The 2015-16 UEFA Champions League is about to kick off in earnest, meaning soccer fans will gather in front of their screens in the middle of the week for months to come. That always was certain, but now we know why.
UEFA held the 2015-16 Champions League group-stage draw Thursday in Monaco, separating the 32 teams that qualified into eight groups of four.
The teams will host and visit each of their three group-stage opponents between Sept. 15 and Dec. 9. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the knockout phase of the tournament, which kicks off in mid-February with the Round of 16. The third-place finishers will compete in the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds in the new year.
2015-16 Champions League Group-Stage Draw, Storylines and Predictions
Here’s our look at the last four groups. We previously examined Groups A, B, C and D
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov
Defending champion Barcelona won’t relinquish its crown in the group stage. Barcelona has too much quality for the others to withstand, and its desire to win endures.
Roma has a good chance to reach the knockout rounds for the first time in five seasons. Bayer Leverkusen should rival Roma for the second spot, but the Italians’ transfer activity gives them the edge. BATE is experienced at this level but lack the strength to oust competitors … at least on paper.
Group F: Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
UEFA dashed Arsenal’s hopes for landing in an easy group early in the draw when it landed in the same pond as mighty Bayern Munich. Fans and neutrals alike will flock to watch the Arsenal-Bayern games, which promise high-tempo entertainment, but this is the Germans’ group to lose and the Gunners’ to survive. Arsenal and Bayern Munich are no strangers, having met in the knockout phase twice in the last three seasons. Bayern Munich won both series.
Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb are decidedly weaker than the other two teams. Olympiacos’ players have a higher profile, but the Croatians undoubtedly will be organized and technically proficient. The battle for third place will be interesting.
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Chelsea has landed in a group it should have no trouble winning, as the other three aren’t strong enough to rival the Blues over six games. The group will require Chelsea to travel long distances, and those trips could affect how manager Jose Mourinho handles his squad. Chelsea should win the group, but it will be closer than many expect.
Porto has a good chance of returning to the knockout phase, following a one-year absence, but Dynamo Kiev will push the Portuguese power all the way. Maccabi Tel Aviv is the group’s minnow.
Group H: Zenit St. Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon, Gent
This group is one of the most open in the competition, as it lacks a standout team. Zenit and Valencia enter as favorites to finish in the top spots, but Lyon has enough quality and options to rival the others. Any one of the three can finish first, second or third.
Gent is Belgium’s sole representative in the Champions League, but we don’t expect it to shock the world and reach the Round of 16.
Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@btsportfootball
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