Messi, Salah, Ronaldo and Kane with the Champion's Cup. Graphic by Conner Maggio

2018 Champions League will be cutthroat

With the soccer season in full swing, the highest level of soccer is back, and we could not be more excited to incite controversy with some ill-informed picks for your reading pleasure.

Group A:
Atletico Madrid
Borussia Dortmund
Club Brugge
AS Monaco FC

Group A is a cesspit, plain and simple. While we envision a resurgent Antoine Griezmann leading the Rojablancos past their opponents with both ease and flair, the battle for this group lies in the final spot for the Knockout Stage. Brugge will find themselves at the bottom but are more than capable of robbing an underperforming Dortmund or Monaco of crucial points. However, the youthful talent of Dortmund will carry them through while Monaco resumes their rebuilding phase.

1. Atletico Madrid
2. Dortmund

1. Atletico Madrid
2. Dortmund

Group B:
Tottenham Hotspur
FC Barcelona
Inter Milan
PSV Eindhoven

There are multiple “Groups of Death” this fall, and Group B is another nightmare for any sports fan’s unhealthy thirst for perfection. Again, PSV Eindhoven are no pushovers, and the veteran roster of Inter will take points from their Catalan and English counterparts. But the most intriguing feature will be the battle between the only Harry (Kane) that might actually be made King of England in the foreseeable future and the aging but still unstoppable forward Lionel Messi.

1. FC Barcelona
2. Tottenham
Andrew’s Take: Barcelona is just too good. Their front is bewilderingly fluid, and while Tottenham’s Belgian Wall will prove stalwart in the teams’ first meeting, it will crumble before the foursome of Dembele, Messi, Suarez and Coutinho in the second leg.

1. Tottenham
2. FC Barcelona
Chris’ Take: While Barcelona’s inspiring forwards scare the daylights out of any and all La Liga teams, Tottenham are not Real Betis. Barcelona will need to figure out who is starting in their attack by the time they face Spurs. If they don’t, they will fall prey to the same team that finished above their hated rivals from Madrid in last year’s group stage.

Group C:
Paris San Germain (PSG)
Red Star Belgrade

Another brainbuster of a group, and its grand showdown strains our friendship to the breaking point. Napoli will join their coach in the annals of mediocrity while Crvena Zvezda are just grateful that they can play with the big boys. The clash of the German-coached teams of Liverpool and Paris is instead a thermometer for two unproven teams: can Liverpool both hold onto their lead for a title in England while repeating last season’s continental success, or will it succumb to the pressures of both tasks? Perhaps most interesting, can PSG, with no domestic challenge, finally overcome their locker room issues and ascend as one of the best teams in Europe?

1. Liverpool
2. Paris San Germain
Andrew’s Take: I do not see PSG mastering any coherent tactical system before the fall is over and while Mbappe is good, he’s not Mohamed Salah-level yet. Klopp’s high press combined with their now upgraded roster is a force that can not only win this group, but prove itself as the best team in Liverpool’s history.

2. Liverpool
Chris’s Take: Liverpool are a fantastic team and Andrew knows this. However, they will be trying to hold onto their current lead of the Premier League against Tottenham only a few days before their clash with the French giants. Kylian Mbappe will have fresh legs and Mohamed Salah will just have gotten done firing a hat trick past Lloris. Find Andrew and I watching this game while yelling at each other somewhere on campus.

Group D:
FC Porto
Lokomotiv Moskva
FC Schalke 04

Honestly, we’re not sure if this group is actually in the competition or a mistaken copy-paste from the Europa League. FC Porto and Schalke immediately scream as the favorites in this group, but all of them are too inconsistent to discern a definitive No. 1 and No. 2. Watching this disaster of a table supposedly play soccer will leave us with more questions than answers, but rest assured, we will recover in time to watch both teams get smashed by their first-round opponents.

1. FC Porto
2. FC Schalke
Andrew’s Take: Although the team from Gelsenkirchen finished second in the Bundesliga last season, that achievement is rendered insignificant when one remembers it’s the Bundesliga. Combined with the loss of Leon Goretzka to the German talent drain that is Bayern Munich, Schalke simply cannot compete with the talent and experience of their Portuguese opponents.

1. FC Schalke 04
2. FC Porto
Chris’s Take: One really must remember what the Bundesliga is before making this pick. It’s the second best national league in Europe, and Schalke only finished second to the perennial champions, the aforementioned Bayern Munich. That means a lot, and they’ll take home three points from their win over Porto.

Group E:
Bayern Munich
AFC Ajax
AEK Athens
SL Benfica

This collection of teams is perhaps the most straightforward of the groups thus far, but placing second will not be a stroll for AFC Ajax. While Bayern can practically play their U18 team and still strut out of the group stage with four wins, Athens will prove to be a thorn in the sides of the two teams competing for the second spot. The downfall of Benfica will be that its players are either too old or too young for this competition, and Ajax retains most of the talent from their Europa Final run two years ago.

1. Bayern
2. Ajax
1. Bayern
2. Ajax

Group F:
Manchester City
Olympique Lyonnais
Shakhtar Donetsk

In terms of first place, it’s hard to imagine the best coach in Europe with the resources of Manchester City being taken down by any of their competition in this stage. Lyon is depleted in manpower, Hoffenheim has been stripped clean by their Bavarian overlords, and Shakhtar used to have Fred. Let the Battle for the Queen of Pigs commence.

1. Manchester City
2. Lyon
Andrew’s Take: Sorry, I don’t have a tangible argument for second place; this is just going to be a bloodbath, and because I trusted my gut to take me to delicious pulled pork sandwich for dinner, I’m trusting it to choose the perennially solid French team.

1. Manchester City
2. Hoffenheim
Chris’s Take: Of course Pep will run through this group like he ran from Munich to Manchester, but that second place team is kind of a toss up. Lyon have a rising Anfield bound star in Nabil Fekir, but Julian Nagelsmann’s system will be too much for the once great French club.

Group G:
CSKA Moscow
Real Madrid
AS Roma
FC Viktoria Plzen

Without question, this is the “Group of Life.” Real Madrid have the opportunity to avoid, in the first stage, questions about their identity in the post-Ronaldo era. Meanwhile, the other Pot Three Italian teams Napoli and Inter will curse their rival’s fortune with the Draw gods. With their horrendous offseason and frankly atrocious play in Serie A, Roma have no business in any stage of this competition, but they will still move on.

1.Real Madrid
2. Roma

1. Real Madrid
2. Roma

Group H:
Manchester United
Young Boys

Welcome to the Ronaldo-verse, and we can guarantee the Portuguese titan does not possess a compulsion for a perfectly-balanced group. Juventus will more than likely snap and find themselves through the Group stage; therefore, the true contest will take place between Valencia and Manchester United for second place. With both of us predicting an extraordinary collapse by the Mourinho-coached (if that’s what you call his managerial style) Red Devils, Valencia will assert itself as a dark horse in the struggle for European dominance. Do not be surprised if Valencia takes a match from Juve, if not the whole group from the Italian side.

1. Juventus
2. Valencia

1. Juventus
2. Valencia

Post Author: Andrew Noland