Time now to predict the Group Stages of the Champions League, including point predictions and a little snippet on each group. It figures to be one of the most interesting competitions in years, so let's get right into it.
1) Manchester United 2) Shaktar Donetsk 3) Real Sociedad 4) Bayer Leverkusen
--> This isn't the group of death by any means, but it's also nowhere near simple to figure out. United are the best team in the group, but none of the other teams are any slouches and should give the Red Devils trouble. Shaktar is a veteran team in the competition, and their Brazilian contingent as well as manager Mircea Lucescu give them an advantage. Sociedad are new to the stage, but they can challenge with players like Seferovic, Griezmann, and Vela. Bayer were 3rd in the Bundesliga for a reason, so they're not easy to count out either.
1) Real Madrid 2) Juventus 3) Galatasaray 4) Copenhagen
--> Copenhagen are sacrificial lambs for the other 3 squads, but this is going to provide a good litmus test for both Real and Juve to see where each stand at this early point of the season. Juve are ahead of schedule in Europe, and Real have the expectations of La Decima staring them in the face. That won't affect them in the group stages so much as it will later, but it will be interesting to see how the pieces fit for Ancelotti in this competition.
1) PSG 2) Benfica 3) Anderlecht 4) Olympiacos
--> What has been called a pretty dull group on paper does have some interesting features underneath. PSG with all of their flashy signings including Edinson Cavani will once again try to prove their mettle on the European stage, which is never easy. Benfica have a tricky young squad that will be a tough out for anyone, even if it inevitably is a shop window for these players, and Anderlecht are in a broadly similar position with players like Mitrovic, Acheampong, and Najar. Olympiacos are the last team of a dying breed of Greek teams competitive on the European stage, which is sad.
1) Bayern Munich 2) Manchester City 3) CSKA Moscow 4) Viktoria Plzen
The Champions of Europe have what might be described as a favorable draw, despite the appearance of Manchester City in this group. Moscow aren't exactly world beaters, but they won't be easy to fell either. Manchester City finally avoid the group of death, and with Manuel Pellegrini's pedigree in Europe, expectations are high for a team that has gone out the last 2 years in the group stage. Plzen will be tough to beat at home, but away they will be easy opposition. This group will be must see TV when Bayern and City clash.
1) Chelsea 2) Schalke 3) Basel 4) Steaua Bucharest
--> Jose Mourinho's return to the Bridge brings him a fairly laughable group, even if it does include 2 teams Chelsea felled on their way to the Europa League crown a season ago. They will be favored in every single match they play, and for good reason. Schalke have a squad comprised of interesting players like Draxler, Meyer, Szalai, and Kevin Prince-Boateng, but one that hasn't totally put it together yet. Maybe the most interesting thing about them will be when Jermaine Jones gets his first stupid booking. Basel will be a tough out as per usual, but don't have enough to beat the big boys, and Steaua will be a tough name to pronounce, and that's about it.
1) Borussia Dortmund 2) Arsenal 3) Napoli 4) Marseille
Now this is truly the Group of Death. I could probably write a thesis paper on the matchups and storylines in this group, but I'll try to keep it short. Dortmund are red hot in the Bundesliga right now, and they've not missed a beat since Mario Gotze left for (greener) Bavarian pastures. Their new pieces have fit in perfectly to Jurgen Klopp's side, and last year's runners-up will likely prove a lot of doubters wrong again. Now onto those Gunners... without Mesut Ozil they probably wouldn't have made the knockout stages, but with him, they certainly can. Their depth is still a major concern, but they look too good right now with the starting XI to not make the knockout stages, even at the expense of a team like Napoli. This side is the genuine article under Rafa Benitez, and with their strength in attack they will be hard to knock out (plus I can't wait to see the chants towards Gonzalo Higuain from the Arsenal fans at the Emirates). Don't count out Marseille either. With young players like Dmitri Payet and Florian Thauvin, they will be no slouch against anyone, especially at the usually fearsome Stade Velodrome.
1) Atletico Madrid 2) Porto 3) Zenit 4) Austria Wien
This is the group that is the dull apple amongst the many bright ones. Porto and Atleti are both class squads, and will both likely not face too much trouble on their way to the knockout stages. Zenit have players like Axel Witsel and Hulk that are obviously interesting, but their overall squad depth can't match that of Porto and Atleti. Austria Wien are the classic "happy to be here" team.
1) Barcelona 2) Milan 3) Celtic 4) Ajax
Celtic got Barca again? Come on. Regardless, if Group F is the Group of Death, H is a close second. Barca are always fearsome, and will probably head the group again. Milan are in a bit of a rut right now, but they always seem to play some of their best football against big teams at San Siro, so that will probably happen again (and I want to see Tiziano Crudeli scream some more). Celtic once again get a brutal draw, but that doesn't mean they can't scalp some points off the big boys, which they probably will. Ajax are always tough, but their depletion rate is too steep to compete with the might of the Blaugrana and Rossoneri, and with the sheer will of Celtic.
Champion: Borussia Dortmund. They've looked like the best team in Europe so far this season, and being in the Group of Death and advancing through it will only make them stronger for the challenges ahead.