Coming to a television set near you starting September 13th is the Group Stage of the 2016-17 edition of the UEFA Champions League.
The group-stage pits 32 teams that are split up into eight groups of four teams each. The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stage of the tournament. The third team will fall into the UEFA Europa League tournament. Each team will have six group-stage matches, two vs each opponent, one home and one away.
After last Thursday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland, we found out the groups and pairings for the group stage. Here is a recap of Group D which could be easily labeled as the “Group of Death”.
1.) Barcelona (ESP).
The 2014-2015 winners are coming off being eliminated from last year’s tournament in the quarterfinals by La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid. Luis Enrique‘s side still feature one of the best trio’s of attackers in all of the world. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar tallied 17 goals between them in the Champions League, and 90 goals between them in La Liga last season. Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, and Arda Turan are also valuable pieces to the team’s orchestration. Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, and Javier Mascherano, are also key veterans for the club and are huge in their roles under Enrique. Over the summer, Barcelona made some key moves in their midfield and defense. They brought in midfielder Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez from Valencia and Villarreal respectively.Defensively, they brought in French internationals Samuel Umtiti from Lyon and Lucas Digne from Roma. Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo recently left for Manchester City, which means Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the team’s #1 going forward. Overall, I believe Barcelona has too much offensive firepower not to finish first in their group. Manchester City could give them a strong run but I can’t see Barca not making the knockout stage.
2.) Manchester City (ENG).
After last season’s surprising run to the UEFA Champions League semifinal where they fell 1-0 to the eventual champs Real Madrid, the sky looks even higher for the Citizens. With Pep Guardiola now as manager, City now have a man in charge who has won several Champions League titles. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has kicked City off to a great start this season, winning their first three matches in the Premier League and defeating Steaua Bucharest 6-0 on aggregate in the Champions League playoff round. With the acquisition of Bravo from Barcelona, long-time keeper Joe Hart is set to leave for Torino on loan. Vincent Kompany has been recovering from calf problems last season, so the center-back pairing has been John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. Eliaquim Mangala is another option at centerback, bearing he remains with the club following the Transfer Window. Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, and Bacary Sagna all rotate as the wing-backs. Leroy Sane, Ilkay Gundogan, and Nolito all were brought in this summer to bulster the midfield. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are both great orchestrators of the offense, while Fernandinho and Fernando are shut-down defensive midfielders. Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas provide pace and skill down the flanks, while top-striker Sergio Aguero is coming off a 29 goal season in all competitions last year. Pep will have City looking a lot different this season, and I feel this will translate into more victories against tougher competition. However, I feel that City will need to beat Barcelona once in the group-stage to have a good chance of winning the group.
3.) Borussia Monchengladbach (GER).
The Bundesliga club advanced to the group stage after defeating Swiss side Young Boys on an aggregate of 9-2. Andre Schubert is the manager of the club and has brought them back into the group-stage again. Last season Gladbach, was eliminated from their group after finishing last. Manchester City is a familiar opponent after drawing them in last year’s group stage as well. Yann Sommer is the starting goalkeeper and a Swiss international. U.S. international Fabian Johnson is a threat down the left flank and can also feature as a midfielder. Danish internationals Andreas Christensen and Jannik Vestergaard look like the center-back pairing going forward. Christoph Kramer is a solid defensive midfielder that sits slightly ahead of the back-line. The biggest weapons for Gladbach and midfielder Thorgan Hazard and striker Raffael. Hazard, 23, is the younger brother of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and possesses a lot of talent as an attacking midfielder. His hat-trick in the second leg against Young Boys was brilliant. Raffael, 31, tallied 15 goals and 13 assists in 39 matches in all competitions last season and has tallied double-digits in goals every year he has been at the club. For Gladback to advance, they will need these two players to be at their best.
4.) Celtic (SCO).
The Scottish Champions barely squeaked through against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva 5-4 on aggregate. Another problem for Brendan Rodgers‘ side is a crucial derby against Rangers in the SPL three days before their opening match in the UCL at Barcelona. Craig Gordon is the man between the posts for Celtic, and has been since 2014. Rodgers can have this team line up a bunch of different ways defensively, so look for Kolo Toure, Mikael Lustig, and Kieran Tierney all to start in the back-line. Midfielders Nir Bitton and Tomas Rogic are threats from anywhere on the pitch, while attacking midfielder Patrick Roberts is on loan from Manchester City. Roberts, 19, tallied six goals in 11 matches last season for Celtic and is a young commodity going forward. 20-year-old forward Moussa Dembele was acquired from Fulham over the summer and has great pace. The French international tallied 15 goals and six assists in the Sky Bet Championship last season. The biggest reason for Celtic’s success is striker Leigh Griffiths. The 26-year-old Scottish international tallied 32 goals in 39 matches last season in all comps, and is the go-to-guy for Rodgers’ squad. If he bags plenty of goals and the defense is able to work together as a unit, Celtic could possibly sneak a surprise or two.
Here are the match-ups between these four sides in the group-stage:
Match Day #1 September 13th, Man City vs M’gladbach
Barcelona vs Celtic.
Match Day#2: September 28th, M’gladbach vs Barcelona
Celtic vs Man City.
Match Day #3: October 19th, Barcelona vs Man City
Celtic vs M’gladbach.
Match Day #4: November 1st, Man City vs Barcelona
M’gladbach vs Celtic.
Match Day #5: November 23rd, M’gladbach vs Man City
Celtic vs Barcelona.
Match Day #6: December 6th, Barcelona vs M’gladbach
Man City vs Celtic.
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