On Tuesday, Champions League group stage play kicks off, with 16 matches in total. This is the third and final installment of TSW’s predictions and preview for each Champions League group. I will be covering groups G & H, headlined by European giants such as FC Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United. Fellow journalist Julian Alcaraz will be covering groups A, B, and C, and Armaan Sodhi will be previewing groups D, E, and F. Let’s get right into it, starting with group G.
Group G: FC Barcelona (Spain), Juventus (Italy), Ferencvárosi TC (Hungary), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)
This group might not be the deepest in terms of competition, but it certainly draws the most attention with many storylines. The biggest talking point from group G is the battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo , as arguably the two greatest players ever will face off twice. 2020 UCL action will mark the first time Ronaldo plays against Messi with Juventus. In previous head-to-head matchups, Messi won 16 and scored 22 goals, compared to Ronaldo’s 10 wins and 19 goals. 9 contests between the two also ended in draws. Ronaldo did test positive for coronavirus recently, but he will likely be back in time for the battle of the goats on October 28.
Another storyline that will be interesting to follow is the Americans playing for both Barcelona and Juventus. This past weekend Sergiño Dest became the first American to start for Barca after his transfer from Ajax. Dest filled in for the injured Jordi Alba at left back, and he will have a chance to cement his role at Camp Nou. 19-year-old American winger Konrad de la Fuente is also on the Barcelona roster, but he is yet to see action with the first team. He may see action against either Ferencvárosi or Dynamo Kyiv, shall things get out of hand.
For Juventus, American stalwart Weston McKennie returns to Champions League action with his new club. The box-to-box midfielder started two games for Juventus, but contracted COVID-19 last week, so he will be out for Juve’s opening match. He is a little older and more experienced than his fellow Yanks at Barcelona, but it will be a treat to see them up against each other on club soccer’s biggest stage.
Dynamo Kyiv are not a bad team, but they are outmatched by two of Europe’s best. If they can secure more than 6 points, they will return home to Ukraine with some confidence, but even a draw is an unlikely task against Juventus and Barcelona. Their best shot will be Tuesday against Juventus, who will be without Ronaldo. As for Ferencváros, the Hungarians will be lucky to notch a single point in group play. There is a slim chance they could emerge in third place, but they may have the worst goal differential of any team in the tournament.
Juventus (Winners): 16 pts
FC Barcelona (Advance to knockout stage): 13 pts
Dynamo Kyiv (Relegated to Europa League): 6 pts
Ferencvárosi TC: 0 pts
Group H: Manchester United (England), RB Leipzig (Germany), Istanbul Basaksehir (Turkey), Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Group H is undoubtedly the colloquial “group of death” for this year’s UCL tournament. The group features two semifinalists from the past Champions League, along with English standouts Manchester United. Man U manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has his job on the line, and if the Red Devils don’t make it out of group H, he will likely get sacked. They enter group play on the heels of some unimpressive English Premier League showings, with their defense (In particular Harry Maguire) being the achilles heel. If they are to advance to the knockout round it will be because of their strong attack, led by Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford.
RB Leipzig will look to avenge their 3-0 semifinal loss just two months ago against PSG. Leipzig were fortunate to make it so far last year, but a repeat Cinderella run will be difficult in a stacked group. They are a little banged up, but start off with an easy match against Istanbul. American holding midfielder Tyler Adams will likely see action, as he has become a regular starter for Julian Naglesmann’s side. Adams scored the game winning goal against Atlético Madrid to send Leipzig to the semis in the past competition, and some more European football will be great for the 21-year-old’s development.
PSG enter the group as the clear favorites to win the group thanks to a three-headed monster at forward. Neymar Jr., Kylian Mbappe, and Mauro Icardi scored 13 goals in the past CL tourney, but they’ll need as many as they can score to make it out of group H. The Parisians enter group play with a 5-game winning streak in Ligue 1 play, and there is no indication that they’ll be slowing down. They have the most CL experience and talent of almost anybody in the entire tournament, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go 6-0-0 in group play.
Paris Saint-Germain (Winners): 16 pts
RB Leipzig (Advance to knockout stage): 11 pts
Manchester United (Miss out on Europa League relegation): 5 pts
Istanbul Basaksehir: 1 pt