Champions League group stage preview: Which teams will advance?

With the Champions League draw completed and the group stage set to kick off, 32 teams in eight groups will be involved in top-tier football competition beginning next month. In keeping with the rules of past tournaments, no teams from the same country will compete against each other in the initial stage.

The top two teams in each group will advance beyond the group stage, so let’s take a closer look at which ones will likely go on.

Group A- Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets Razgrad

Even after losing star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United, PSG still has enough firepower to clinch the top spot in Group A. With this squad winning all the silverware available in France, the Coupe des Clubs trophy is coveted by management, players and supporters at the Parc des Princes.

While Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team has suffered by not keeping up in the transfer market, they should have little problem taking the number two spot in this group. Basel will end up in third place, while Ludogorets will be returning to Bulgaria quickly without earning a point in the group.

Group B- Benfica, Napoli, Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas

While far from being the strongest group in the competition, the Portuguese squad of Benfica should take the top spot in the group, having the pedigree and experience to advance to the next stage. Napoli would appear likely to take the next spot and advance, but the loss of star striker Gonzalo Higuain and his offensive prowess will prove to be too much for The Blues to overcome.

Look for Dynamo Kiev to advance to the next round and send both Napoli and Turkish side Besiktas home for the holidays after their elimination from CL play.  

Group C- Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Monchengladbach, Celtic FC

If there was a group of death in this years’ CL, it would be Group C. While one would expect Manchester City and Barcelona to take the top two spots (in that order), all four teams in this group display quality of the pitch. Manchester City’s new manager Pep Guardiola is familiar with Barcelona, having played for Barca for 11 years until 2001 and managed them from 2007 through 2012.

New Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers will be familiar with the players from Manchester City, having been the manager of Liverpool from 2012-2015 in the EPL. The weakest team in the group, Borussia Monchengladbach, attained their spot in the UCL by defeating Swiss side Young Boys in a playoff round earlier this month. They will take the fourth position in the group and be the first German squad to crash out of CL competition. .

Group D- Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, FC Rostov

It is hard to imagine Bayern Munich not taking the top spot in Group D, with their second-tier players having more quality than some first-team players on other squads. Of course, Diego Simeone’s Atletico team might disagree since they were runners-up in last year’s UCL final.

The depth of Bayern Munich will carry Der FCB into the top spot, just ahead of Atletico. Look for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven and FC Rostov from Russia to finish third and fourth respectively.                                                                        

Group E- CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur, Monaco

The group draw has been kind to Spurs, The Lilywhites are the cream of the group, with an offense led by Harry Kane and Erik Lamela while captained by French international goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Having been absent from Europe’s elite club competition since 2011, expect Hotspur to take the top spot in the group.

The battle for the second spot will be close, but look for German side Bayer Leverkusen to emerge victorious. Rounding out the group will be CSKA Moscow and Monaco, finishing third and fourth respectively.

Group F- Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon, Legia Warsaw.

Someone has to be grouped with last year’s CL champions (and Group F winners), with the other three teams fighting for the second spot in Group F this year.  With Los Galacticos expected to go deep in the CL competition, the expectation is that German side Borussia Dortmund, last year’s runners-up in the Bundesliga, will advance to the next round by clinching the second spot in the group.

Sporting Lisbon will be a close third with Legia Warsaw a distant fourth. This group seems to be pretty cut and dried.

Group G- Leicester City, Porto, Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen.

While last year’s EPL champions Leicester City seem less potent this year that they were last season, their roster is largely unchanged. Jamie Vardy and company will take the top position in Group G, with Portuguese side Porto claiming the second spot. Club Brugge, currently mid-table in the Belgian League, will end up third.

FC Copenhagen barely squeezed by a weak Cypriot team (Apoel Nicosia) and will end up in the fourth spot.

Group H- Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Dinamo Zagreb.

The winner of last years’ Scudetto in Serie A has actually strengthened their roster, adding goal-scorer Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli and Dani Alves from Barcelona.  Last years’ CL saw Juventus succumbing to Bayern Munich in the round of 16. The initial group stage in 2015 also saw The Old Lady competing against Sevilla, with the two teams sharing the points in the two matches.

This year Sevilla will finish in the number two spot, with Ligue 1 team Lyon just behind Sevilla in third and Dinamo Zagreb headed back to Croatia with perhaps a point to show for their efforts.