Champions League Roundup

Two “difficult” groups drawn in 2017 Champions League

The Champions League draw always throws up a “group of death”, a group that is unusually competitive at this early stage. This results in one or more strong teams being eliminated at the end of the group phase. The phrase “group of death” or ”groupe de la muerte” was first coined in the 1970 World Cup by Mexican journalists and has made its way into other football tournaments. Many see it as a bit of a journalistic oversimplification, especially for this particular tournament.

In a group of four teams, the first two sides qualify for the knockout stages and the third team gets to try their luck in the less glamorous UEFA Europa League. So, really, only one team gets kicked out of European Cup competition.

This years group stage draw was held in Monaco and did not disappoint in throwing together a couple of groups that will be tougher to qualify from. The big teams involved would have hoped for an easier route to the knockout phase but fans will relish these matchups.

Also, the draw did slightly affect the outright odds for the tournament. Clear favourites Real Madrid drifting from 7/2 to 4/1. now have three teams as second favourites, Bayern Munich, Paris St. Germain and Barcelona all at 7/1.

Gareth Bale to face old team Tottenham

Group H has pitted defending champions Real Madrid with Tottenham Hotspurs, Borussia Dortmund, and APOEL (Cyprus.) Real Madrid needs to ensure that they do not take their away games in England and Germany lightly. It would be embarrassing for Los Blancos’ to lose their grip on the famous trophy that both club and fans covet so much.

Gareth Bale will be relishing the opportunity to face his old club, a reunion he will be hoping sees his team prevail against a talented young Tottenham team spearheaded by Dele Alli and Harry Kane.

Many Spurs fans will not want to be reminded of what happened the last time these two teams met in 2001. Peter Crouch was red carded early in the game for two silly tackles within 6 minutes of each other. The result – 10 men Tottenham went on to lose 4-0.

Peter Crouch took to twitter after the draw, jokingly tweeting “Real Madrid for Spurs. If they don’t have an idiot sent off early they have a great chance.” Most pundits still have Real Madrid as clear group favourites, a team flourishing under the guidance of Zinedine Zidane. Having already won the tournament back-to-back, “Zizou” will be looking to further cement his Real Madrid folklore status by making it three in a row.

If Real Madrid wins the group then the ties between Spurs and Borussia Dortmund will hold the key to which team progresses further in the competition. Borussia Dortmund won the competition in 1997 but will be without French star Ousmane Dembele who recently signed for Barcelona.

Three top European teams travel to Baku

The other standout group sees English league champions Chelsea drawn with Atletico Madrid, Roma and unheard of Qarabağ who ply their skills in Azerbaijan. By making it this far, Qarabag becomes the first side from Azerbaijan to reach the Champions League group stages.

After eliminating FC Copenhagen in the playoffs, Qarabag will be hosting three elite European teams in Baku. Baku is located nearly 3,000 miles away making this tie a 6,000 mile mid-week round trip for the teams involved to add to their respective busy domestic schedules.

Chelsea drawing Atletico Madrid will only add fuel to the Diego Costa transfer saga. The striker has insisted he is only willing to return to Atletico after being given the cold shoulder by his club.  Chelsea manager, Conte made it clear in July that Diego Costa was no longer in his plans.

The turbulent striker caused Conte problems in the transfer window last January by pursuing a lucrative move to China that would have paid him a staggering £30 million a year. Chelsea refused to sell their star striker and went on to win the Premier League – Costa netting 20 times for the Blues.

A.S. Roma came second to Juventus in Serie A despite amassing an impressive 87 points. At the end of last season club legend, Francesco Totti hung up his boots sparking emotional scenes at the Stadio Olimpico. However, his iconic presence still remains as a newly appointed director.

Totti attended the draw in Monte Carlo and received the “UEFA President’s Award” honouring his 25-year playing career at the club. Totti also helped perform the draw and afterwards warned “it won’t be easy” for Chelsea, Atletico Madrid or Qarabag to face Roma either.

Other standout ties in easier groups include Bayern Munich vs Paris St. Germain, Juventus vs Barcelona and Man City vs Napoli. The road to the final in Kyiv kicks off on the 12th September.

Champions League draw

Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, Basel, CSKA Moscow
Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic
Group C: Chelsea, Atlético Madrid, Roma, Qarabag
Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiakos, Sporting
Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord
Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, Leipzig
Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, APOEL