Two days ago, Juventus were drawn into Group D alongside familiar foes Barcelona, Olympiacos and Sporting Clube de Portugal. With the competition set to kick off in a couple of weeks, I break down what the draw has in store for the Italian champions.
After making it all the way to the final last season only to lose in heartbreaking fashion to Real Madrid, Juventus find themselves back at square one, eager to go one better. Right now, Barcelona, Olympiacos and Sporting Clube de Portugal stand in their way. All in all, Juventus will be pleased with the draw as a whole and they should progress alongside Barcelona, however, they’d be foolish to get too comfortable. Without further ado, let’s have a look at their opponents.
Olympiacos (Champions of Greece)
Qualifying for this year’s edition as the champions of Greece, Olympiacos are hungry to finally kick on in Europe. Hasi’s men last qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2014, where they fell at the hands of Manchester United in the round of sixteen. Unfortunately for them it looks unlikely that they will surpass that feat this time around and appear to have their work cut out for them from the get-go. Despite having a relatively impressive summer by their standards signing Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe and Panagiotis Tachtsidis among others, they are quite clearly the fourth best team in this group.
At best, the Greek giants can hope to qualify for the Europa League by finishing third and even then, it may prove to be a bridge too far.
Prediction: Fourth place with a home win and a two draws.
Sporting Clube de Portugal (Third place in Liga NOS)
The Portuguese side come into this tournament hoping to improve on their disappointing campaign last season which saw them finish last in Group F behind Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Legia. This time around, they find themselves in a similar predicament, playing in a group with two clear favourites. That being said, Jorge Jesus’ men have done some good work on the transfer window signing the underrated Bruno Fernandes from Sampdoria and Real Madrid want-away Fabio Coentrao.
However, what has been more impressive about Sporting’s summer has been their ability to keep hold of their star players. After rejecting advances for William Carvalho and Adrien Silva, Jesus has the opportunity to put together a versatile midfield, especially with the addition of Fernandes. In attack, Gelson Martins could pose problems to the group’s favourites and will have to be on his game if the Portgese outfit are to have a legitimate shot at progressing. Overall, I believe they will fall short and drop into the Europa League.
Prediction: Third place with two wins and a draw.
Barcelona (Second place in La Liga)
It’s been quite the summer of upheaval in Spain. Between the Neymar saga and the corruption that plagues their board, Barca’s heydays are long gone. At the same time, we would all be foolish to discount their European pedigree. After all, they still signed one of the world’s best talents in Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé and appear to have finally found a heir to Dani Alves in the form of Nelson Semedo. Even if the side is still lacking a controller in the midfield such as PSG’s Marco Verratti or OGC Nice’s Jean Michaël Seri, time still remains in the window to rectify their midfield situation. Yes, I’m aware they have signed Paulinho and frankly, I don’t care. He’s not up to snuff and will likely be exposed by Europe’s elite midfielders.
Having said all this, Barca still go into the group as the favourites to progress but will face stiff competition from Juventus. While getting out of the group won’t be their problem, this Barca side are clearly missing something to do damage in the latter rounds of the competition. No Neymar, no problem? Well, not quite.
Prediction: First place with four wins, a loss and a draw.
Juventus (Champions of Italy)
Similarly to Barcelona, Juventus come into this year’s edition of the Champions League weakened, having lost Leonardo Bonucci to Milan and Dani Alves to PSG. While Juventus will be relatively fine at the heart of defence, it is their right back and centre-midfield situation that raises a few eyebrows. Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan Lichtsteiner are not exactly a lock-down duo and will struggle to match Dani Alves’ contributions in the final third.
In the midfield, Giuseppe Marotta opted for Blaise Matuidi after missing out on various targets. The Frenchman will likely slot in alongside Miralem Pjanic in the double pivot but isn’t what Juve needed. Instead of getting a midfielder with both technical and physical abilities, Juventus opted for the latter and it will cost them. Simply put, the gap between the Italian champions and Real Madrid has not been bridged. Another season of falling short in Europe ahead for the bianconeri.
Prediction: Second place with three wins, two draws and loss.