Welcome to the UCL Corner at The Bakery
The domestic season is off and running, but now it’s time to throw the first wrench into the works. Champions League group play begins on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon this week. As we’re just wading into these first round of group games, we’ll offer a perspective on what to expect from the teams going forward and a prediction of this week’s games.
Barcelona vs. Celtic
DP: Barcelona 2-1: Celtic has been on a run of good form recently and the opposite can be said of Barca; however, the power of the Camp Nou crowd along with Barcelona’s UCL experience should be enough to see them through this home leg.
BD: Barcelona 2-0: No one is ever comfortable playing away at Camp Nou. It’s a terrifying prospect that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Celtic should put up a good fight to limit Barca’s firepower, but eventually they will break through.
DP: Draw 1-1: Both teams are formidable, but I believe that despite the loss of Portuguese wonder kid Renato Sanches Benfica can put together a performance worthy of a draw against the Turkish giants.
BD: Besiktas 1-0: Benfica sailed into the knockout last year with 10 points in group stage. They’re facing a more balanced group this year and will have to scrap for every point. Besiktas haven’t been in UCL in 6 years. They will be highly motivated to start group play off with three points.
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Napoli
DP: Napoli 2-0: Napoli lost a huge piece of the puzzle with Gonzalo Higuain’s departure to Italian rivals, but Milik can pick up the slack with a bit of help from Hamsik.
BD: Napoli 3-1: Despite saying farewell to Higuain to rival Juventus this off season Napoli has not fallen off the goal scoring wagon with 9 goals in three Serie A matches. I expect that trend to continue.
FC Basel vs. Ludogrets
DP: Draw 0-0: Not a lot to see here. I can certainly imagine this being the least exciting game of the first day of UCL play.
BD: Basel 1-0: Clearly the weaker two sides of Group A. They have no other recourse, but to beat up on each other as points of any kind will be hard to come by when they play PSG and Arsenal in the near future. Basel by a hair.
Bayern Munich vs. FC Rostov
DP: Bayern 4-1: That’s being generous to Rostov. Munich could field a team comprised entirely of their second squad and they would still prevail. Don’t be shocked if the score goes even higher if Lewandowski is on.
BD: Bayern 3-0: Dustin said it all. Rostov is in trouble. Munich will coast in their first ever meeting with the Russian side. They have yet to allow a goal in any competitions this year and I don’t expect Rostov to change that.
Manchester City vs. Mönchengladbach
DP: MC 2-1: Mönchengladbach lost their skipper when Granit Xhaka moved over to Arsenal and the owe their UCL appearance largely to him. When you think about the tear that Man City are on after the derby win, the only reason to suspect that they would only score 2 is due to squad rotation.
BD: MC 2-0: Despite Pep Guardiola’s clever motivation tactic of claiming his squad is not “ready for Europe,” I anticipate more of what we’ve seen the first four games of the prem season. The scoring load will be placed on Sergio Aguero’s shoulders who is available despite his suspension from domestic matches. Three points is critical here.
PSV vs. Atletico Madrid
DP: 1-1: I have no faith in Atletico at all after watching their first few matches of the season. They haven’t shown any significant signs of asserting dominance. I think Greizmann gets their side a goal, but they won’t be able to hold onto a clean sheet.
BD: PSV 2-1: PSV will be out for revenge in this opening match of Group D play. Last year, the Dutch side lost in heart breaking fashion to Atletico 8-7 on penalties after drawing 0-0 on aggregate. Couple that with Madrid’s shaky play to start their La Liga season and I see a match ripe for an upset.
PSG vs. Arsenal
DP: Arsenal 2-1: My second most anticipated game of this week. I think if Arsenal plays Giroud and Sanchez, who sat on Saturday during AFC’s last minute victory over Southampton, they’ll give PSG a run for their money. Zlatan left a gaping hole there and until Cavani decides to be a star or until someone else steps up, this game has Arsenal all over it, especially considering PSG’s weak domestic performance recently.
BD: Draw 2-2: After watching the group stage drawing it was clear that PSG and Arsenal were the superior teams in Group A. I have no doubt both of these teams will move on to knockout. It’s more a question of by how many points will they do so?
Tottenham vs. Monaco
DP: Monaco 2-1: Monaco has assumed the role of Ligue 1 leaders as PSG has fallen off a bit. I like Tottenham and appreciate what they’ve done in the transfer window, but their lack of experience and convincing wins in the EPL this season lead me to suggest that Monaco’s better form will shine through in the result of this game.
BD: Tottenham 3-2: Monaco currently sits atop the table in Ligue 1, with a resounding wins against PSG and Lille. Tottenham has appeared to get stronger each week in the prem, and our new transfer window additions will allow Pochettino to rotate players in without a drop off in performance. I expect this to be a fast paced, high scoring affair with Spurs pulling out the three points in their first Champions League match in five years.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. CSKA Moscow
DP: Draw 2-2: I’d say that this match will be pretty even all the way through. Leverkusen is a perennial contender in the Bundesliga and has the tools to pull out wins against tougher sides. With that said CSKA is a UCL threat year after year as well. This will be a battle of the defenses, but I think they play to a stalemate.
BD: Leverkusen 2-1: Leverkusen is clearly the best German side not named Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, while Moscow has won the Russian league three times in four years. I foresee an evenly played match with the slight edge to Leverkusen despite missing Javier Hernandez.
Club Brugge vs. Leicester City
DP: LC 2-0: If I were you I’d keep your eye on Leicester in this game as it is one of the six UCL games that the team may ever play. Despite their unsteady start to the EPL season, Mahrez and Vardy are capable of performing on a larger scale and I bet they make quick work of Brugge. As the rounds go on though I like LC’s chances less and less due to shallow team that already plays a fast paced game and requires their players to make great treks each match.
BD: LC 1-0: Here we go. The true test for Leicester City. Can they keep up their run of success from last year? Or will adding midweek fixtures in Europe expose their lack of depth? They were gifted a soft group for their first ever foray in Champions League competition and three points here would do well to boost their confidence.
Porto vs. Copenhagen
DP: Porto 3-0: Huge Iker Casillas fan here and if they give their usual keeper the nod you’ll see him even further contribute to his record number of UCL caps. Behind San Iker they get the clean sheet and I don’t expect goals to be hard to come by against Copenhagen.
BD: Porto 2-0: Copenhagen clawed their way into UCL competition by destroying their playoff opponent Crusaders 9-0 on aggregate. Porto will bring them back down to earth a bit.
Juventus vs. Sevilla
DP: Juventus 3-1: I admit that I’m copying Brook’s prediction here, but I am certainly in agreement that Juventus are the better team here. They’re stacked in the midfield despite Pogba’s departure; big Dybala fan. Strong in all three phases of the game, Juventus will trounce Sevilla despite the opposition’s proven ability to score.
BD: Juventus 3-1: Sevilla caught a raw deal last season getting thrown into a group with Manchester City, Juventus, and Borussia Monchengladbach. To their credit they defeated Juventus and Gladbach to earn a place in Europa League. This year’s group draw is much more favorable, however Juventus, with the addition of Higuain, will be difficult to stop. Juventus takes this one easily at home.
Legit Warsaw vs. Borussia Dortmund
DP: Dortmund 3-0: I love what Dortmund have been doing over the past several years, but I have seen a bit of decline since Klopp left. I don’t see any real contest here, but somehow Dortmund never scores as many goals as you’d expect. If they performed up their potential, then I’d call a 6-0, but they won’t and I won’t.
BD: Dortmund 4-0: I do not anticipate much resistance from Warsaw in this one. Dortmund’s attacking group of Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele, Mario Gotze, and the teenage wunderkind Christian Pulisic will run rampant over the Polish champions all day.
Lyon vs. Dinamo Zagreb
DP: Lyon 2-0: I can’t tell you that I’m an expert on either team, but I’ve kept Lacazette on my radar ever since he shut down the Gunners earlier this season. Since then he’s scored 6 goals domestically and appears to be in his groove. Dinamo is a frequent underperformer and I’ll plan for them to do the same again in this match.
BD: Lyon 3-0: The last time these two teams played one another in Champions League was 2011. I would bet that Zagreb would like to forget those matches ever happened (Lyon won 7-1, 2-0) but new year new you right? I think not. Lyon finished a distant second to PSG last year in Ligue 1, and I like them as a potential spoiler to Sevilla’s bid for second in the group.
Real Madrid vs. Sporting Lisbon
DP: Real Madrid 3-0: The kings of Europe are back. Their depth is staggering and their current workrate is phenomenal. I don’t see any way that Lisbon pull out the dub in this one. Ronaldo scores a brace against his former club. Just one win in the long line of victories on the way to the championship.
BD: Real Madrid 4-1: Defending UCL champs Madrid look unstoppable once again this season, scoring goals at an uncomfortably high rate. Sporting may give them a game in the first half, but Madrid’s firepower will be too much for the other three teams in Group F.
All matches start at 2:45pm EST. We’ll be back next week Tuesday with Week 2 predictions. Happy UCL season!