UCL Draw fallout: how will the Spanish clubs get on?7 min read
Spanish clubs have been the dominant force in European competitions over the last decade, whether it be in the Champions League, Europa League, and, by extension, the UEFA Super Cup. This time around, the Champions League draw has been fairly kind to those who ply their trade in La Liga – and Spanish football expert Simon Harrison has taken a look at where the value lies
Real Madrid – Group H
The #LaLiga teams have their opponents in the group stage of the Champions League.🌟
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) August 24, 2017
Last season saw Zinedine Zidane retain the Champions League with relative ease, as the depth of quality in his Real Madrid squad proved invaluable. Juventus were unable to compete with Los Blancos in Cardiff’s final, with Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo all lifting awards at the Champions League draw for their own individual roles down the team’s spine last season in Europe.
Borussia Dortmund are a foe that Real Madrid know plenty about from recent tournaments, but last term the Bundesliga side were just unable to hold their opposition’s firepower at bay. Spurs have the conundrum of playing their home matches at Wembley, a temporary stopgap, but also a stadium that many opposing players will have dreamed of visiting. APOEL, who make up Group H, look in for a short but potentially painful involvement.
Real look to be in excellent physical condition and hold the reputation of being the strongest club side in the world. Judging by the draw on Thursday evening, they won’t face any major challenges until the knockout stages. Zidane’s men should be very confident of topping their group and then getting down to the real business. Anything less than retaining the trophy for a third occasion is failure.
Barcelona – Group D
—Another Dembele bid rejected
—Coutinho staying put
—Suing Neymar for… leaving?
— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 22, 2017
Francesco Totti could not help but smile after pulling the Blaugrana out of the hat to place them in the same group as Gianluigi Buffon’s Juventus. It has been a summer of change for Barcelona, however, with their historic 6-1 comeback victory against Paris Saint-Germain seeming a long time ago now. Luis Enrique has left, Neymar has been sold and life has certainly not been simple for new coach Ernesto Valverde quite yet.
Barca certainly don’t boast a squad at the strength of the Bianconeri, with transfer business needing to be done before they can think about a realistic slant at taking first place in Group D. The absence of Neymar is a huge blow, regardless of any new signings, with the Catalans’ front line lacking an extra spark of unpredictable creativity.
Given the discontent about fans at the transfer situation that their club find themselves in, and the apparent gap in thinking between Barcelona’s squad and the board, a Champions League title push could be a uniting and galvanising force for the season ahead. If reinforcements aren’t acquired, however, a European trophy looks well beyond Lionel Messi and company’s reach this time around.
Atletico Madrid – Group C
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) August 24, 2017
Atletico will be going up against Chelsea in their group, with Diego Costa unable to play for either side – despite very much wanting to side with Diego Simeone. The Argentine coach’s approach is arguably best suited to knockout competition, where his hardworking 4-4-2 can be a tough nut to crack both home and away.
Antoine Griezmann had a fantastic 2016/2017 campaign and has both the pace and creativity to be a real nuisance on the break, with Los Colchoneros having far less injury problems than during their group stage of yesteryear. Real Madrid may be their kryptonite in the latter stages of the Champions League, but there are few teams as organised, experienced and well-equipped as Atleti for getting to the point of knocking on successes’ door. They thrive on their underdog label.
Top spot in Group C may be a tough ask for them, given the presence of Premier League winners Chelsea, but Antonio Conte’s start to this campaign has been anything but smooth. Atleti are Champions League specialists and in a season where traditional powerhouses Bayern and Barca are far from at their strongest, 9/1 looks like great value for Simeone’s men to reach a third final in five years.
Sevilla – Group E
— Sevilla FC – #StayAtHome (@SevillaFC_ENG) August 23, 2017
Sevilla’s representatives will be looking rather gleefully at their group, as arguably they’ve been given the easiest opposition from any of Spain’s participating teams. Spartak Moscow arrive in the Champions League after a slightly unexpected explosion in the Russian Premier League last season, Liverpool return after a long absence, and Maribor will be highlighted as Group E’s potential whipping boys.
After three consecutive Europa League wins in the not-so-distant past, the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan has seen its fair share of high-stakes European clashes in the last five years. Unai Emery may have moved onto pastures new, but players with winning know-how still remain from his final conquest. Last season, under Jorge Sampaoli, Los Nervionenses were very unfortunate to not put Leicester City to the sword in the first leg of their eventually disappointing last 16 tie.
This summer, they’ve added quality in Ever Banega, Luis Muriel, Nolito, Jesus Navas and many more, with Eduardo Berizzo fresh off the back of guiding Celta Vigo to the semi-final stages of the Europa League last term. Sevilla should not be underestimated, and could be very good value to finish top of their group.