Football: Champions League group analysis

A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmo

European grandees against the nouveau riche, the return home that Zlatan Ibrahimovic wished for, plus a club in exile - Group A is not short of a stellar cast and sub-plots .

French champions PSG and 10-time winners Real should progress but there is potential for the odd slip-up.

Shakhtar have coped admirably with relocating to Lviv during the Ukraine conflict. But that was before losing Douglas Costa to Bayern Munich and Luiz Adriano to AC Milan this summer.

Malmo are a well-organised side who will be pumped up for Ibrahimovic's homecoming.

Predicted qualifiers:

PSG and Real Madrid

B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Wolfsburg

It was as though United had never been away when the draw threw up old accusations that they had never had a difficult group.

However, Bundesliga runners-up Wolfsburg emerged and changed the complexion to a far more balanced group.

Kevin de Bruyne will be a major loss to Wolfsburg should Manchester City buy the winger. But it is how PSV cope with the upheaval caused by Premier League riches that may determine qualification.

Phillip Cocu has lost Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum from the team who won the Dutch title so impressively last season.

Predicted qualifiers:

Man United and Wolfsburg

C: Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray, Astana

A long journey into the unknown awaits those drawn alongside Astana, the first team from Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage, having beaten Apoel Nicosia in the play-offs.

Astana's rise has been considerable - they were formed just seven years ago. And that should serve as ample warning against complacency to the Champions League regulars before they embark on a long flight to Kazakhstan.

Galatasaray did not win a group game last season and Benfica's turbulent summer has seen 12 players in, 10 out and coach Jorge Jesus defecting across town to Sporting.

Predicted qualifiers:

Atletico Madrid and Benfica

D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Moenchengladbach

"Happy with that," tweeted Vincent Kompany, convincing absolutely no one after City's residence in the cliched Group of Death continued for another year.

The champions of Italy, the Europa League holders and the third-strongest team in Germany present another significant obstacle to City's ambitions on the European stage.

Juventus have lost several key players since giving Barcelona a fright in last season's final but retain Paul Pogba for now. Sevilla sold Carlos Bacca but hope Ciro Immobile and Yevhen Konoplyanka will compensate. An open group.

Predicted qualifiers:

Man City and Juventus

E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, Bate Borisov

The reigning champions were fittingly the first club drawn and will have few qualms over what followed. If Luis Enrique's team have a formidable rival in the way of their hopes of becoming the first club to retain the Champions League, it is not in this group.

Barcelona beat Bate, the champions of Belarus, 4-0 and 5-0 in 2011 and Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 in 2012, when Lionel Messi scored five.

Predicted qualifiers:

Barcelona and Roma

F: Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Olympiakos, Dinamo Zagreb

Arsene Wenger had criticised the changes to this season's draw, arguing the seeding system was rendered useless by the roll call of champions in Pot One, although he could have few complaints with the outcome.

Arsenal could have landed an easier champion than Bayern, their last-16 conquerors last year. But Olympiakos and Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb should not present a barrier to a top-two finish.

Predicted qualifiers:

Bayern and Arsenal

G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Jose Mourinho will relish a return to the club he led to a 2004 Champions League triumph more than the reunion with their new goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. The feud from their Real Madrid days lingers to this day.

Porto reached the quarter-finals last season and then did what they usually do. They sold key players for lucrative fees - Jackson Martinez and Danilo this summer. Dynamo Kiev's chances of muscling in on the top two may rest on whether Andriy Yarmolenko stays but this looks the most straightforward group for a Premier League side.

Predicted qualifiers:

Chelsea and Porto

H: Zenit St Petersburg, Valencia, Lyon, Gent

The former Man City striker Alvaro Negredo scored the decisive goal in Valencia's play-off win over Monaco and their reward is a place in one of the more competitive groups.

First-time qualifiers Gent, surprise Belgium champions, and an emerging Lyon team complete the threat to Zenit who, after plenty of investment and promises, have yet to make a genuine impact on the Champions League.

The experience and quality within Andre Villas-Boas' side should give them the edge, however.

Predicted qualifiers:

Zenit St Petersburg and Lyon


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2015, with the headline 'Champions League group analysis'. Print Edition | Subscribe