UEFA Champions League - Group Stage Preview
The "Group of Death" should be the most entertaining of all the foursomes. With PSG, Liverpool and Napoli all participants in Group C, there should be a highly contested event each time these European giants collide.
The winner of this group should also be in the running to collect the Champions League trophy.With so much money poured into these big name squads, there is a win or bust mentality, as collecting a title is the primary objective as the tournament starts.
Odds To Win - Group C
PSG -110 / 1.91 / 10/11
Liverpool 140 / 2.4 / 7/5
Napoli 550 / 6.5 / 11/2
Crvena Zvezda 15000 / 151.00 / 150/1
PSG are the surprising favorites to top the group. Although the Parisians have had a horrid record in European competitions, the bookmakers still consider them the best bet to win Group C.
The French giants will start the opening match-day with a new man in charge. After Unai Emery was removed of his duties for only winning three trophies in his second season, the PSG board elected to nominate Thomas Tuchel for the same position, placing the burden on the German headman to finally add a Champions League trophy too their ever-growing collection.
The fate of the Parisians will mostly ride on the feet of Brazilian super-star Neymar, who returns this season after a significant ankle injury that cost him the last three months of the domestic campaign. The most expensive footballer in the world causes significant match-up problems, but staying healthy, while making the correct decisions on the pitch, will be key factors in PSG progressing.
Neymar does find himself in a new role within Tuchel's methodical 4-3-2-1 formation. Now positioned in a more central attacking midfield location, he has more creative responsibilities in order for this attack to truly run at full force.
The German tactician has placed Edinson Cavani in the dedicated number nine role, where he will look to feed off service more than ever. Tuchel then strategically placed Kylian Mbappé and Ángel Di María on the wings. With a mixture of blazing pace and crafty awareness they should give defenders nightmares, while placing delightful crosses into the box, where their Uruguayan tally's man has a keen eye for goal.
Marquinhos has also been moved up from his normal back-line role, filling more of a defensive midfield position, taking advantage of his rare passing abilities in order to set the attack into motion at a lethal rate. His holding midfield partner, Adrien Rabiot, also continues to come into his own as a world-class player. This tandem should make a huge difference behind Paris' unbelievable front-line.
PSG should see their way through the Round of 16 fairly easily, but they do start their journey on the road at Anfield under the lights, which could certainly place them in a early hole, where every point matters. Even so, this team is built for a Champions League title or bust and flaming out in the Group Stage seems far fetched.
Liverpool are a popular pick to win it all this season. After Sergio Ramos ensured the Reds would not be at full strength for the full 90 minutes in the Champions League final, the English giants are back with a Championship mentality.
Jürgen Klop went into the off-season fixated on improving his overall squad, especially on the back-end where the Reds have struggled over his tenure with the club. Klopp's key signing was Brazilian first teamer GK- Alisson, who has been everything Klopp could have asked for, bringing a sense of stability while in goal.
The Reds feel they are more balanced than ever, knowing the true strength of the squad is still on the front-line, with the magnificent combination of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. The time to start winning trophies has arrived, as this club is a true juggernaut to contend with each time they line-up on the pitch.
The most effective signing still may have happened a year ago, with Naby Keïta agreeing to a future deal with the Reds while at RB Leipzig. The Guinean creative midfielder has already shown how well he fits into Liverpool's 4-3-3 alignment. His dribbling and passing skills unlock defenses on a regular basis, allowing for his danger-men to be even more dangerous than a season ago, which is unthinkable based on the historic numbers they put up as a collective unit.
The Merseyside squad also brought in Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri to re-enforce the overall unit. Although these two individuals have not seen much first team time in league play, I believe they will play larger roles in Europe, providing additional class within the Reds overall presence.
Liverpool are getting +140 / 2.4 to top this Group, which is great value considering the collective talent that has been compiled for this new campaign. Their first match with PSG should really set the tone in the table. I anticipate them having strong showing against the French-men, who will have their own agenda's of collecting positive points as well.
The Reds also come in at +1200 / 13.00 / 12/1 to win the 2018-2019 Champions League title, which is quite high considering they had a second place finish last season, plus strengthened their overall team. Bookmakers seem to think this team will flame out earlier than many might anticipate, mainly due to them placing a large focus on winning the Premier League for the first time since 1990. Still making a modest Investment on Klopp's men to run the table this season, would not be the worst play that could be made on a Future Wager.
Napoli are the most unpredictable side to forecast in the group. The Italians are transitioning to a new manager and style of play, while also seeing changes in the starting rotation, which are all important factors leading into these European fixtures.
Carlo Ancelotti returns to Italy after stops at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich along the way. The famed manager is world renowned for his time at AC Milan, where he led the 'Rossoneri' to multiple Champions League titles during his reign.
The Italian head-man gets the unenviable task of replacing Maurizio Sarri, who had built a winning foundation while in southern Italy and still seems to have his fingerprints all over this squad.
Ancelotti has already made adjustments to Napoli's winning formula though, choosing to leave Dries Mertens, José Callejón and club legend Marek Hamsik on the bench to start the season. Each player have played important roles in turning the 'I Ciucciarelli' into perennial winners and now they are being asked to have reduced roles within the team, which could be a major downfall for their hard-nosed manager.
The Naples crew have turned to Arkadiusz "Arek" Milik for their goal scoring responsibilities. The often injured center-forward now has huge shoes too fill, as this Napoli side have been one of the more potent scoring threats in Europe over the past four years.
Lorenzo Insigne is the only remaining starting front-line player from the "Little Donkeys" dynamic trio. The Italian International has continued to evolve his all around game, earning the new manager's full confidence. Insigne's low center of gravity allows him to maneuver across the pitch with the greatest ease. Using a strong hold-up game to locate runners in the attacking half of the pitch, he also has the ability to finish the final product when required.
Napoli have been inconsistent to start their domestic campaign, falling behind in all three of their Italian contests, which is not a winning formula for success. This team will not be able to fall behind the likes of PSG and Liverpool and think they can grab positive results. With this level of competition they must start and finish strong if they have any chance of competing for a top two spot in the group and I am not sure they are established enough in their new system to pull off those feats.
Crvena zvezda - Red Star Belgrade, pulled off a "Houdini" act in order to grab their spot in the final 32 team draw. After going down 2-0 to a powerful Red Bull Salzburg side, the Serbian's then equalized and saw themselves through on away goals to the Champions League group stage process, with a 2-2 result.
Vladan Milojević will get the honor of leading Red Star into Europe's top tournament. The former defender was a part of the 1991 European Cup winning side and he now hopes to lead the minnow side on another remarkable run. The bookmakers though are not buying their Cinderella story. Coming off at 22/1 to top the group, the Serb's have a large mountain to climb in order to get even one positive result in this fierce pot.
The Red and Whites have leaned heavily on the services of El Fardou Ben Nabouhane, who has helped lead them through the Champion League gauntlet to date. His influence from the central midfield position within Red Stars 4-2-3-1 shape is irreplaceable. Nabouhane has continued to come up with huge goals at the most important times in many of their matches, including netting one of two that helped save the Serbians from elimination in Austria against Red Bull.
Nemanja Radonjic is Red Stars fellow front-line headache. Placed on the wing to best suite his skill-set, he will draw a large amount of attention as opposing teams scout this talented player. Aligned aside El Fardou Ben Nabouhane, they provide a one-two punch in the Serbian's attack and will have to bring their "A" games each time they face their high-profile counterparts.
Red Star Belgrade understand they are in arguably the toughest group in the field and advancing would be one of the largest feats in European history. But, this club has shown great resolve up to this point in the tournament and they should put up a stern resistance, but over the course of 90 minutes they should continue to fade.
Group C - Prediction
The smart money should be on PSG and Liverpool progressing too the Round of 16. Unlike many of the other groups who have a large amount of parity, Group C is extremely top heavy.
Napoli would seem to be the biggest threat to snatch one of the two top spots, but unlike in years past when this team was lightning in a bottle, they have regressed this season and seem to be starting over in many ways. Backing The Naples crew to knock off the two group favorites would seem too be a bit of stretch.
Red Star Belgrade should bring up the rear. They stand their best chance too get any type of positive results on their own pitch, where their home atmosphere can be quite daunting. But still matched up with so much class and talent, I cannot see them causing too much of a problem for any of these European giants.