Here is a synopsis of each club and their projected finishes from Leander Schaerlaeckens. Check back all day for each group’s predictions.
1. REAL MADRID
Champions League titles: 9 (6 as the European Cup)
The kings of Spain have got off to a rough start this season but they are loaded with talent. New signing Luka Modric will help their midfield immensely and Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the deadliest players in the game. Jose Mourinho knows that he cannot stand still, and has been working on retooling his squad but so far the early results are discouraging: Real started the season with two losses and has to buckle down if they hope to retain their title.
Champions League titles: 1
Dortmund isn’t the first German team that comes to mind — but they should be. The reigning Bundesliga champs have avoided the self-defeating silliness that tends to surround rivals Bayern and don’t seem to be impacted by player dealings. They lost a star in Shinji Kagawa to United but still boast Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczyowski and Mario Goetze to make things happen and have a great deal of fiber at either end of the field. Robert Lewandowski has been superb for them up top, one-time American Neven Subotic is a stalwart at the back. Dortmund are also eager to avoid their flop last year in Group F, where they lost four games. This is a multi-tool team that is going to be handful for anyone to face.
Champions League titles: 0
The reigning Premier League champs have made only tentative steps to reload their arsenal with Jack Rodwell being their lone import at press time. But they still possess a lot of tools and should fare better with a year of European experience under their belts. Carlos Tevez and David Silva remain potent weapons and Sergio Aguero will be back soon enough to provide bite. Yaya Toure is their not-so-secret weapon and Vincent Kompany is clearly one of the best defenders anywhere. If City lack something, it is freshness: they feel like a team that has stood pat rather than one that has looked to grow. How that affects them in the Premier League and the Champions League is open to debate.
Champions League titles: 4 (3 as the European Cup)
One of the great teams in European soccer, Ajax’s luster has faded in recent decades with the decline of the Dutch soccer league. Most of the nation’s top talents no longer play in the Eredivisie and Ajax looks to develop talent and then sell them on. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) and Vurnon Anita (Newcastle) moved this summer and there are many others coming through the ranks. Ajax still has solid players like midfielder Siem de Jong (brother of Moenchengladbach’s Luuk) and old head Christian Poulsen. This is a respectable Ajax team – just not one good enough for this level. Fun fact: No one at the club can wear the number 14. That belonged to Johan Cruyff and the club retired it in 2007.