UEFA Champions League 18/19 Preview – Group A

Europe’s elite competition is finally back, so let’s look at how it could shape up, group by group.

Atletico Madrid

After a great summer of signings, with Lemar, Arias, Rodri, Kalinic and more arriving to boost an already strong squad. Having already the best defense in Spain, and now adding the right attacking players to give them more flexibility going forward, it should now be their time to challenge for the league and Champions League right? Well not so far. They have already dropped 5 points out of a possible 9, with a defeat against Celta Viga, and a draw on the opening day against Valencia. The whole team just doesn’t look as sharp as it was at the end of last season. I have a feeling it could carry into the group stages. While eventually they will get their act together, they do not have long to do that however. Their first game of the Champions League is away against Monaco. And while both were incredibly disappointing last season, it will still be a hard game. While I think they will struggle. They will have the players to get out the group’s, so I’m going for a second place finish for Spanish side.

Borussia Dortmund

A side I have been complimenting and criticising. Dortmund go into this tournament with a new manager, and plenty of new signings. Last year, Dortmund started the season under Peter Bosz, they were awful in the champions league, losing both legs to Spurs and Real Madrid. They have a new manager in Lucien Favre. While he doesn’t play the best football, he does solidify the back, and let’s the forward line express themselves. While the signings of Alcacer, Akanji and Diallo are all excellent bits of business, and give upgrades to what they already have, but I labelled Witzel and Delaney as the worst signings of the entire window. I just do not like the additions at all and are spending a lot of money and short term players who are not that talented. However what I will give both of them is that they are disciplined players, and will help make those games where they have less of the ball more difficult for the opposition. A team with the attacking talent of Dortmund. With both Pulisic and Reus being some of the best around, and Sancho looking like the rest deal, it could give them the edge in a difficult group. They will top the group.

Club Brugge

I will not deny that I do not know much about Club Brugge, but after doing some research, I learnt that they won their league by more than 10 points, and went on an impressive 11 game winning run. There is no doubt that they deserve to be there, however there is still a clear difference between their competition. While Wesley and Danjuma have started well, with both contributing to 5 goals in 10 games, they will have to hope that these guys turn up against these very tough opponents. They lost Diaby to Lisbon, who clearly a huge loss with sporting putting a giant release clause on him. It will be a tough campaign for Brugge, so I do not see more than a 4th finish

Monaco

And last but not least, Monaco. The Ligue 1 runner ups have also not had the greatest of starts. They lost two of their midfielders, and lost one of their best creators in Lemar. However they have done well in improving the squad, with Golovin, Pele (not that one), Henrichs, Barreca and Geubbels all adding an already young squad. They have started the new season in pretty bad form, losing to Marseille and Bordeaux, and drawing to Lille. The main reason I’m putting them to finish third is the amount of players they have signed. They are not bad players in the slightest. However the squad is now at an average age of 23.7. That would have beaten Toulouse’s average age of 23.85, making them the youngest squad in Europe. It will be very unlikely to see them get out of the group, because it will be the first time many of these players participate in this competition. They will need the experience first.

Final Table

1. Borussia Dortmund

2. Atletico Madrid

3. Monaco

4. Club Brugge

Top 5 Worst Transfers of the Summer – Malcolm, Bonucci

After doing the best transfers of the window, let’s quickly go through some signings that are on the other end of the spectrum. These are the top 5 Worst signings from this summer’s window.

5. Malcolm – Barcelona

This might be a controversial pick, but this signing just doesn’t make much sense to me at all, for both player and club. I like Malcolm. He is a player who has an incredible left foot on him, from distance and in the box. While he did have a good season for a struggling Bordeaux, it didn’t seem enough for Barcelona to spend nearly £40m on. My problem with the transfer is that he was close to signing for Roma, which would have made so much more sense. Ever since the loss of Salah, Roma have been struggling for goals from around the pitch since the departure of Salah and after Nainggolan’s goals dried up last season (he was still very good). Malcolm would have definitely helped them in this department. He would have given them an extra attacking threat, and put less pressure on Edin Dzeko. It would have been so perfect to have a front three of Kluivert, Dzeko and Malcolm. However that is not the reality of the situation. I can understand that joining Barcelona is an opportunity of a life a lifetime, but it would be better to join a club of their prestige when a guarantee of starting is there. Valverde seems eager to play a 4-3-3, to get the best out of the players in his possession, and to give better protection to Sergio Busquets. The problem is where does Malcolm start in this forward 3? Messi is a guarantee to start on that right side, and Dembele will play on the left, and is also able to play on the right. Malcolm could have seen what happened to the likes of Denis Suarez and Lucas Digne. Two players who chose Barcelona when they were not at that level yet. His chances will come very short, but that is his choice.

4. Leonardo Bonucci – Juventus

Last summer, I praised the acquisition of Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan. They were buying the best centre back in Europe for only €30m and it just seemed like a great bit of business. However a year on, it was not. Talking about this signing means going into the whole deal between the two clubs. It was agreed that Higuain would join Milan on loan for €17m with an obligation to buy for €31m. Matteo Caldara also joined Milan as part of the deal, with Bonucci joining Juventus. The deal itself addresses the problem. Juventus should have never given these players away. Higuain’s numbers have been dropping since his arrival in Turin, so keeping him as Ronaldo’s number two would have worked, to give Ronaldo the required rest for the crucial games. Selling Caldara just makes no sense. The young Italian has looked good for Atalanta over his two year loan spell. He was ready to become at least a squad player for The Old Lady. Bonucci, like Malcolm, is a bad signing not exactly based on the player’s ability, but it has to do with the circumstances surrounding the move. Juventus have weakened areas in their squad to have him back, and it has not helped the aging squad.

3. Sokratis Papastathopoulos

It is not exactly a controversial opinion to say that Arsenal’s squad is a pure mess. While the signings of Torreira and Guendouzi do address the gaping hole in midfield, and Lichteiner will give competition to a very stagnant Hector Bellerin, but it is the other defensive signings I have a problem with. Bernd Leno is a very horrible signing. He made the second most defensive errors last season, but because of how useless Cech is, he will be an improvement. Sokratis on the other hand just isn’t a good move. I just do not understand this move at all. Sokratis is an okay distributor, but he is more of a destroyer than a sweeper. Arsenal needed a more intelligent defender, that isn’t so positionally poor. In the first two games, Sokratis has been one of Arsenal’s worse performers for an already poor Arsenal team. Having a back two of Mustafi and Sokratis is asking for them to get caught out over an over again. Borussia Dortmund were very poor last season in a defensive sense, which explains why they signed young promising defender Abdou Diallo. Sokratis was a huge fault for that poor defense. Arsenal bringing in a guy who is now 30 to fix a defense that needed a more intelligent player just doesn’t make sense, and the worst part is he is still one of their better defenders.

2 & 1 – Thomas Delaney and Axel Witzel – Borussia Dortmund

While it could be cheating, putting two players as joint first and second,
I have been unable to make up my mind on which out of these is a worse signing. Lucian Favre is an appointment I am not exactly a fan of. While has previous experience in the league, doing a fine job at Munchengladbach, his time at Nice did not end so well, with the club overachieving in their first season by finishing 3rd, to then finishing 8th. Many of the players in that team were performing well over their potential, with the likes of Dante, Balotelli, Seri and Le Marchand all overachieving that season. The problem with Favre is the style of play he chooses is not exactly the most attractive, which can make him a very a hard manager to sit through. Dortmund have not had the best of windows. They didn’t properly address their striker problem, and the signings themselves aren’t great. While I like Diallo and Hakimi on loan, I think their midfield signings of Delaney and Witzel are both atrocious. Both are very functional players, that do not excel in any department. Delaney’s defensive numbers are very decent and he did win 3.7 aerial duels a game last season, but the problem with the Danish international is that he is very poor on the ball. Since Tuchel’s arrival, Dortmund have been playing midfielders with very good technical ability, surrounded by players who have a lot of energy and are effective in pressing and assisting in attack. His technical players in the past have been the likes of Gundogan, Dahoud and Weigl, all players with an excellent ability on the ball. However with the departure of Castro and Gundogan over the years, and both Weigl and Dahoud not having the best of seasons last season, it could have been a position that needed strengthening. But they have went the wrong way in signing these players. Favre could have put his faith in the midfielders he currently has. He has spent €40m on two players with such limited ability, which could hinder the currently young talent that the club possesses. One could say that they are only there maybe to partner one of Dahoud or Weigl, but this is Favre. He will play Witzel and Delaney together because of their discipline and aggression. I think Dortmund are better than these players, and they should not be wasting their relatively low resources on quick fix options, and should instead be going for players with a high technical ability.