Teams to Keep an eye on That Could Drop out of the UCL and Into the UEL

Group A – RB Leipzig

In Group A, RB Leipzig face the unenviable task of being drawn with PSG, Manchester City and Club Brugge, although they are expected to beat the latter.

The German side finished as Bundesliga runners-up last season under Julian Nagelssman before he departed to champions Bayern Munich, along with key players such as Dayot Upamecano and Marcel Sabitzer, whilst Ibrahima Konate sealed a move to Liverpool in the summer.

With the quality in both City and PSG’s squads, not many sides could take on the runners-up from last season’s competition as well as the runners-up in 2020 and come out of the other end successfully, especially having lost a series of key personnel from last season who inspired them to their best-ever Bundesliga finish.

City are the reigning Premier League champions, whilst in a bid to regain the Ligue 1 title and compete to win the Champions League, PSG have signed the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarruma, Achraf Hakimi and Gini Wijnaldum and head into this season’s competition as the favourites to win it. Leipzig will be determined to battle against all odds like they did last season against PSG and Manchester United, but, this will likely be a step too far.

Group B – AC Milan

AC Milan are the next team to feature on this list, having been drawn to play against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto in Group B of the Champions League.

This group is likely to be unpredictable, as Liverpool typically have a good history in Europe and won the competition back in 2019, whilst Atletico Madrid come into this season as La Liga champions, having managed to see of challenges from the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona and will be determined to prove themselves once again as one of the most awkward teams to beat due to their stern defensive record.

Meanwhile, Porto provided one of the shocks of last season’s competition, as they beat Juventus 4-4 via away goals, a rule which has been abolished in this year’s competition. They were also narrowly beaten 2-1 on aggregate by eventual winners Chelsea in the quarter-finals, showing that they are an awkward side to face when on form.

AC Milan could well be the side to fall into third place in this group, as on paper both Liverpool and Atletico Madrid are stronger sides, although they will likely give them good runs for their money, as they did in the Europa League when they lost 2-1 on aggregate to United in the Round of 16 last season.

Group C – Sporting Lisbon

Group C is a tough group to call, as Borussia Dortmund, Ajax, Besiktas and Sporting Lisbon all go head-to-head, with ironically the Black and Yellows the only side to not win their domestic league title from this set of teams last season despite being the favourites to win the group.

Ajax, Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas will likely battle it out for second place in the group stages, with the Dutch side most likely to progress although Sporting Lisbon could push them close with talents such as Pedro Goncalves and Pablo Sarabia amongst their squad.

Besiktas weren’t in the group stages of either the Champions League or Europa League last season and will be hoping for vast improvements having won the Turkish Super Lig last season and acquired the likes of Michy Batshuayi and Alex Texeira to enhance their attacking options, as well as Miralem Pjanic on loan from Barcelona.

Group D – Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar Donetsk have been drawn against Real Madrid and Inter Milan for a second season running in the Champions League, with the only difference being from last season’s Group B is Moldovan outfit Sheriff Tiraspol replacing Borussia Monchengladbach who failed to qualify for this season’s competition.

Inter aren’t expected to have the same troubles as last season where they finished as bottom of the group and have started life in decent fashion under Simone Inzaghi, beating both Genoa 4-0, Hellas Verona 3-1 before drawing 2-2 with Sampdoria. Despite losing both Romelu Lukaku and Hakimi to Chelsea and PSG, they have replaced them relatively well, with the likes of Joaquin Correa and Edin Dzeko being brought in for the attack, whilst Dutch right-back Denzel Dumfries is Hakimi’s replacement.

Real brought back Carlo Ancelotti, following the departure of Zinedine Zidane at the end of last season, Ancelotti has a good managerial record in this competition, winning it on three different occasions with AC Milan twice in 2003 and 2007, as well as with Los Blancos in 2014. The 13-time winners of the competition have also added David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga to their squad and are currently at the top of La Liga with 10 points from four matches.

Shakhtar are expected to comfortably finish third in their Champions League group for a second season in a row, having narrowly missed out on second-place to Gladbach last season. The Ukrainian side has shown that they are a tough side to play against having beat AS Monaco 3-2 on aggregate in the qualifiers and they will be hoping for a repeat of last season where they beat Real Madrid both home and away and drew twice with Inter.

Group E – Benfica

Group E should be a fairly easy conclusion to come to that Benfica will likely finish in third place, due to having the might of Barcelona and Bayern Munich alongside them, as well as Dynamo Kyiv.

Benfica are in good form at present as they are top of the Portuguese Primeira Liga table with five wins from five matches, scoring 13 and conceding just twice under Jorge Jesus. They are expected to compete with the likes of Dynamo Kyiv for third place who currently lead their domestic league, following six wins and a draw from their first seven matches.

Bayern are expected to top the group table, due to the abundance of quality that their squad has, as well as the fact that Barca have arguably weakened their squad this summer with the likes of Messi and Antoine Griezmann both departing the Nou Camp, although there will be plenty in the Catalonian club’s ranks who will be desperate to avenge the 8-2 defeat that the German champions inflicted on them in the quarter-finals of this competition in 2020.

Group F – Villarreal

Manchester United are the favourites to win Group F, having had an incredible summer transfer window that has seen them purchase the likes of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo, meaning that it will be tough for Atalanta, Young Boys and their nemesis Villarreal to compete.

Europa League holders Villarreal are who we have chosen to finish in third place in this group, as typically, Unai Emery’s side finished 19 points off fourth-placed Sevilla last season in La Liga, meaning that this was the fourth season In a row managing a La Liga club where he’d finished outside of the top four but qualified for the Champions League via this competition.

It is likely that Atalanta will be better in the group stage which is a league format based on scoring the most points, having impressed in Serie A once again with a third-place finish on 78 points from 38 games. Last season Gian Piero Gasperini’s side showed their capabilities in this competition when they beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield via goals from Josip Ilicic and Robin Gosens, in the process, this result was vital as it significantly helped the Serie A side in the process of finishing as second in the group ahead of Ajax.

Swiss champions Young Boys are the other team in this group and could be a dark horse, having previously run United close at Old Trafford in the 2018/19 season and beat Juventus 2-1 in the same season. Although, under the management of former Huddersfield Town coach David Wagner, they have won two, drawn two and lost one of their opening five matches in the league, following their 15th league title win last season where they managed 84 points from 36 games.

Group G – Lille

Lille, Wolfsburg, Sevilla and Red Bull Salzburg all take one another on in Group G of the Champions League in what is expected to be a closely fought group.

Sevilla have started their league campaign well, with two wins and a draw from their opening three matches, as they look to build on the impressive fourth-place finish that they managed in La Liga last season. The La Liga outfit are expected to compete for top spot with Wolfsburg who are also doing well in the Bundesliga this season, having won all four of their matches against VFL Bochum, Hertha Berlin, RB Leipzig and Greuther Furth, seeing them sit at the top of the table.

Lille have started slowly in Ligue 1 having lost manager Christophe Galtier to Nice, as well as selling key players in Mike Maignan and Boubakary Soumare to AC Milan and Leicester City. The Ligue 1 champions are 12th in the table after five matches, having managed just five points and could end up being dragged into a third-place battle with Salzburg if they aren’t careful, as the Austrians will fancy their chances having won all seven of their Austrian Bundesliga fixtures.

Group H – Zenit St Petersburg

Group H is the final group to be looked at of which we predict that Zenit St Petersburg will finish behind current Champions League holders Chelsea and Serie A side Juventus, but, ahead of Malmo.

As things stand, Chelsea are expected to be challenging for the Premier League title following a strong start to the season which has seen the Blues earn 10 points from a possible of 12 having beaten Crystal Palace and Aston Villa 3-0, as well as Arsenal 2-0 and earning a point at Anfield in a 1-1 draw where Reece James was sent off just before half-time which presented Mohamed Salah with a penalty that he duly converted against his old club.

Juventus look to be struggling to adapt to life after Ronaldo as they have managed just one point from their opening three league matches, but, in their recent defeat away at Napoli they were without key forward Paolo Dybala, as well as first-choice full-backs Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro as they all played for their countries in the South American World Cup qualifiers. Massimiliano Allegri and his side should have more than enough experience to guide themselves through this group.

Zenit will expect a third-place finish at a minimum ahead of Malmo due to having higher calibre players on their books, such as Dejan Lovren, Malcolm, Wendel, Artem Dzyuba and more. The Russian Premier League side are currently at the top of their domestic league, with 17 points from seven matches, whilst Malmo are fourth in the Swedish Allsvenskan with 34 points after 18 fixtures under Jon Dahl Tomasson.


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