Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group A. Who do you think will go through?
1. Manchester United
3. CSKA Moscow
Last season Benfica looked a good bet to reach the quarterfinals before Borussia Dortmund emphatically overturned a 1-0 deficit in the round of 16. They should be powerful this time around after setting a new record of 36 Portuguese league titles although there has been the predictable run of preseason departures. Victor Lindelof, Ederson and Nelson Semedo are the most notable but Benfica tend to invest shrewdly and striker Haris Seferovic has started well after a Bosman signing from Eintracht Frankfurt. Rui Vitoria’s team should, as ever, be a dark horse for the latter stages.
While Jose Mourinho has been careful to play down Manchester United’s start to the season, their opening games have looked rather ominous for everyone else. The Champions League does look slightly odd without United in it, but the question now is whether they can perform like they belong. For someone who only manages the biggest clubs in Europe, Mourinho’s Champions League record since winning it in 2010 is relatively moderate: three semifinals with Real Madrid is about the minimum expected there, and he departed in the round of 16 with Chelsea in 2015. Will he have something to prove?
Basel have won the Swiss league seven times in a row and this season make their eighth group stage appearance. They do so under a new manager, Raphael Wicky, who has moved up from coaching the Under-21s to replace Urs Fischer. Last term’s European campaign brought draws with Ludogorets and defeats to Arsenal and PSG; they usually pose a threat at home but despite a flying start to life in Switzerland by ex-Norwich striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel, face an uphill battle to reach the round of 16.
CSKA, runners-up in Russia last season, are group stage mainstays although five years have passed since they reached the knockout phase. Viktor Goncharenko’s side boasts impressive creative talents in Alan Dzagoev, once feted as Russia’s next big star, and Aleksandr Golovin, the current holder of that title. A draw with Monaco in the 2016-17 competition shows they should not be underestimated, and comfortable wins over AEK Athens and Young Boys in the qualifying rounds will have built confidence, but they still look short of the quality to really trouble the best.
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