Here is a synopsis of each club and their projected finishes from Leander Schaerlaeckens. Continue to check back all day for each group’s predictions.
Champions League titles: 2 (1 as the European Cup)
Where to start? Their Serie A title win last year was clouded a bit by the suspension of their manager, Antonio Conte, for his role in a match-rigging scandal. Conte is now out ten months and the Old Lady is going to have to adjust. But this is a pretty solid team with the likes of Alessandro Matri, Sebastian Giovinco and the ageless master, Andrea Pirlo, still pulling the strings. Alessandro Del Piero has moved on, but this is a still a slick and speedy attacking side that can prise apart defenses. And they still have the best keeper in the business, Gigi Buffon, between the pipes. They are very experienced and very organized.
Champions league titles: 1
Last season’s shock winners have reloaded with Eden Hazard and Oscar and now appear to have Fernando Torres firing again. As unlikely as it may sound, this is a team that not only is going to challenge for the Premier League, but is going to be a favorite in the Champions League too. The problems for Chelsea are in the back where John Terry, Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic aren’t getting any younger — there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Ryan Bertrand. One man to keep an eye on is Juan Mata. He looks exhausted as the season starts. What happens come December?
3. SHAKHTAR DONETSK
Champions League titles: 0
If you didn’t know this team was from Ukraine, you might confuse them for Santos: the residents of the Donbass, one of the great cauldrons of Eastern European soccer, are loaded with Brazilian talent. Willan, Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa, Fernandinho and Taison are just the notable members of a ten-man Brazilian contingent. Helmed by Dario Srna and boasting – for now – Croatian hitman Eduardo (also a Brazilian, but let’s not get too technical here) this is a tough team to play. The orange and black underwhelmed in last year’s group stage but don’t expect a repeat: this is a team that won 25 games last season in a far-better-than-you’d-expect Ukrainian league.
Champions League titles: 0
American Michael Parkhurst will lead the backline of the Wild Tigers out as they taste the Champions League for the first time. A baby of a club — just 21 years old — Nordsjælland is known for an aggressive attacking style and a packed, passionate crowd at tiny Farum Park. This is uncharted territory for the Danes: the furthest they have ever made it in Europe was last season’s play-off round exit to Sporting that denied them a taste of the group stages.