On Thursday, Lionel Messi was named the ‘UEFA Best Player in Europe’ for leading his side to the Champions League victory against Juventus in Berlin. The diminutive Argentine was picked by 49 out of 54 journalists present at the ceremony. Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez got only 2 and 3 votes respectively.
The annual ceremony held by UEFA is mainly to draw out the groups for the Champions League first round. A total of 32 teams have been divided into 8 groups A to H and the tournament will commence on September 17th.
Group A features the European heavyweights Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain. Angel di Maria will make a return to the Santiago Bernabeu, one year after his departure from the ten-time European champions. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will also face his former side Malmo FC in the group games, as PSG face the Swedish side in both home and away fixtures. Shakhtar Donetsk is the fourth team in the group, but it is very likely that Real Madrid and PSG will go through to the round of 16 from this group.
Manchester United make a return to the Champions League after beating Bruges in the Champions League play-off round. The 20-time English champions are drawn with Wolfsburg, PSV and CSKA Moscow. It’ll be a homecoming for Memphis Depay, who won the Dutch league with PSV last season. Wolfsburg and Manchester United are the favorites to qualify from Group B.
Benfica, Atletico, Galatasaray and the Kazakhstan based club Astana are pitted in Group C. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid might top the group and head into the first knockout round, while it could be a tough fight between Galatasaray and Benfica for the second spot.
Group D is probably the hardest group this season. Last season’s finalists Juventus will face Manchester City, Sevilla and Monchengladbach. The Serie A champions and the English side are expected to top the table but Sevilla and the Bundesliga outfit can certainly cause an upset.
Group E consists of the reigning European champions – FC Barcelona. The Catalan giants are certain to make it through to the next round. Luis Enrique’s men will face the Italian giants AS Roma. Roma might finish second but they’ll have a tough test against the German club Bayer Leverkusen. Leverkusen defeat Italian side Lazio in the Champions League play-off, hence Roma can’t take them lightly. BATE are expected to get the whipping from most of the teams in this group.
Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb are drawn in Group F. Pep Guardiola’s men will once again face the Gunners in the Champions League. The North Londoners can take up either of the top two spots, depending upon their performances against the likes of Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb. Bayern Munich, on the other hand, are the favorites to reach the later stages of the tournament.
Group G will be contested by Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv and M. Tel-Aviv. Jose Mourinho will be meeting his former club in the group stage. It will be an emotional return for the Portuguese manager, who lifted the Champions League trophy with Porto in 2004. Chelsea might finish the group stages at the top of Group G and Porto can take up the runners-up spot.
Group H features Valencia, Zenit St. Petersburg, Lyon and Gent. It will be a tough group to qualify from for all the sides. The matches will be very close and the team that starts well will have a very good chance of reaching this season’s knockout stage.