Champions League Draw, Predictions: Manchester United Lucks Out In UCL Return

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The UEFA Champions League group stage will provide the soccer world a midweek preoccupation for the next few months. We now know exactly why this is the case.

UEFA conducted the draw for the 2015-16 Champions League group stage Thursday in Monaco. European soccer’s governing body separated the 32 qualifying clubs into eight groups of four.

The teams will play each of their group-stage opponents home and away between Sept. 15 and Dec. 9. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the Round of 16, which kicks off in mid-February. 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
Let’s look at the first four groups in the competition. We’ll examine Groups E, F, G and H later.

Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmo
The haves will meet the have-nots in Group A, as Real Madrid and PSG are the clear favorites to advance, while Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmo have scant chances of reaching the knockout rounds. Real Madrid-PSG will be the glamour games. Both have ambitions of winning the competition. PSG superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic will face Malmo, the boyhood club he left in 2001.

Shakhtar has made a habit of reaching the knockout rounds in recent years, but the ongoing unrest in Eastern Ukraine and selling their best players has weakened the club significantly in recent months.

Group B: PSV, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Wolfsburg
Manchester United will celebrate its Champions League return with a group it should expect to win. If Manchester United signs a star attacker before the end of the transfer window to lift the level of its attack to match its defense, it should win the group.

The flip side is Group B also will be competitive, and it’s hard to spot a clear favorite to finish second. Wolfsburg is the early contender, but selling Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City could alter the balance in the group. CSKA will present tough road trips for its three opponents.

Group C: Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray, Astana
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone undoubtedly is smiling. He has boosted Atletico Madrid’s fortunes domestically and in Europe in recent years, and the Spanish club should have no problem topping this group.

Benfica and Galatasary will battle it out for second place. Astana is the first-ever team from Kazakhstan to reach the group stage. Its maiden Champions League adventure probably will end there.

Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach
The draw should bolster Manchester City’s ambition of becoming a force in Europe because its three opponents offer difficult, albeit surmountable, challenges. Failure to finish first could result in another tough-opponent in the knockout stage, as was the case last season.

Juventus finished runner-up last season but its squad overhaul poses questions about its strength in the new season. Juventus can win this group if its transfer-market activity works out. Sevilla or Monchengladbach can sneak into the reckoning if it doesn’t.

Thumbnail via Twitter/@bysportfootball

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