less than it was last season.

CSKA Moscow have the ability to cause anybody problems on their day and boast a rapid team led by Seydou Doumbia. The away trips to Russia could prove tough for any of the teams in this group, however they do not have the quality to seriously challenge for the top.

VERDICT: 1st - Wolfsburg, 2nd - Man United, 3rd - PSV, 4th - CSKA Moscow

Group C

On paper, not a particularly high-quality group containing Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray, Benfica and FC Astana. However, Atletico have strengthened considerably in all departments after selling Mario Mandzukic to Juventus and have started the season with a 100% record, including an impressive 3-0 away to Sevilla.

They should win this group comfortably with the talents at their disposal, including big-money signing Jackson Martinez, who will know all about playing Benfica in Portugal.

Current champions Benfica lost their long-standing manager to Sporting Lisbon over the summer, but have picked up where they left off last season, despite not being as defensively sound, conceding three goals in three games in the Portuguese Liga.

Meanwhile, Galatasaray still have a lot of work to do if they want to seriously challenge in the UCL, whilst minnows Astana would do incredibly well to get a point on the board. Their most likely source could be a home game against Galatasaray in the second round of fixtures.

VERDICT: 1st - Atletico, 2nd - Benfica, 3rd - Galatasaray, 4th - Astana

Group D

D for Death, Man City have been handed the toughest draw imagineable once again. They have splashed the cash over the summer to get reinforcements in Nicolas Otamendi, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, and have been in scintillating form this season, most notably blowing away champions Chelsea - albeit an under-par Chelsea - 3-0 in the second round of Premier League fixtures.

Juventus, meanwhile, may not be the force of last season, based on initial results, losing both of their Serie A games so far, and losing a variety of stars including Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Andrea Pirlo. They will need to pick up their game, and fast, in order to compete in this group.

Sevilla got here by winning the Europa League last season, and look good value for this season too, despite the loss against Atletico. Their manager, Unai Emery, has done a great job with the tools at his disposal, and, despite losing star-striker Carlos Bacca to AC Milan. They could easily challenge for the top of this group, and will be keen to show people that money does not necessarily mean results.

Borussia Monchengladbach have also had a poor start to their domestic season, losing all three of their games and conceding eight goals in the process. They also need to pick up their game in order to compete in this group.

VERDICT: 1st - Man City, 2nd - Sevilla, 3rd - Juventus, 4th - Borussia Monchengladbach

Group E

Not much to say here - Barcelona are clear favourites for this relatively weak group, despite Roma having strengthened with Edin Dzeko and Arsenal 'keeper Wojciech Szczęsny.

Roma and Bayer Leverkusen will fight it out for second place, and this could be very tight, with both teams likely winning their home games against each other. BATE Borisov should not cause any problems, excluding any shock results.

VERDICT: 1st - Barcelona, 2nd - Roma, 3rd - Bayer Leverkusen, 4th - BATE Borisov

Group F

Once again, Arsenal draw Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, who look in full flow at the moment, with reduced reliance on their ageing and injury-prone wingers Robben and Ribery. Douglas Costa looks a perfect fit, whilst Arturo Vidal has added an energy that Bastian Schweinsteiger failed to provide in his dying years at the club.

Arsenal, meanwhile, look shakey at the moment, with a shock defeat against West Ham at the Emirates and a goalless draw against Liverpool. Likely they will lose to Bayern in both games and will have to make up the ground against Olympiakos - where English teams have a tendency to lose - and Dinamo Zagreb.

Neither of the latter teams should pose too much of a threat to the knock-out spots up for grabs, but will hope to put up a fight and show themselves in a good light. Some tough games to be had, but no major upsets.

VERDICT: 1st - Bayern Munich, 2nd - Arsenal, 3rd - Olympiakos, 4th - Dinamo Zagreb

Group G

Another straightforward group for Chelsea, who seem to have the opposite to Man City's luck in the competition. Whilst Porto could pose a threat to their expected top spot finish, the other two teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Dynamo Kiev should be routine victories, especially at home. 

Porto have lost their main man Jackson Martinez, but they have still started well and could pick apart the current Chelsea side based on form. However, it is likely that Chelsea's form will pick up in time, and sustain for long enough to take the top sport.

VERDICT: 1st - Chelsea, 2nd - Porto, 3rd - Dynamo Kiev, 4th - Maccabi Tel Aviv

Group H

Again, seemlingly a low quality group could prove the exact opposite. Valencia beat a strong AS Monaco side to get here, and, despite losing defender Nicolas Otamendi, they are still a strong side. Look out for young left-back Gaya, who is an exciting talent.

Lyon are also a strong side, boasting in-demand French forward Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, the creator. They lost Clinton N'Jie to Spurs, but still look much the same as last season, where they pushed PSG all the way to the wire for domestic Champions.

Zenit St Petersburg are in a similar situation to CSKA Moscow, having pace and Hulk amongst their ranks, but not enough quality to threaten the top dogs in this group. Meanwhile, KAA Gent are the overwhelming underdogs of the group, although could nick a couple of points at home.

VERDICT: 1st - Valencia, 2nd - Lyon, 3rd - Zenit St. Petersburg, 4th - KAA Gent

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Topics:
Football
UEFA Champions League
Real Madrid

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