UEFA Champions League - Group Stage Preview
The next group in line provides us with our first huge European favorite, as German giants Bayern Munich will dominate the headlines in this pot of contenders. The Bavarians will start this new season with high expectations, as they set out to collect their first Champions League title since 2013.
The remaining crop of hopefuls are no slouches in their own rights, with Benfica, Ajax and AEK Athens F.C all ready too battle it out with the Bundesliga side, for a right to represent Group E in the Round of 16.
Odds To Win - Group E
FC Bayern Munich -700 / 1.14 / 1/7
Benfica +750 / 8.5 / 15.2
Ajax +1000 / 2.00 / 1/1
AEK Athens F.C. +5000 / 51.00 / 50/1
Group E - Preview
Bayern Munich make another trip to a 'UCL' Group Stage. After being eliminated two straight seasons during the Quarter Finals by eventual winners Real Madrid, the "FCB" are back in hopes of finally getting over the hump and adding their names to yet another Champions League trophy.
The Bavarian's will be led on their journey with a new voice on the sideline in “Niko" Kovac. Being placed in charge of capturing trophies, the Croatian certainly understands the pressure too perform, as he also wore the club's crest during his own playing days.
Kovac has the pleasure of managing many of the best players in the world, as he has been attempting to learn his best starting eleven, the new tactician has the benefit of selecting many of the best options in Europe. The front-line is always a strength of this powerful club and this season is no different. Once again led by Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who had rumblings of being unhappy at the famous side, he now looks prepared to continue his regular goal scoring duties for the Bavarians.
Bayern have already gotten off to a fast start domestically, racking up six goals through their first two matches and Kovac has his men performing at an exceptional level. The Germans fluent 4-2-3-1 alignment needed little tweaking from last season. This unit have shown that they are terrific at using their wingers to create space, with the old guard of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, providing pin-point service into their accomplished danger men.
The Germans are true well oiled machine, with their defensive midfielders and back-line members well equipped to handle both sides of the ball. Joshua Kimmich has emerged as a true lynch-pin in the starting eleven. Able to play multiple positions, he has been most effective from the right-back spot, using his pace too flood the attacking half of the pitch, while being athletic enough to stay in front of world-class offensive threats.
The Bavarians also have the services of arguably the best goal keeper in the world, with Manuel Neuer returning for the new campaign. The German International missed a significant amount of time in net for Bayern with a foot injury, but his presence back in the starting eleven solidifies an already talented back-end.
Benfica have the honor of being the biggest treat to trump Bayern for the top spot in the group. Although the Portuguese outfit are are 7/1 to do so, the bookmakers believe this club are closest in quality to the German giants.
The Primera Liga runner-ups were dethroned from their third staright title in Portugal's top flight league, making this seasons voyage in European competitions a bit more difficult. The 'Eagles' are coming off a two-legged playoff round which tested their nerves in order to make the group stage process.
Rui Vitória has had a magnificent run during his time in Lisbon, winning two league titles and being a part of Europe's top tournament in all three of his seasons on the sideline. Vitória is another top notch manager who believes in a 4-3-3 formation and has a cast of ultra-talented players in order to carry out his creative game-plan.
Front-line members "Pizzi" and Eduardo Salvio have jumped off the screen in early season fixtures. The South Americans bring a certain flare while moving forward in attack, each are highly skilled with the ball at their feet, able to both involve others with great results, while finishing the final product in the final third of the pitch.
The Portuguese are the type of side who develop players, and then sell them off for large profits. They get the best out of their youth academies, and have a long list of starlets who have went on to play at many of the largest clubs in the world. Expect this team to always be competitive, and even though they may not have quite enough to get over the hump, they will make life difficult on any team they encounter along the way.
Ajax and Benfica are quite similar in how they handle their business. The Dutch giants develop much of the world's top talent and then set them on their way's in order to fulfill their full potentials.
The Eredevisie champs get great value to advance into the Round of 16. Known for being European treats each time their names are entered into a UEFA tournament, the 'Lancers' must be shown a tremendous amount of respect, as their pedigree in this particular event speaks for itself.
Erik ten Hag was brought into help guide the legendary club back to league dominance, which he accomplished in just over half a season. Now after navigating his side through their own playoff round, the experienced top flight manager has his eyes set on also capturing European silverware.
The "Sons of Gods" have a well equipped front-line to get positive results. With a mixture of both youth an experience, they have already proven too be a formidable force to start the young season. Their second year manager has found the right combination of players to fit his 4-2-3-1 alignment, led by ageless tally's man Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The former Schalke man returned home for another spell with his youth side and has been on a tear, already scoring eight goals in all nine competitions. He has re-established himself as one of the more dangerous goal threats in front of goal.
Huntelaar is accompanied by a true star in the Dutch league.With Hakim Ziyech continuing to draw attention from many of the largest clubs in the world, his abilities will give defenders fits while pushing forward in attack. The young Moroccan glides across the pitch with simplest of ease, able to involve his full compliment of players around him, while also able to find the back of the net with deadly accuracy.
Ajax play an attractive style of football and those who have not seen much of them play will be delighted by their overall skill-set. Based on the depth and class throughout the 25 man squad, do not be surprised too see this team join Bayern Munich, as the two Group E representatives in the Round of 16.
AEK Athens F.C. enter the field, with little to no fanfare. The Greeks understand they have a huge mountain to climb, surrounded by European regulars, they should find themselves as underdogs in each match they enter.
Marinos Ouzounidis inherited a European bound side.The former defender now brings that same toughness too the Greek squad, as he helped guide them through a tough Champions League qualification campaign.
The 'Union' will not blow the viewers away with an entertaining brand of football, as the Greeks struggle to score and rely mostly on keeping a game close, while doing just enough to grab a positive result.
Ouzounidis has found finding a true danger man an overwhelming obstacle during his short tenure with the team. With only three total goals scored this season, and each of his front-line players scoring no more than one goal themselves, this could be the wrong group for the Super League representatives to be apart of.
Ezequiel Ponce and Marko Livaja are the best bets to carry this side to prominence, even though they may see very little of the ball in the attacking half of the pitch. They must take advantage of the few opportunities they get to put the ball in the back of the net.
AEK Athens have been a nice story up until this point in the tournament, as making the draw was a victory in itself. But now reality must start to set in and I see it hard for this team to pick up anything more than a Draw, against this unforgiving foursome.
Group E - Prediction
Bayern Munich are clearly the class of the group, but they must not get complacent and overlook their pesky opponents. The Germans should have plenty of motivation to avoid any sort of let-down, and backing them to both win the group and advance should be pretty safe Investments.
The true intrigue begins with what team will join the German giants in the next round. Both Benfica and Ajax are well equipped to challenge many of the larger teams in Europe and should grab the spotlight when matched up with one another in this group.
AEK Athens will just fight to keep matches competitive and the top three teams must get maximum points against the Greek unit, understanding each point will be of the utmost importance as the table begins to take shape.