Welcome to another round of UEFA Champions League teams survey. Today’s menu includes Groups C and D clubs. If you missed our introductory article to the UCL draw click here and if you want to learn a bit more about the teams in Groups A and B click here.
Drawn from Pot 1, FC Porto won Liga NOS with a five point margin ahead of Benfica last season to qualify directly to the group stage of this season’s campaign. The young manager Sergio Conceicao has stayed more than two years with one club for the first time in his career. As a player from 1987 to 2010, he played for 16 clubs, so you may know him from playing with either Parma, Lazio or Inter in the early noughties. In the last three years, he won the Portuguese Championship twice as a manager. Early last season, Porto failed to qualify to the UCL, losing to Krasnodar in the 3rd qualifying round. They followed that by winning their Europa League group only to bow out in the Round of 32 against UCL group stage dropout Leverkusen. This season Porto may find little competition from Olympiacos and Marseille, so they should be able to accompany Manchester City to the Round of 16.
Key Transfers: The team brought in a rather expensive 20-year-old Brazilian talent Evanilson in addition to Zaidu Sanusi from Santa Clara and a couple of free transfer agents. 18-year-old Fabio Silva transferred to Wolves, Alex Telles to Manchester United and Danillo Pereira to PSG on loan.
Recent Form: (WWL) It is always tough to lose before the international break and wait to get back out to turn the results around. Porto stands in 4th position only 1 point behind league leaders Santa Clara.
One of two Manchester clubs qualified to the group stage this season, the team with Pep Guardiola at the helm has become fantasy players’ enemy number one. Taking rotation to an extreme level, we could only score fantasy points if we had Kevin De Bruyne and a couple of defenders on your roster. While Liverpool put paid to the most competitive domestic league (English Premier League) too early, Manchester City had no chance there. Shifting focus to UCL qualification, the Citizens’ appeal against their ban was successful in July 2020. Guardiola and his men comfortably secured second place in the Premier League but fell in the UCL Quarterfinals to Lyon’s French trap in one of too many surprises last season. Similar to last season, Manchester City have all they need to win the group comfortably, but it lies on Guardiola to keep the players motivated and the formation structured beyond the group stage.
Key Transfers: Defense was key this summer as both Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake were brought in as center backs from Benfica and Bournemouth. Last season, Valencia star Ferran Torres and several more youngsters also joined. The highlight in departures is Leroy Sane to Bayern. Otamendi transferred to Benfica as well. David Silva joined Real Sociedad on free transfer.
Recent Form: (WWLWD) The team has yet to gel, collecting only four points from three matches played in the Premier League.
The Greek outfit has been managed by Portuguese tactician Pedro Martins since 2018. Olympiacos won the Super League in its new interesting format introduced just last season. Topping a table of 14 clubs by March 2020. The six top teams went at it again during the summer in a mini super league to decide the winner and European competitions qualifiers. Olympiacos was drawn in the UCL winners’ group last season and were satisfied to place third behind Tottenham to move on to the Europa League.
In the Round of 32, the entertaining tie against Arsenal did not disappoint until the last minute of extra time when Youssef Al Arabi scored the winning goal for the Greeks. Drawn against another English team in the next round; Olympiacos was knocked out by Wolverhampton. Drawn in a more forgiving group this year after winning in the last qualifying round, Olympiacos must focus on Porto and Marseille ties to have a chance at qualification.
Key Transfers: Yann M’Vila brought in from Saint-Ettienne and Rafinha from Flamingo while Bruma from Eindhoven and Vinagre from Wolves are loan deals. Konstantinos Tsimikas departed to Liverpool, and Guilherme went to Al Sadd.
Recent Form: (WWWDD) Without defeat and conceding only one goal since the start of the season, Olympiacos may well be able to do the same in their next fixture against Marseille.
Ligue 1 was one of many leagues all over the world to stop in March 2020, but unlike many European leagues, it had no restart. The governing body of football in France, “France Football Federation (FFF)” decided to submit its qualifiers to UEFA with the halted standings. Marseille in second place with ten matches abandoned was accepted by UEFA to enter the Champions League Group Stage directly this season. Marseille did not play European football last season. Andre Villas-Boas, another Portuguese tactician is in charge of the first team and will surely have a lot to prove.
Key Transfers: A couple of center backs were brought in (Alvaro Gonzalez from Villareal and Balerdi from Dortmund). Also, Nagatomo’s experience must come in handy as a left back coming from Galatasaray. Bayern’s young midfielder Cuisance joined on loan. The only notable departure is Bouna Sarr joining Bayern in the transfers deadline day.
Recent Form: (WLDDD) The only victory in the last five matches was against Ligue 1 title holders PSG followed by disappointing results. They will play against Bordeaux next domestically before flying to Greece for the UCL opener.
Group C Matchday-1 Fixtures (21-Oct-2020):
- Manchester City vs Porto
- Olympiacos vs Marseille
In my opinion, this is the group of beauty since the group of death must be Group H (stay tuned). Group D however has collected three entertaining football clubs with interesting analogies.
A few years ago, Atalanta Italian Serie A league was club similar to Ajax in Eredivisie. Scout the good talent, raise them and sell them off to make profit while staying safely mid-table but rising close to the top on a number of occasions. Ajax have been and still are doing the same but on a continental scale, coming close to the top on a number of occasions. Since 2016-2017, Atalanta started a new project, aiming to become a constant qualifier for the UCL. They may just become the new Liverpool this year or in a couple of years. Liverpool’s project worked so well that they won the UCL in 2018-19 and the English Premier League last season, and it was a full sweep to say the least.
Late during last season, all three of these clubs took heavy blows. Ajax was controversially knocked out of the UCL group stage after dominant and entertaining performances only to be knocked out again from the Europa League Round of 32 by Getafe. Their domestic season ended prematurely with 13 matches to be played, qualifying for UCL as a recommendation from the Netherlands Football governing body. After the long summer rest, Ajax were back to winning ways opening the Eredivisie with three victories followed by one loss.
Liverpool was knocked out of the UCL by a struggling Atletico Madrid side in an unforgettable return leg. Klopp’s method of play almost never changes, and this is starting to catch up to him since changing the name in the position does not make a whole lot of difference if the opposing team has read the book on how to restrict Liverpool. Arsenal definitely read the book, recently beating Liverpool twice by penalty shootouts: in the Community Shield and EFL Cup matches. In between, Liverpool (as Champions are still not as easy a target as it may sound here) managed to go 3 for 3 in the Premier League, beating Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal. Then and only then, Aston Villa added a new chapter to the book titled how to thrash Liverpool. The players at Liverpool are world class and in their prime, so it all lies on Klopp to find the dynamic changes to the formation during a match to avoid repetition of such results.
Atalanta proved it was no fluke to qualify to the Round of 16 last UCL season following that by knocking out Valencia and bowing out in the last minute against PSG. The blow received was not leaving the UCL in the Quarterfinals since this is pure achievement; the blow was the injury of their star player Josip Ilicic before the quarterfinals. The 62-year-old manager Gian Piero Gasperini is now in Klopp’s shoes of a few years ago: building a winning team from scratch. He struggled to find the solution to Ilicic’s injury at first, which probably cost him winning the domestic league during its continuation in summer. Whatever inspiration came to the old tactician during the short break since has worked wonders; Atalanta has played three matches in Serie A, thrashing their opponents accumulating 13 goals thus far even without a hint of Josip Ilicic.
This group will work as a crossroads for all three clubs. Klopp and Gasperini need to display how to adapt during the 90 minutes of every match. Erik ten Hag at Ajax is now the underdog whose major talent has already departed from the club, so he must find new team cohesion with newly signed names.
Liverpool: Diogo Jota from Wolves, Thiago from Bayern, and Tsimikas from Olympiacos arrived to the club. Lovren departed to Zenit, Lallana to Brighton & Hove Albion, and Brewster went to Sheffield United.
Ajax: Arriving are Antony from Sao Paulo, Davy Klassen from Werder Bremen and Kudus from Nordsjaelland. Leaving are Hakim Ziyech to Chelsea, Donny van de Beek to Manchester United and Dest to Barcelona.
Also in group D is the 21-year-old Danish club that has become a force to reckon with on a domestic level, having won the Superligean three times in the last decade. Sporting black and red colors, they were unable to qualify for either of the European competitions in the couple of chances they had previously. This season, Midtjylland broke through Ludogorets, BSC Young Boys and finally Slavia Prague to finally qualify and face a team that knows well how it feels to be a first-time participant (Atalanta).
Key Transfers: Pione Sisto from Celta Vigo arrived along with Luca Pfeiffer from Wurzb Kickers and Daniel Hoegh from Heerenveen on free transfer. Center Forward Artem Dovbyk transferred to Dnipro.
Recent Form: (WDWWD) That 4-1 win over Slavia Prague in the return leg of UCL qualifiers is something not to be taken lightly by the other group teams.
Group D Matchday-1 Fixture (21-Oct-2020):
- Midtjylland vs Atalanta
- Ajax vs Liverpool
What are your UCL fantasy thoughts on groups C & D? Please share in the comments below!