It still seems like yesterday that the 2019-20 Champions League Final took place, behind closed doors and amidst uncertainty. But a new campaign has rolled around and fans of Europe’s elite found out their fate as the early stages of the competition were revealed. We are, of course, talking about the Champions League group stage draw. It won’t be long before operators like Betdaq reveal their odds and outright favourites for the competition this year – and here, we take a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the group stages.
1) Champions Bayern – first out of the bowl
It proved to be a Bayern Munich love-in, with Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich and Robert Lewandowski all in the studio, having been named as Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year, and Forward of the Year, respectively. Lewandowski was also named UEFA men’s Player of the Year, after guiding Bayern to European success last season with his 15 Champions League goals, as well as six assists.
When it came to pot one, the reigning champions were the first name out, and were assigned Group A. They’ll face Atlético Madrid, Red Bull Salzburg and Lokomotiv Moscow in the early stages of the competition – and should quite easily progress to the knockout rounds.
2) Difficulty for the debutants
Two clubs will be making their Champions League debuts this season: Danish Superliga winners Midtjylland, and Stade Rennais, who are currently top of Ligue 1. Sadly, both clubs have been drawn in difficult groups. Tough opponents in the form of Chelsea and Europa League champions Sevilla await the French outfit, while Krasnodar complete Group E. Midtjylland have been placed in Group D alongside Liverpool, Ajax and last year’s surprise package Atalanta. And it’s that group we will take a look at now.
3) The battle of the underdogs
While it could be considered a group of death, with Liverpool, Ajax and Atalanta all battling for progression to the knockout stages, it’s a group that contains two teams that had their very own success stories in recent seasons. In 2018-19, Ajax shocked many in reaching the semi-finals – having overcome Real Madrid and Juventus over two legs, before losing to Tottenham Hotspur on away goals.
And just last season, after finishing third in Serie A, Atalanta reached the Champions League for the first time in their history. Coming second in their group, behind Manchester City, they defeated Valencia over two legs in the Round of 16, before the tournament was turned upside-down, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. In proper knockout style, they were beaten by eventual runners-up Paris Saint-Germain. But it was no fluke and after finishing third domestically again, Atalanta are worth their place amongst Europe’s elite.
4) The group of death
More often than not, there’s a real stand-out group that teams want to avoid. This season, there are a few tricky groups, and we’ve already mentioned Group D which could prove to be one of them. But Group H looks fairly strong too – and even at this early stage, it looks set to be a battle where any two of three will hope to progress to the knockout stages.
You have to say that PSG look likeliest, given their achievements last season in reaching the final, and once again finishing top of Ligue 1 which was suspended and unfortunately, deemed void. Under Ole Gunner Solskjaer, Manchester United looked threatening at the back end of last campaign, and while they haven’t started this season as brightly, they’ll be keen to make a good impression, having missed out on Europe’s premier competition last year.
And finally, RB Leipzig. The German club made history last term, when they reached the semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history – where they lost to PSG. You can be sure they will relish those grudge matches this time in their bid to make it out of the group.