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2022/23 UEFA Champions League brings several ‘Groups of Death’

2022/23 UEFA Champions League

The beginning of the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League signals the return of Europe, and the World’s premier club competition.

Last year’s competition brought a slate of comebacks with dramatic finishes. Some clubs went on miracle runs, unseating the giants of the game. Individual players put out Herculean goal-scoring performances. This season, expect more of the same with abundant talent across the board.

As is standard in competitions rife with ability, a ‘Group of Death’ pops up. Last year, Liverpool made light work of a tenacious group featuring Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Porto. Same goes for Bayern Munich against Benfica, Barcelona and Dynamo Kyiv. Groups of Death are entertaining for viewers. Yet, the yield frustration for the teams involved.

Teams will be very frustrated this time around. Three different groups make a case to be the ‘Group of Death’ in the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League.

2022/23 UEFA Champions League key groups

Group A
Ajax (NED)Liverpool (ENG)Napoli (ITA)Rangers (SCO)

 

Last season, Ajax put together a fairly disappointing season. The club bowed out of the KNVB Cup in the final to PSV. Despite reaching the round of 16, Benfica stopped de Godenzonen. Not only that, but Ajax lost several star players. Noussair Mazraoui, Andre Onana, Ryan Gravenberch, Sebastien Haller, Lisandro Martinez, Nicolas Tagliafico, Antony and talented manager Erik Ten Hag are all gone from the team. Although they’ve done a decent job replacing their lost starpower by getting Calvin Bassey, Steven Bergwijn and more, they might not make the deep run Dutch fans are hoping for.

On the other hand, Liverpool strengthened the squad. The Reds narrowly lost to Real Madrid in this past season’s Champions League Final. Like Ajax, it worked to replace its major losses. Of course, those pale in comparison to the Dutch outfit. Liverpool’s main loss came from Sadio Mané’s departure to Bayern Munich. In his stead, Darwin Núñez and Fabio Carvalho arrive at Anfield in the attack. Additionally, both Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota resigned to new contracts. Despite the power in Jürgen Klopp’s side, it is a shaky start to the season. Draws to Fulham, Crystal Palace and Everton, combined with a derby loss at Manchester United, has Liverpool behind the pace. Regardless, Anfield should be alright heading into the group stage.

At Napoli’s best, it is a high-frenzied attacking team that can shut things down in the back. At its worst, it is chaotic and leaky at the back. The 2022/23 season brought a bit of both. Devoid of star defender Kalidou Koulibaly, midfielder Fabian Ruiz and winger Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli still smashed Hellas Verona 5-2. Surprise signing Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia tears up the Serie A playing field with his adept finishing early into the season. But, draws to Fiorentina and Lecce have some Naples fans worried, especially considering the quality of Group A.

The running joke among fans of Scottish football is that Rangers gifted their rivals, Celtic, a Champions League group stage berth. Rangers practically carried Scotland’s club coefficient by making a deep run into the Europa League before losing in penalties to Frankfurt. Yet when the time came to claim the Scottish Premiership and secure a Champions League group stage, they conceded first place to Celtic, who haven’t made a huge impact on European soccer in recent seasons. Yet, it is not a problem for Giovanni van Brockhorst’s squad, who won the Scottish Cup last season. They narrowly took down both Union St. Gilloise and PSV to get to the group stage, preventing what would have been a massive tragedy. They lost a lot of core pieces, like Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey, but can come back to make a deep run in Europe’s biggest competition.

Group C
Bayern Munich (GER)Barcelona (ESP)Inter Milan (ITA)Viktoria Plzeň (CZE)

 

When everyone saw the Group C draw take place, everyone’s immediate reaction was ‘Is this the group of death?‘ With three of the world’s biggest clubs jostling for just two knockout spots, the final-day scenarios are certainly one to watch.

Barcelona is a candidate to get into the round of 16. After bolstering their squad by getting Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on free transfers while picking up Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski, and Jules Koundé for large sums of cash, they are having a mixed start to the season. They drew against perennial relegation-candidates Rayo Vallecano but won against Real Sociedad and Valladolid.

Yet Barca could see its kryptonite in German powerhouses Bayern Munich. They acquired Noussair Mazraoui, Ryan Gravenberch, Sadio Mané, Mathijs de Ligt, and more in an eventful summer. Sure they might not have defensive brick wall Niklas Süle in the back or star forward Robert Lewandowski, but they gained a lot more than they gained. With Die Roten strengthened, they are dominating the Bundesliga, scoring 16 goals and conceding only two in their first four games.

Inter Milan is yet another team not to be reckoned with. Sure, they conceded the Scudetto cross-town rivals AC Milan but had a great season despite being overshadowed by the Serie A winners. They won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italia, both over Juventus. They also gave Liverpool the fright of their light after losing 2-1 on aggregate to the eventual finalists. Not only that, but they signed Andre Onana, Robin Gosens, Joaquin Correa, and Romelu Lukaku. They could definitely make a long run into the semifinals or deeper.

Viktoria Plzen, the fourth team in Group C, is anything but an afterthought. The Czech club beat teams like Slavia Prague and Sparta Prague to win the Czech First League and secure a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds. Although mediocre showings in the Czech Cup and Conference League cost them the notoriety we see from other underdogs, they can still steal some points away from Europe’s elite.

Group H
PSG (FRA)Juventus (ITA)Benfica (POR)Maccabi Haifa (ISR)

 

Group H has three teams with much to prove on the continental stage. Defending Ligue 1 champions PSG, Italian giants Juventus, and Portuguese heavyweights Benfica will compete for two knockout stage spots.

PSG looks reasonably strong as the season roars back up. The Parisians collected wins against Clermont, Montpellier and Lille by a combined score of 17-2. A home draw against Monaco mars their otherwise perfect season so far. Like most of Europe’s big spenders, PSG  has new faces. After going all-in by buying Nuno Mendes from Sporting, Vitinha from Porto, Fabian Ruiz from Napoli, Nordi Mukiele from Leipzig, and a host of other Galactico-like signings, they could avenge their early exit at the hands of Real next year in the group stage.

Juventus are also attempting a comeback, but they have not had the win streak PSG has enjoyed. After crushing Sassuolo 3-0, they drew with Sampdoria and Roma. Their humble eighth-place standing in Serie A does not reflect the cash they spent in the summer. They acquired Angel Di Maria and Paul Pogba on a free transfer, spent 41 million euros on Bremer from Torino, and bought soon-to-be key cogs Filip Kostic from Frankfurt and Arkadiusz Milik. Last season ended in a whimper, but I Bianconeri could come back with a roar in the Champions League.

Benfica may not have some of their big guns from last season; Darwin Núñez is with Liverpool, Roman Yaremchuk plays with Club Brugge, and reliable midfielder Everton is back in the Brasileiro with Flamengo. But they still look as strong as ever. They swept aside Midtjylland 7-2 on aggregate and triumphed over Dynamo Kyiv 5-0 on aggregate in Champions League qualifying. Not only that, but they have won their first four games in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, showing their dominance. Although Juve and PSG are a level above Benfica, there is no reason they cannot challenge for a knockout spot.

Maccabi Haifa FC is undoubtedly the underdog of Group H. Despite winning the Israeli Premier League, narrowly losing the State Cup on penalties, and winning two other semi-important cups in the same season, they were outclassed in the Conference League. They only earned four points in their group, and teams like Union Berlin, Slavia Prague, and Feyenoord made short work of them. But this season could be different. They took down Olympiacos, Apollon Limassol, and Red Star en route to a group stage bid. They could take a few points off them, but do not expect them to go all the way to the knockout stage in the 2022/23 UEFA Champions League.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Revierfoto

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Hans

    September 6, 2022 at 11:35 am

    Poetic Justice demands that in group C the mafioso run club Barca be finishing 3rd and drop to the EL. It would make my day. So needless to say you know who I will be routing for “GO Plzen” 😆

    • MarkB

      September 8, 2022 at 10:45 am

      Oh, but don’t you realize that they’re “Mes que un club” and Xavi says: “We belong in the Champions League every year” Arrogant entitled s..ts is what they are.

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