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Champions League Preview: Group A

Last year’s semifinalists Manchester City and PSG fall in the same group, putting Pep and Lionel Messi on opposite sides once again, but without a Barcelona T-shirt for the first time!

Michael Essien - UCL Draw - UEFA Champions League
Former Ghanaian footballer Michael Essien draws Group-A
Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

NMA kicks off the UCL group stage review with a detailed analysis of Group A, which includes European titans Man City and Paris Saint-Germain. Pep Guardiola managed a 4-1 win over Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG in last year’s UCL. PSG’s loss may have inspired one of the most astonishing summers for the Parisians in the transfer window. PSG and Man City are joined by RB Leipzig, a young German club that has had a constant presence in the knockout stages in recent years. The Germans dumped Man United in last year’s group stage to make it to the round of 16.

If anything, this group reminds me of Euro 2020 group of death which included France, Portugal, Germany and Hungary. In UCL, Belgian team Club Brugge is the “Hungary” of the group and if that was any indication then every single match up in this group will be a spectacle.

Let us run over each team, its history, last season’s achievements, best record in UCL, predicted lineup, and UCL fantasy prospects.


Manchester City

  • Coach: Pep Guardiola
  • Average player age: 27.2
  • Market Value: 1.06 Billion Euros
  • Penalties: Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan
  • Free Kicks: Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan
  • Corners: Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan

The Citizens qualified directly to the UEFA Champions League group stage as English Premier League winners. They were one of eight names in Pot A of the UCL draw to head all groups.

Man City reached the UCL final for the first time in its history last season and was set to win it for the first time ever, but Thomas Tuchel’s transformation of Chelsea rewrote the script.

Pep has two years remaining on his contract, so it was funny to watch how each media outlet interpreted his words:

Such tweets are endless, so I won’t post more. Other media outlets suggested that he meant taking a summer break before deciding to probably come back.

I believe Guardiola is one of the best player-readiness analysts in coaching history, but I have no faith in his formations (e.g. calling neither Rodrigo nor Fernandinho to the first XI against Chelsea in the final).

Manchester City v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Left-back Angelino’s transfer was made official after his loan spell at RB Leipzig for €18 million. Left-winger Jack Harrison was sold to Leeds for €12.8 million. Newly-promoted German side Wolfsburg purchased forward Lukas Nmecha for €8.0 million after his loan spell at Belgian club Anderlecht. Two players left Man City for free after expiring contracts: Sergio Aguero and center back Eric Garcia join Barcelona.

In return, Man City spent €117.5 million to pluck 25 year old Jack Grealish from Aston Villa. The transfer window is a day or two from closing, and with all the major clubs making big moves this summer, Man City may strike last. City is currently sitting 7th in the EPL with two wins and a loss .


Paris Saint-Germain

  • Coach: Mauricio Pochettino
  • Average player age: 26.2
  • Market Value: 993.95 Million Euros
  • Penalties: Neymar, Lionel Messi
  • Free Kicks: Lionel Messi, Neymar
  • Corners: Neymar, Di Maria, Sarabia

It is PSG’s fault for falling into such a group. If only PSG had won Ligue 1 in 2020-21 instead of Lille, then the latter would have been here instead, and PSG would enjoy a rather straightforward group with RB Salzburg, Sevilla and Wolfsburg.

PSG lost many things last season, most importantly tactician Thomas Tuchel who proved his value soon after replacing Frank Lampard at Chelsea. Pochettino bowed out of the UCL last season in the semifinals to Manchester City so will be eager to get back at Pep this time around. PSG had to go through Barcelona and Bayern Munich before losing to Man City; having done that as a new coach he is hardly to blame.

The French Cup was the only title PSG collected last season, so the loss against Man City was a turning point in the transfers strategy.

Stade de Reims v Paris Saint Germain - Ligue 1 Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Probably valued more than €200 million in total, four marquee players were brought in as free transfers: Lionel Messi from Barcelona, Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool, Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and Gianluigi Donnarumma from AC Milan. PSG spent €60.0 million to sign one of the best right-backs in Europe last season, Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan. They also invoked the option to buy loaned player Danilo Pereira from FC Porto for €16.0 million.

Stade de Reims v Paris Saint Germain - Ligue 1 Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Notably, Alessandro Florenzi and Moise Kean returned to their clubs Roma and Everton respectively after completing their loan spells at PSG. The only player sold from PSG squad this summer was Mitchel Bakker for €7.0 million to Bayer Leverkusen. There are a couple of days left, and the Kilyan Mbappe to Real Madrid saga may continue to the last minute. However, Mbappe featured and scored both goals in PSG’s 2-0 over Reims this Sunday, which was also Messi’s debut. PSG is now at the top of the French league with four straight wins.

Similar to Man City, PSG is chasing a first UCL trophy so hard that it went wild on transfers this summer. The question is, what will our two other group members say about it on the pitch?


RB Leipzig

  • Coach: Jesse Marsch
  • Average player age: 24.4
  • Market Value: 533.55 Million Euros
  • Penalties: Emil Forsberg
  • Free Kicks: Christopher Nkunku, Angelino
  • Corners: Angelino

The German outfit has been a sensational underdog story. Along with Atalanta and Villarreal, Leipzig suggests that money alone can’t buy victory; it must be combined with strong scouting and proper transfer strategy.

In the last match of last season’s group stage, we witnessed Leipzig’s men pouring their souls out against a confident Man United to knock them out with a 3-2 victory. Leipzig moved on to the round of 16 where they were easy pickings for English outfit Liverpool, defeated 4-0 over two legs.

Domestically, RB Leipzig finished second after perennial Bundesliga winners Bayern Munich. They were also runners-up in the DFB-Pokal cup, losing the final to Borussia Dortmund 1-4.

With no major trophies under their belt yet, let us take a look at how the Germans prepared for the season.

1. FSV Mainz 05 v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Lepzig kept the books balanced until Sunday evening’s announcement that Marcel Sabitzer will move to Bayern Munich and Hwang Hee-chan is on his way to Wolves.

Before that, RBL bought Andre Silva (Frankfurt) and Josko Gvardiol (Dinamo Zagreb), plus the club invoked options to buy Angelino (Man City), Mohamed Simakan (Strasbourg), Caden Clark (Red Bull MLS) and Brian Brobbey (Ajax) for a total amount of €91.62 million. In exchange, they sold Dayot Upamecano (Bayern), Ibrahima Konate (Liverpool), Hannes Wold (Monchengladbach), Lazar Samardzic (Udinese) for a total amount of €97.0 million. After collecting Sabitzer’s sales price of around €40.0, Leipzig may push for another last-minute buy before the window closes.


Club Brugge

  • Coach: Philippe Clement
  • Average player age: 24.2
  • Market Value: 133.90 Million Euros
  • Penalties: Hans Vanaken, Noa Lang
  • Free Kicks: Noa Lang
  • Corners: -

Club Brugge finished the season on a high, winning the Belgian first division by 16 points over second place Antwerp. The domestic champions faced Antwerp, Genk and Anderlecht in a mini league to determine European competitions entry levels. While Club Brugge won only one, tied three and lost two, their huge point difference in the league stopped Genk from overtaking the UCL group stage spot, so Brugge returns to the UCL for the fourth year in a row.

The club was knocked out from the quarterfinals in the domestic Belgian cup tournament. The 1-0 loss came at the hands of Liege. Historically, Club Brugge once reached a European final back in 1977-78 when it was named the European Cup, losing the final 1-0 to Liverpool.

After playing six domestic league matches, Brugge sits third after a first loss 6-1 to Gent this Sunday.

KAA Gent v Club Brugge - Jupiler Pro League Photo by Jeroen Meuwsen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

In the transfer window, the club invested in young players in hopes for them to shine during the group stage: Kamal Sowah (Leicester U23), Stanley Nsoki (Nice), Tajon Buchanan (Revolution MLS), Noa Lang (Ajax), Owen Otasowei (Wolves), Eduard Sobol (Shakhtar Donetsk) for a total amount of €35.36 million. In return, young center-back Odilon Kossounou made his way to the Bundesliga’s Bayer Leverkuzen for €23.0 million. Also center-forward Emmanuel Dennis was sold to Watford for €4.0 million.


Predicted Line-ups

Disclaimer: Lineup predictions are speculative for some of these teams due to squad depth, open transfer window as well as managerial predilection for player rotation and formation tinkering. They represent nothing more than the most-selected players so far this season according to www.besoccer.com.

  • Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson, Laporte, Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Kyle Walker, Rodri, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Grealish, Ferran Torres, Gabriel Jesus (These are the most common XI selected by Pep this season and I assume one of the front three will be replaced by De Bruyne as soon as he returns from injury).
  • PSG (4-2-4): Keylor Navas, Marquinhos, T. Kehrer, A. Diallo, Hakimi, Herrera, Wijnaldum, Neymar, Mbappe, Di Maria, Dina Ebimbe (Since Messi just debuted, he should be taking one of the front positions)
  • RB Leipzig (4-4-2): Peter Gulacsi, Simakan, Orban, Gvardiol, Klostermann, Haidara, Adams, Nkunku, Szoboszlai, Forsberg, Andre Silva.
  • Club Brugge (5-3-2): Mignolet, Mechele, Van der Brempt, Nsoki, Clinton Mata, Sobol, Vormer, Balanta, Vanakan, De Ketelaere, Lang.

Fantasy Prospects

Goalkeepers and defenders from this group should be avoided. However, if you find yourself in a position where you must take a defender then the main three choices are for (and only for) chances of assisting or scoring:

  • Achraf Hakimi - PSG - €6.5 - He just started as PSG right-back this season, playing 4 matches, scored one goal and assisted two.
  • Joao Cancelo - Man City - €6.0 - He played three matches so far for Pep but did not materialize any attacking number yet.
  • Angelino - RBL - €5.5 - This guy was a beast last season for the Germans and if RBL are going to bring anything to the table this season then he will have a hand (leg) in it.

Moving on, the pool of midfielders in this group is big:

  • Justified high cost compared to the reward: De Bruyne (€11),
  • High cost compared to the reward: Mahrez (€9). Sterling (€10)
  • Medium cost with potential high reward: Nkunku (€7.5), Torres (€7.5), Bernardo Silva (€7), Gundogan (€7), Verratti (€6.5)
Stade de Reims v Paris Saint Germain - Ligue 1 Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Out of the three main attackers in this group which all belong to PSG by the way, I recommend Mbappe (€10.5) to lead your line regardless of the fixture. Neymar (€10.5) or Messi (€11) could be good prospects for later on. Brugge forward Dost (€6.5) may prove a good differential pick.


NMA UCL Fantasy Mini-League

If you played our UCL mini-league last season, or if you played our Euros mini-league over the summer, you should automatically be entered into NMA’s 2021-22 mini-league as soon as you create a team. Head to gaming.uefa.com and get to work!

If you are new to us, then once you create a team you can join our mini-league manually with the following info. Come join us, we’d love to have you!

  • League: Never Manage Alone
  • Code: 71MQALVG07

What do you think of Group-A? Will you invest in players here, or just watch the matches until the dust settles? Please share your thoughts in the comments,

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