Aug 28, 2008

Ranking the UEFA Champions League groups by degree of difficulty

By now you probably know about UEFA's group stage draw for their signature club event, the Champions League (cue that stupid music they adopted as the Champions League anthem). We could just cut and paste the groups like a lot of other bloggers did, but seriously, what good would that do you, our loyal readers? Instead, we considered giving you our choice of "group of death," which might have been a bit more interesting. But the problem with that (besides the fact that it's incredibly cliche'd and tired) is that it leaves out the groups that might still be difficult while not exactly of the "deathly" challenge variety. It also precludes us from making fun of the groups that are clearly far easier than the others, while also noting how lucky certain teams were to be drawn into said groups (you know who you are, Man United).

But we're the ranking specialists (says us) so how about ranking the groups by degree of difficulty? Great idea! So here it is:

1. Most difficult: Group D (Liverpool, PSV Eindhoven, Atletico Madrid, Olympique Marseille).
A day after we were lambasting Liverpool's luck for qualifying for the tournament in the first place, we now have to recognize the difficulty of the task ahead of them. Okay, so PSV are a bit of a pushover (though not compared to clubs from say, Cyprus or Belarus to name a few completely random examples) but they are Dutch champions and did make a strong showing in the Champs league last year. By now you should know about Atletico Madrid and how its coach Javier Aguirre has assembled a multi-national squad set to take on the big powers in Spain and the continent. Marseille, meanwhile, are unbeaten in the French league and look to perhaps even give Olympique Lyon a run for their money. Top to bottom, this is in our view the strongest group out there. Reds have their work cut out for them. Are they up to the task? We shall see, but expect it to be close.

2. Group F (Fiorentina, Steaua Bucharest, Bayern Munich, Olympique Lyon).
The aforementioned club from Lyon face a tough task with German champions Bayern and resurgent Florentine side Fiorentina. Steaua Bucharest add some spice and also some quality (seriously, they ousted Galatasaray in qualifying, which is never an easy task especially this year seeing how the Turkish club reloaded in the offseason). Unfortunately it will take a bit of a miracle for Steaua to advance out of this group--or to even live to see the UEFA Cup as the third placed team. Figure Bayern as the slight favorites with Fiorentina and Lyon slugging it out for second. But those three teams could really finish in any order.

3. Group G (Arsenal, Porto, Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kiev)
A deceptively tough group. L'Arse has started the season on the wrong foot and appear beatable, which makes the group all the more level and competitive. Porto is still tough, though obviously a shadow of their former, circa 2004, selves. Fenerbahce are no pushover, especially at home. Neither are Dynamo. We see Arsenal making it through, but only just. The rest is anybody's guess.

4. Group H (BATE Borisov, Juventus, Zenit St. Petersburg, Real Madrid)
A lot of pundits had this as their group of death, which we think is short sighted--and not only because there is a team from Belarus in the group. Zenit had a nice run to the UEFA Cup championships last spring, but it was the UEFA Cup. And who knows if Arshavin will even be with the team when the games start. Plus these guys currently sit seventh in the Russian league, which isn't quite as bad as being seventh in MLS, but nothing to be proud of either. So in short, this group is very top heavy. Real Madrid and Juventus will slug it out for the top spot, and may provide great theater along the way, but other than that don't expect much drama.

5. Group C (Sporting Lisbon, FC Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk, Barcelona) A deceptively tough group, though we are glad Barcelona is not in a "group of death" so all their fans can cry about conspiracies again. Granted, Basel are not exactly Man United, but they aren't Anorthosis either. Christian Gross' team has some interesting players, including 20-year old Eren Derdiyok and 22-year old River Plate product Federico Almerares who actually had a few stints for Argentina's U-20 selection. Shakhtar are tough, as readers of this blog know. Look for them to battle it out with Sporting for the second spot. Speaking of Sporting, they may be the best team in Portugal this year, having already beaten Porto in that country's version of the Community Shield. So yeah, Barca should advance pretty easily. But look for Shakhtar to make a run at second.

6. Group A (CFR Cluj, Chelsea, Bordeaux, Roma)
Blues got an easy one here. Cluj is, well, Cluj and Bordeaux is not Lyon or Marseille. That leaves Roma, who are indeed stacked. But two teams does not a decent group make. The battle for the top spot will be interesting. Everything else that happens in this group, not.

7. Group E (Aalborg, Manchester United, Villareal, Celtic)
While Chelsea at least have a tough Roma side to deal with, Man United do not really face any competition here. Yeah Villareal had a good run last year, but the power of the Spanish league now resides elsewhere (see Group D). Celtic are decent but no match for Sir Alex' squad. Aalborg are target practice.

8. Group B (Anorthosis, Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen, Inter Milan) A group that is even easier than Man United's, though not by much. Panathinaikos can be tough. Ditto Werder Bremen. Anorthosis? Not so much. Or at all. An MLS side might even manage to beat these guys. On a good day. Smooth sailing for Inter. Werder and Panathinaikos will battle for second.

Image taken from without permission.

1 comment:

  1. Bayern has played well all season and have arrived to the quarterfinals.