Champions League Preview: Group G
This year, Group G of the Champions League is home to last year’s winners Real Madrid as well as Semi-Finalists Roma. They are joined by Russian giants CSKA Moscow and Czech champions Viktoria Plzen. Bryce Donaldson previews.
Having won the past three competitions, Real will not fancy themselves as underdogs against any team in the competition. Their dominance in the continental competition has been outstanding in recent years.
However, two big departures over the summer left the Bernabeu stunned.
Club legend, Zinedine Zidane, resigned from his role as manager after winning nine trophies in his two and a half years at the club. Soon after global superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo left the Spanish capital to join European rivals Juventus.
This left many to question whether Real’s European crown was starting to slip. Club President Florentino Perez recognised this and wasted no time in enticing, the now, former Spain manager Julen Lopetegui to fill the role.
His incredible International record has transferred to the Madrid team as they have won three out of their first four matches and seems to be getting the best out of Spanish youngsters such as Asensio and Isco, whom he worked with in his previous role.
Though Madrid made no new marquee signings over the summer many players have stepped up to fill the boots of the departed Ronaldo. Karim Benzema has found form early this season grabbing four goals in as many games so far.
Gareth Bale is also enjoying life under his new manager. The Welshman has found the net three times so far and is proving somewhat of a playmaker providing two assists as well.
Retaining the services of the World Cups best player has also been a boost for Los Blancos. Luka Modric remains a pivotal figure in the midfield, pulling the strings from the centre of the park.
Madrid will certainly be a new look team this season as they figure out the new managers style of play but they remain as big a threat as ever.
Roma pulled off some stunning results last year in the Champions league not least of which was a 3-0 win against Barcelona in the second leg of the quarter final. Kostas Manolas’ 82nd minute header was enough to carry Roma through on away goals after a 4-1 defeat in the first round.
They nearly pulled it off again in the very next round against Liverpool but this time fell victim to a 6-7 defeat on aggregate.
Roma will be hoping to equal last season’s run if not better this year.
The Italian capital side had an eventful summer to say the least. They found themselves at the centre of a media storm as they thought they had captured the signature of Brazilian wonder-kid Malcom but at the last second the deal was hi-jacked by Barcelona and the former Bordeaux man now plies his trade in Catalonia.
Despite this setback Roma strengthened their squad by adding midfield pair Stephen Nzonzi and Javier Pastore as well as adding Ajax sensation Justin Kluivert, son of Netherlands legend Patrick Kluivert. Nzonzi should help shore up the midfield whilst Pastore and Kluivert can add some attacking flair.
Though Roma’s start to the domestic season has not looked too promising, as new players bond into the team they could yet be back to stir up some drama.
This Moscow side have been regulars in the Champions League since 2013 but since then have not managed to finish higher than 3rd place in the group stages.
The last time they managed to get out of the group stage was in the 2011/12 season where they finished second in their group but were quickly disposed of in the round of 16 by this year’s group mates Real Madrid.
Moscow do have some names familiar to fans of this summer’s World Cup. Mario Fernandez had an impressive run at right back as part of the Russia that far exceeded everyone’s expectation and Nikola Vlasic who put in some dazzling performances on the wing for losing finalists Croatia.
Last season they shipped 10 goals in the six group matches they played. If the Russian side want to progress this year, they will need to take advantage of playing at home in the cold eastern winters that the more central European teams are not acclimatised to.
Perhaps not a side that many British or casual fans of European football are aware of.
However, in the last eight seasons the Czech team have featured in the Champions league three times. Their most recent win in the competition came in the 2013/14 season where they recorded a 2-1 win at home against CSKA Moscow, who they will meet again this year.
Plzen’s squad is made up predominantly of Czech nationals and though they don’t have any standout players they will surely put up a fight against their more experienced group mates.
Their main focus will be to not embarrass themselves on the big stage and fight for third place as an entry into the Europa league. Plzen have better form in the Europa league where they reached the last 16 last season before succumbing to Sporting Lisbon.