What the Champions League draw means for Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool
The Champions League draw on Thursday will have produced mixed emotions for the Premier League’s representatives. For Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool it was a very interesting affair.
First up Spurs. Placed in Group B alongside Barcelona, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven this is neither a tough nor easy group. They have a big chance to progress.
Barcelona are the favourites, understandably. That does not mean Tottenham do not have a chance of finishing top. Last year they were paired with reigning champions Real Madrid and secured four points against them. Three points were secured with an impressive 3-1 win at Wembley. They have every chance of repeating the trick home and away against Barcelona.
Inter Milan, meanwhile, can be compared to Borussia Dortmund. A good team but not a European force by any means. Indeed, this side only scraped into the competition last year. They finished 23 points behind Juventus in Serie A; the same Juve team Spurs took extremely close in the knockout stages.
Mauricio Pochettino and his boys should be confident they can secure results against them.
PSV represent the weakest team in the group. They should be considered as six points minimum. For Tottenham, second place should be their aim at the very least. Qualification from this group is very much within their grasp.
Onto Liverpool in Group C, arguably this year’s Group of Death. The Reds can consider themselves extremely unfortunate. They need to produce masterful displays to secure a place in the knockout stages.
Securing victories in their home games against both Paris Saint Germain and Napoli is key to their hopes. Anfield is a fortress on a European night, as Manchester City and AS Roma discovered last season. That is needed once again this year.
That is not to say both games won’t be extremely difficult but Liverpool will have hopes of getting the points they need. Crucially, both PSG and Napoli are teams that play open, expansive football.
That should play into Jurgen Klopp’s hands. His team play their best football against teams that play that way. If Thomas Tuchel and Carlo Ancelotti elect to open things up, Liverpool can make them suffer.
Qualification is a tough ask. Yet, Liverpool are a confident bunch and they have quality running throughout their team and enough to beat PSG and Napoli. They should be pushing for second place at least but it could run until the final matchday. The strength in the group dictates as much.
Unlike Liverpool, Manchester City should be absolutely delighted with the group they have been handed. Indeed, there is already talk that this draw has set them up for a real run at success in the competition.
Lyon represent the most dangerous side and City need to to be wary of underestimating them. They did that against Monaco in 2016/17 and it ultimately cost them. That mistake cannot be repeated against this French outfit.
Shakhtar Donetsk, meanwhile, are familiar opponents. The two sides met in the competition last year and Pep Guardiola has taken on Paolo Fonseca with Bayern Munich too. That means he should be well versed on their tactics and how to counter them successfully. Hoffenheim are the unknown quantity and, arguably, the weakest side in the group.
Manchester City should be confident that they can secure six points against them having watched Liverpool destroy them in the qualifying rounds last year.
Anything other than finishing top is unacceptable. They are comfortably the strongest group. Securing first should be a priority to try and set up a favourable draw in the knockout stages.
Manchester City (17%) are favourites to win their first title, with Barcelona (14%) and Juventus (12%) not far behind.
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Last but not least, there is Manchester United. For them, the draw was a disappointing one. Jose Mourinho’s side face a tough test.
Juventus are favourites and rightly so. With Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks they are among the front-runners for the competition. His return to Old Trafford adds extra spice.
Valencia, meanwhile, will prove to be testing opponents. They impressed in La Liga last season and are keen to make their mark on their return to this competition after a three-year absence.
For United, they are a similar challenge as Sevilla, the team that knocked them out last year. Except, this Valencia are an improvement on Sevilla. They finished 15 points higher than them last year.
Home form is likely to be key. If United get can points at Old Trafford it should be enough to see them through. That, though, is a big if at this moment in time. Mourinho would accept second place if it were offered to him now.
Predictions are a dangerous game. Only time can tell us what happens. The nature of the Champions League means there are likely plenty of twists and turns in the road.
But despite a mixed draw, there is very much an opportunity that all the Premier League sides find themselves in the Champions League knockout stages for the second year running.