UEFA Champions League - Group Stage Preview
The "Pot of Parity" resides in Group D, where there are no major European powers taking part in this quartet, leaving the door open for any one of these sides to punch their tickets in the Round of 16.
Each team competing are well aware they landed in a friendly foursome and we should be prepared for highly competitive fixtures each time these proud clubs step on the pitch. With a higher percentage of progressing than normal, no stone should be left unturned on filling those top two spots.
Odds To Win - Group D
Porto FC 130 / 2.3 / 13/10
FC Schalke 190 / 2.9 / 19/10
Galatasaray 500 / 6.0 / 5/1
Lokomotiv Moscow 550 / 6.5 / 11/2
Porto are technically considered the favorites to top Group D. The Portuguese are perennial powers in their Domestic league and continue to claim a spot in the Champions League draw.
The 'Dragons' were eliminated by eventual UEFA league runner-ups Liverpool last season, who simply overwhelmed the Portuguese over a two-legged affair. The Primeira Liga champions have now returned with renewed optimism, as they feel this squad is better prepared to make a deeper run in Europe's top tournament.
Sérgio Conceição provided an instant impact on the sidelines in his first season. After being inserted as Porto's top-man, he went straight to work leading the sleeping giants to their first league title in five years. Conceição's first move was converting from "Nuno's" 3-4-3 system to installing a more traditional 4-4-2 approach, which has led to positive results and an energized culture back at one of Portugal's more accomplished clubs.
The main trigger-man in Porto's attack has been Vincent Aboubakar. The Cameroon striker has lit Portugal on fire since his arrival, but after a unfortunate injury that derailed his Champions League run last season, the feared tally's man has returned with a vengeance and looks to be even more clinical in front of goal.
André Pereira has earned the starting position opposite Aboubakar. The young Portuguese is known for playing a rough and tumble style of play, always looking to mix it up with defenders in order to draw fouls and set up direct set-piece situations, where he also possess rare long range abilities and can provide a true moment of genius.
The group favorites have a heavy influence of Brazilian players, which is a natural progression for many of the country's youngsters to start their careers in such a comfortable setting. Alex Telles and Felipe each supply a stern defensive influence on the back-line, while also providing unique offensive skills, allowing the Dragons too push forward even more treats while in the attacking half of the pitch.
The motor of this squad still falls within the midfield with Mexican International Héctor Herrera the true leader with the ball at his feet. Herrera comes from a long line of Mexican players who have perfected their crafts while playing on Portuguese soil and this seasons Champions League should further display his overall skill-set on this massive stage.
Porto have had great success while a part of European fixtures. The Dragons went on a magical run during the 2002-2003 season and shocked the whole world under the Jose Mourinho, who guided the Portuguese giants on a Championship run. The group favorites now enter this competition with little expectations of lifting the finals trophy. This club plays an entertaining brand of football and are especially tough while at the Estádio do Dragão, were their passionate supporters seem to lift them higher than most other home stadiums.
The Germans have been noticeably missing from the 32 team field for several years now and this year FC Schalke make their return to UEFA's top event. Under a new vision and style of play, the 'Royal Blues' hope to leave their fingerprints on this season's Champions League event.
Domenico Tedesco is a new breed of Bundesliga managers. With the German league in favor of a youth movement on the sidelines, the 32 year old tactician has supplied a renewed optimism within both the club and the league, and although the 'Miners' are off to a slow start domestically, they should be laser focused on making a major impact while apart of this winnable field.
The Bundesliga runner-ups did find scoring goals a challenge over the course of last season, often squeaking by with 1-0 - 0-1 type of results. The Germans realize they will be more challenged to get away with those type of score-lines with so much attacking talent spread throughout the participating teams. Tedesco must get more out of his side while in front of goal.
The Royal Blues have seen a transition in their style of play this season, converting to a 4-3-3 alignment in hopes of producing more shots on goal during each 90 minute shift. The Germans seem to still be working their way into this new plan of action, as they have only produced one goal through their first two matches of the new campaign.
Former Hoffenheim man Mark Uth was brought in to help fill some of the scoring duties. The crafty forward was highly effective in a similar role, previous to his move. Schalke must find ways to place their new weapon in best positions to succeed. Uth is most dangerous on the other end of seeking through balls, where he continues to beat keepers in one-on-one situations.
Swiss youngster Breel Embolo must start living up to his enormous hype if the Royals blues are to meet their full potential. The imposing front-line figure is full of talent, but he has not been able to put all his skills together for an extended period of time, often injured to start his career, this season is large in his overall development. Embolo is fleet-footed for his size, surprising defenders with his slick dribbling abilities and can truly change the complexion of a match in the open field, where his pace and strength can overwhelm weakened defenses.
Schalke are considered the second best bet to progress to the Round of 16, but this team looks slightly different from the one that occupied the pitch last season. The Germans have failed to correct their goal scoring deficiencies and now seem to have lost their defensive focus that carried them for much of the way. The overall talent on this season's squad cannot be denied, but whether or not they can put it all together is such a short amount of time is still to be determined.
Galatasaray once again topped the Turkish top-flight league and earned a automatic bid into the prestigious European field.
The 'Lions' have long been supreme powers in their own country, and dubbed the nickname "The Conqueror of Europe", for their 1999-2000 Europa League title winning squad.
Fatih Terim is a huge presence in his homeland. The former Lions player has had a long history within the managerial ranks, recently taking over the club after a successful spell with Turkey's national team and instantly taking Galatasaray back too the top of the league.
The Super Lig winners were truly revamped by the arrival of Terim. The popular manager incorporated the popular 4-3-3 shape, preferring a heavy ball possession style of play, while spending the bulk of the match in their opponents side of the pitch. This plan of attack will challenge any club in the world, as the Turk's seem set to challenge for a top two spot in the table.
The Turkish outfit are lead by their own Swiss striker, with Eren Derdiyok thriving during his time with 'Gala'. Derdiyok has found his 'niche' while with the team, the lurking tally's-man is a magnet for service, where he continues to use his head for placing the ball in the back of the net.
Henry Onyekuru is another integral part to the Lions overall success. The young Nigerian has impressed both Domestically and Internationally and has already been assigned additional responsibilities during the new season. Onyekuru is highly efficient with the ball at his feet, the young play-maker can get to any place on the pitch he prefers. With exceptional dribbling abilities, he creates space to get off his patented long range shots on goal.
Galatasaray are full of potent goal scorers who create and finish plenty of chances in front of goal. The Lions are well equipped to finish their chances at a high level, and should be able to match any team in the field on the scoreboard, making this a dangerous unit in a Group Stage process.
Lokomotiv Moscow have regained their spot among the top teams in the Russian Premier league. After several years of sub-standard finishes in the table, the 'Railroaders' captured the overall title in 2017-2018, while also locking up a automatic birth into the Champions League draw.
Yuri Semin has been in charge of the reclamation project. The veteran head-man is back with the club for the fourth time in his career, and was also responsible for leading the Russians too their last title in 2004. Semin has progressively seen improvement from year too year, after arriving in 2016, he has re-built another winning culture within this proud club.
The established manager was a former striker himself, enjoying a attacking style of play. Even though his side has struggled to finish the amount of chances created in front of goal, the Red-Greens have only mustered up four goals through the first six league matches too date. This Achilles heal must be corrected, if the Russians have any chance of competing in this foursome.
The Russians plan of attack is based primarily on attacking down the left hand side of the pitch. With World Cup hero, Manuel Fernades, the main architect of Lokomotiv's shape, using an abundance of short passes to help set fellow Russian national team member Fedor Smolov into motion. Smolov arrived with the club last season for his goal scoring prowess, but this tandem have yet to really get flying in their return too club duties, as their services are vital to this teams overall success.
Lokomotiv Moscow have sputtered out of the gate domestically, which is a worry-some trend. Even with a group full of parity, they must pick up the pace if they are going too realistically compete for a spot in the Round of 16.
The Russians may be saving their best performances for European nights, as many clubs in the past have placed their main focus on doing well in Champions League competitions. Still, backing this club to advance seems to be real long-shot, and their recent form must be taken into consideration.
Group D - Prediction
Predicting the winner of this group may be the most difficult of all. With so much parity between clubs 1-4, the possibility of anyone of these clubs taking the top honors would come at no surprise.
Porto have been placed in the favorites role, the Portuguese are projected to top the table based on their overall talent and depth throughout their 25 man squad. The Dragons have the capability of running the table, and in year two of their league-winning formula, Portugal's top club is always in contention of progressing in a tournament format.
Schalke have been less than impressive to start their new domestic campaign, but German teams are known for being tough outs in European competitions. The Royal Blues must find some offensive firepower if they are going to truly challenge for the top two spots, as they cannot continue to think they can grind out matches, based on their caliber of opponents.
Galatasaray are my sleeper team to shake up the group. This Turkish side plays with a tremendous amount of confidence and have adapted a system that can cause major troubles for many of the largest teams in Europe. The Lions will surprise a large amount of the viewers who are not as familiar with this storied club, as they have long history of doing well on multiple fronts.
Lokomotiv Moscow have failed to find their footing after a title run last season. The Russians do have quality throughout their squad and a proven system to generate positive results, but their current form is quite troubling and I would not be as confident backing the defending Russian Premier League champs too advance.