September 13th marks a very important day for soccer fans worldwide; Match Day #1 of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group-stage. 32 teams were drawn into eight groups of four back in August, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout stage.
Six match days over the next three months will determine which 16 sides will move onto the Round of 16.
Here is a preview of the four teams that were drawn into Group G. The order goes by how I think these teams will finish after six match days.
1.) FC Porto (POR).
The Portugese giants advanced to the group stage after defeating Italian outfit Roma 4-1 on aggregate in two matches during the playoff round. Manager Espirito Santo has a very talented squad heading into the group stage. Experienced goalkeeper Iker Casillas won three UEFA Champions League titles during his 16 year career with Real Madrid. The 35-year-old brings valuable experience to the squad and is the #1 goalkeeper. Mexican wing-back Miguel Layun brings veteran experience as well and is a dangerous threat down the flanks. Brazilian center-back Felipe is the #1 defender for the squad and is expected to have a huge role in the back-line. Mexican midfielders Hector Herrera and Jesus Corona bring some spark in the midfield and are dangerous scoring threats for opposing defenders. Portuguese striker Andre Silva has netted some goals in the Primeira Liga already and is Porto’s leading striker heading into the UCL. I definitely feel they will win the group and advance comfortably to the Round of 16 based off of their history in this competition.
2.) Leicester City (ENG).
The Cinderella story of the English Premier League last season, have made their first appearance in the Champions League in team history. Winning their first league title, gave them the opportunity to show their talents to the rest of the world. Manager Claudio Ranieri has experience in this competition and will have his team ready for other European talent. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is a top goalkeeper and plays the role of sweeper keeper, coming off of his line a bunch. He makes sure saves and can be relied on to help this team going forward. Center-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan formed one of the best partnerships last season in England and will look to do so in Europe. Both are dangerous on corners with their heads, and are physical defenders. With the loss of N’golo Kante in the summer, Danny Drinkwater has needed to step up his game offensively and defensively. He brings grit to the midfield. Riyad Mahrez tallied 17 goals in all competitions for Leicester last season and was a huge surprise. He was named the PFA Player of the Year last season. Jamie Vardy is the main man up top for Leicester, after breaking out with 24 league goals last season. After playing in the lower leagues for most of his career, Vardy was a huge story in the EPL last season and intrigued huge interest from Arsenal this summer before signing a new contract. Leo Ulloa, Shinji Okazaki, and summer-signing Ahmed Musa are other strikers that also can be in the mix when Leicester plays a 4-4-2 formation. Leicester’s home, the King Power Stadium will be rocking for their home fixtures and I think is a huge factor for opposing teams.
3.) FC Copenhagen (DEN). The reigning Danish Champs are back in the Champions League after being eliminated in the 2014-15 playoff round. After defeating APOEL Nicosia 2-1 on aggregate in the playoff round of this year’s tournament, Copenhagen have made the group-stage. Swedish international goalkeeper Robin Olsen will man between the posts, while Swedish defenders Ludwig Augustinsson and Erik Johansson are must-watch in the back-line. Danish wing-back Peter Ankersen is reliable on the right flank. Thomas Delaney, Benjamin Verbic, and Rasmus Jensen are three attackers for manager Stale Solbakken to rely on. Right winger Kasper Kusk and striker Andrija Pavlovic are the main threats for Copenhagen going forward and have already netted some goals in the Danish Superliagen. With the atmosphere at the Parken Stadion and Copenhagen’s experience in European competition, I feel they will sneak into the Europa League following the six matches in the group.
4.) Club Brugge (BEL).
The Belgian outfit has returned to the Champions League after being eliminated by Manchester United in last year’s playoff round. They will have a tough go around with the likes of Porto, Leicester, and Copenhagen, but could be in good shape if they get a good result in the early fixtures. Goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle has featured every minute in their domestic league so far this season, and it looks like he will be their #1 in the Champions League. Stefano Denswil and Laurens De Bock are two main defenders for Brugge that have not missed a minute of league-play so far this campaign. Defensive minded midfielder Timmy Simons will be counted on for doing the dirty work in the middle of the formation. Dutch midfielder Ruud Vormer is a top set-up guy for Brugge and will be counted on for attacking chances mowing forward. Hans Vakanen, Claudemir, and Jelle Vossen are other attackers worth mentioning that could make an impact. Abdoulaye Diaby will be counted on for goals at the striker position as the former Lille product is an international for Mali. Overall, I don’t believe that Brugge has the top talent like the rest of the group can produce, which sees them finish last in Group G.
Here are the match-ups between these four sides in the group-stage:
Match Day #1 September 14th: Club Brugge vs Leicester City, FC Porto vs FC Kobenhavn.
Match Day #2 September 27th: Leicester City vs FC Porto, FC Kobenhavn vs Club Brugge.
Match Day #3 October 18th: Club Brugge vs FC Porto, Leicester City vs FC Kobenhavn.
Match Day #4 November 2nd: FC Porto vs Club Brugge, FC Kobenhavn vs Leicester City.
Match Day #5 November 22nd: Leicester City vs Club Brugge, FC Kobenhavn vs FC Porto.
Match Day #6 December 7th: FC Porto vs Leicester City, Club Brugge vs FC Kobenhavn.
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