World football’s most anticipated club competition is back, with English sides looking to triumph in a contest that separates the best from the elite.
Now the draw has been made, chances for the Premier League teams in this season’s competition is mixed.
Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur need to overcome major hurdles in their coming games if they want to secure a spot in the knockout stages.
The other sides find themselves in more favourable groups, but we all know what is required to progress to the final 16.
The last time all English sides progressed to the knock out stages was in 2013/14. With five sides competing, the chances of them all progressing seems slim.
Premier League title holders, Chelsea, will be in Group C alongside 2016 finalists Atlético Madrid, Serie A runners-up Roma and Azerbaijan’s Qarabağ
Antonio Conte’s optimism of European glory may have dropped over the summer, with Chelsea failing to add depth to an already-thin squad.
Problems could arise over rotation during the Premier League season and their Champions League campaign.
Atlético Madrid haven’t added a single player to their squad during the summer window, despite signing Sevilla’s Vitolo, who is loaned out to Las Palmas until January for £32 million.
Fortunately for them, star man Antoine Griezmann stayed put rather than flitting to Manchester United as Atletico were landed with a transfer ban. Los Colchoneros’ chances may rest on him if they are to have repeat European success.
Their main threat is Roma, who were impressive in Serie A last season, but have since waved goodbye to Mohammed Salah and club captain Francesco Totti.
But they’ve bolstered their ranks with experience, taking on former Manchester City full back Aleksandar Kolarov and promising prospect, 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Ünder.
Roma will look to pick up the pieces if Chelsea and Atletico drop points.
Realistically it’ll be virtually impossible for Qarabag to qualify after being put in a difficult group.
A few respectable results at home are the best they can wish for, but at least some players can put themselves in the shop window for Europe’s elite.
Bookmakers odds on group winner (Via BetVictor): Chelsea 11/10, Atletico Madrid 6/4, Roma 7/2, Qarabag 50/1
Tottenham have landed themselves in hot water alongside 2013 finalists Borussia Dortmund, Cypriots APOEL and record 12-time winners and current holders Real Madrid.
Spurs, who were knocked out at the group stages last season, need to overcome their Wembley ‘hoodoo’ if they’re to stand any chance of qualification.
Wins on home turf are a must, with difficult trips away to the Bernabeu and Westfalenstadion ahead.
Last season’s European woe for Tottenham could help flank a young squad, with a second year’s experience of Champions League football under their belt.
Real Madrid will be chasing their third consecutive Champions League trophy – a feat that no team has achieved before.
Real will be reliant upon Cristiano Ronaldo if they’re to repeat last season’s heroics, having not added any real depth to their squad this summer.
The loss of Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona couldn’t have come at a worse time for Dortmund, as they look to build on last season’s quarter final finish.
Dortmund have done fantastically well to hold onto Bundesliga top goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, despite interest from China. They will lack the quality to go far in this competition.
APOEL, like Qarabag in Group C, will not expect much from the group stages and will just enjoy the road trip. Even a respectable point against one of Europe’s top dogs would be a welcome outcome.
Some bookmakers are offering 10/11 on Tottenham to advance from the group, and with those odds, they’d certainly be worth the punt with a free bet.
Bookmakers odds on group winner (Via SkyBet): Real Madrid 4/9, Borussia Dortmund 4/1, Tottenham Hotspur 4/1, APOEL Nicosia 80/1
Manchester City will be relieved to draw in a group alongside Ukrainian Champions Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli and Feyenoord, but they shouldn’t expect to breeze through Group F.
Napoli – arguably City’s biggest threat – were very impressive in the qualifiers, beating Nice 2-0 home and away.
The remaining sides, Ukrainian Champions Shakhtar and Eredivisie winners Feyenoord will be less likely to impress in the group. Both sides haven’t been joyous in recent Champions Leagues, with Feyenoord not qualifying in the competition since 2002/03.
However, they do boast an array of talent, with Shakthar having Brazilian international’s Taison and Bernard available, whilst Feyenoord have promising Dutch international Tonny Vilhena amongst their ranks.
Bookmakers odds on group winner (Via bet365): Manchester City 8/15, Napoli 13/5, Shakhtar Donetsk 8/1, Feyenoord 14/1
Liverpool will be very hopeful of qualification to the knockout stages after being drawn in Group E amongst record Europa League holders Sevilla, Russian Premier League winners Spartak Moscow and Slovenian champions Maribor.
If Liverpool can recreate their playoff performances, they should prepare for the knockout stages come December.
Trips to Sevilla and Spartak Moscow can prove difficult, but after adding depth to their squad in the transfer window, Liverpool’s squad could prove a real threat to all competitors.
Sevilla are a very decent side, as proved from their 4th place in La Liga last year. As the Reds’ biggest threat, they’ll be confident in snatching top spot after they were victorious in the 2016 Europa League Final.
Eight games into the new Russian Premier League campaign, Spartak Moscow have made a meal of their title defence. If their form is repeated, battles with Liverpool and Sevilla will prove too much for them.
Spartak boast Liverpool target Quincy Pomes and former AC Milan forward Luiz Adriano, but they may be without the quality to pose any real threat.
It’s the third time Maribor have landed themselves in the Champions League group stages, with their last outing in 2015/16 seeing them pick up three points from three draws, including a stunning point at home to Chelsea.
Bookmakers odds on group winner (Via SkyBet): Liverpool 8/11, Sevilla 15/8, Spartak Moscow 11/2, Maribor 33/1
Manchester United will be relieved at how Group A has panned out.
They must fancy their chances having been pitched against Benfica, Basel and CSKA Moscow, and surely, look likely for qualification to the group stages.
With most bookies, Manchester United are considered favourites to advance from Group A, but it’d be a close call on who would join them.
Benfica have the edge on CSKA and Basel, and have advanced to the knockout stages in the past two seasons.
Despite competing in the Champions League over the past four seasons, CSKA haven’t qualified once and finished bottom of on three occasions.
Basel and Benfica have previous experience of knocking Manchester United out of the group stages. All three faced off in the group stages in 2011/12, with the foreigners claiming first and second spots.
United may be tipped for top spot but we mustn’t forget their embarrassment under Louis Van Gaal, when they crashed out early on.
Bookmakers odds on group winner (Via Betway): Manchester United 4/9, Benfica 3/1, CSKA Moscow 11/1, Basel 11/1
Over the coming months, the group stages promise to enthral spectators across the globe. With many matches impossible to call, punters should make the most of the free bets.
The groups in full
Manchester United (ENG)
CSKA Moscow (RUS)
Bayern Munich (GER)
Paris Saint Germain (FRA)
Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Sporting Lisbon (POR)
Spartak Moscow (RUS)
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)
Manchester City (ENG)
RB Leipzig (GER)
Real Madrid (ESP)
Borussia Dortmund (GER)
Tottenham Hotspur (ENG)