Barca, Juve meet again, but both should advance: UCL Group D preview
With the UEFA Champions League starting on Tuesday 12th September, ENRG Sport is previewing the famous European competition by analysing each of the eight groups. Providing you with all the information so you know what to expect as the tournament progresses.
With Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon all involved, Group D should be interesting affair. It does, of course, feature a repeat of the 2015 final between Barca and Juve. The Spanish giants won on that occasion, but the Italians have evolved into a different beast since, as last season’s run to the final and their continued dominance over the rest of Italy shows. Can they clinch 1st place?
Here’s our view of the teams
After racking up an impressive 91 points last season, Juventus qualify as champions of Serie A. The Italian side finished runners-up in last season’s Champions League after a defeat to Real Madrid.
Juve boast an impressive attack. Last season, star striker Gonzalo Higuaín and talented youngster Paulo Dybala scored 9 Champions League goals between them. They’re showing no sign of slowing down this season either. Despite only playing three games so far, Juventus have already found the back of the net 10 times.
The Old Lady spent wisely in the summer transfer window, managing to bolster their defensive ranks with the signings of Benedikt Howedes and Blaise Matuidi whom have had Champions League experience with their previous clubs.
Mehdi Benatia will also have a key part to play in defence. Signing permanently this summer he will have to fill the boots of Leonardo Bonucci who moved to AC Milan. Fans will see if he can step up to the high mark set by Giorgio Chiellini, a reliable mainstay for many years now in the heart of the defence.
Perhaps the most exciting signing will prove to be Douglas Costa, moving on loan from Bayern Munich. Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri hopes he can bring a creative spark to the attack and could quickly become a key player in the team.
It is expected that Juventus will qualify for the knockout stages but their biggest test will come against Barcelona, whom they lost 2-1 against in a pre-season friendly.
Tournament odds: 14/1
Barcelona qualify for the champions league after finishing second in the La Liga, only three points behind rivals Real Madrid.
This summer it was Barcelona’s transfer activity that filled the back pages of papers around the world. Losing Neymar will undoubtedly be a big hit to the famous trio up front that Barcelona has become known for playing.
Many fans and spectators will be keen to see the new most expensive teenager in world football. Ousmane Dembele signed from Borussia Dortmund for over £90 million. An intelligent player who is good with both feet, he is tipped by many to prove to be a bargain, despite the monumental price tag, and soon become a household name.
Barcelona have started this season very well. Scoring nine goals in their first three games and still yet to concede. They will hope to continue this form in defence as it is what let them down last season.
In last season’s competition Barcelona easily topped their group but started to struggle in the knockouts. After losing 4-0 in the first leg of the round of 16 against PSG, they had pull out a record-breaking result to progress 6-5 on aggregate.
They faced Juventus in the next round, but the Italian champion’s quality proved too much for the Catalan side as they failed to score against them over the two legs.
Barcelona will undoubtedly want to enact revenge against Juventus this year and will be relying on key players such as Messi and Suarez to secure them the top spot in the group.
Tournament odds: 7/1
After winning the Greek Superleague for the seventh time in a row Olympiacos qualified to the third qualifying round of the Champions League.
In last season’s Europa League, Olympiacos placed second in their group behind Cyprian side APOEL. In the knockout stages they beat Turkish side Osmanlispor 3-0 in the round of 32. In the round of 16 they did well to hold their own at home against Besiktas but suffered a defeat away from home and crashed out of the competition.
Getting to the Round of 16 was an achievement not to be shrugged off by the Greek side. However, they will need to play significantly better this year if they hope to do the same as the quality of the opposition in their group far exceeds last years.
Olympiacos saw off Partizan Belgrade in the third qualifying round and won both matches in the play-off round against Rijeka to earn their place in the group stage.
The Greek champions do host some familiar faces that Premier League fans may recognise. Nigerian international Emmanuel Emenike spent the latter half of last season on loan at West Ham. Ex-Chelsea player Marko Marin also features in the squad and has already caused problems to opposition defences with cutting through balls.
Realistically, Olympiacos will battle it out for third place in the group so they can transfer to the Europa League.
Tournament odds: 150/1
Sporting Lisbon qualified for this year’s Champions League by finishing third in the Primeira Liga.
They went through a similar process to Olympiacos as they had to qualify through a play-off round. They worried fans by drawing 0-0 in Lisbon against Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest, but eased through to the group stage after a 5-1 victory away from home.
Last year Sporting finished bottom of their group winning only one match. This year they will be hoping to challenge for third place and an opportunity to play more European football in the Europa League.
Though they are very much the underdogs of the group, teams should be aware that this fixture will not be an easy win. Lisbon had a busy transfer window adding European experience to their first team. Veteran defenders Jeremy Mathieu and Fabio Coentrao joined from Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
They have also added to their attacking options. Seydou Doumbia and Gelson Martins join to partner Dutchman Bas Dost up front, whom has been in fine form in the league.
The key to success for Sporting will be similar to that of Portugal’s in the last European Championship William Carvalho plays a key role in midfield breaking up play and disrupting opposition players.
Tournament odds: 300/1
Bryce’s predictions for Group D
- Sporting Lisbon