Hello-est thyne haters,
Usain Bolt apparently listens to Rihanna’s “Work” while making babies for pretend, which is all well and good, but if I ever do sex I’m definitely going with the Champions League anthem. Nothing like majestic music to shift attention away from forgettable prowess.
But I digress.
UEFA recently held its “Champions League Draw & Gala” – no lie, that’s what they actually called it – the highlight of which was one of co-hosts accidentally taking a watery English-as-a-Second-Language dump all over Arsenal’s dignity:
Unfortunately your boy Sepp Blatter took some of the drama out of the proceedings by admitting what everybody with a brain already knew: Barrrrrrrrrrrrthelona and Real Madrid always get cake draws because UEFA – the ultimate proponent of trickle-down economics – uses heated and frozen ping-pong balls to ensure the rich get richer and the poor remain poor/fans of Liverpool.
That is a bit of an exaggeration (especially since almost any opponent is a cake opponent against Barça or Real these days) but good old Uncle Sepp did indeed allege this spring that some draws have been fixed in the past. But for the moment let’s go ahead and assume this one was on the up and up, or at least ignore the possibility it wasn’t, and take a look at how things shook out due entirely to “chance”…….
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE – GROUP PREVIEWS
As a quick reminder, here’s how things shook out in the knockout stages of last season’s Champions League, which culminated in a penalty kick shootout that itself culminated with – you’ll never believe this – in Ronnie ripping his shirt off:
Spain has been rubbing its big hairy nutsack up and down all over this competition in recent years. Wanna know what dominance looks like? It looks a lot like this:
Is there any reason to think that this year will be any different? Neither Barça nor Real appear to have taken a step backwards, and while Atleti has had a disappointing start to the season they are the consummate talent-laden underdog that everybody underestimates year in and year out.
So who can challenge the Spanish hegemony?
Bayern Munich is stacked per usual (if they can just stay healthy for once), Juventus is SCARY, and English clubs have been putting their new TV money to work. I mean, just look at Manchester United’s line-up! Are they serious adding Ibra, Pogba and Mkhitaryan to that line-up? How is it even possible they won’t roll easily into at least the semi-finals this season – amirite?
As for the groups, this is what “fate” and a “totally random draw” resulted in:
Hard to imagine PSG or Arsenal slipping up, though a lot will depend on how the Gunners’ new additions – eg, Lucas Perez and Shkrodan Mustafi – acclimate. Basel does, after all, have an impressive track record of sneaking up and kicking big clubs in the dick in Champions League. In the end though I think this group will end up playing out roughly to plan.
Prediction: PSG; Arsenal; Basel; Ludogorets
One of the weaker foursomes of the bunch, though it could prove to be a little more closely fought than Group A. Napoli was one of the scariest clubs in all the land last fall but lost Chunks Higuain this summer and has looked weak at the back so far this season, giving both Dynamo and Besiktas a legitimate shot at joining Benfica in advancing.
Prediction: Benfica; Dynamo Kiev; Napoli; Besiktas
I’ve seen a lot of people calling this the “Group of Death”. These people are either dumb or stupid. I love me some Celtic but the Bhoys scraped by Hapoel Be’er Sheva by the skin of their chinny chin chin, and anything thinking they are going to trouble Barcelona or City is kidding themselves. No “GoD” should have a clear weak-link like that. Borussia Monchenpenisgladbach, on the other hand, could be a legit threat. They have the talent but lack the experience of the two favorites, which could ultimately be their undoing.
Prediction: Barcelona; City; ‘Gladbach; Celtic
Clear “winner” as the “Groups of Death” in my book. Bayern and Atleti need little introduction. PSV won the Eredivisie last season and has made some smart loan moves this summer, while Rostov would be my top pick as a massive, massssssive sleeper in season’s competition, though the fact they are running up against two of last season’s semifinalists is a really tough draw for the Russkis. Still, they just might shock the world.
Prediction: Bayern; Rostov; Atleti; PSV
[Note: this is not about disrespecting Atleti, which will get its act together and be in the mix in La Liga. Rather, it is about people underestimating Rostov. Go back and watch the second leg Champions League qualifying demolition of Ajax then tell me this isn’t a club worth watching…]
If anybody can find a way to waste what should be a fairly straightforward path to the knockouts it is Spurs. Everybody knows this. But the re-addition of Mouse Dembele, and assuming Janssen and Kane learn how to play off one another up top (leaving aside the Moussa Sissoko situation for the time being), they should be the team to beat. Will they fuck it up? Absolutely probably. But if I have learned anything from Donald Trump – aside from tiny hands not necessarily meaning there is a problem down there (*wink*) – it is never EVER acknowledge weakness. Thus, I’ll say instead shift your attention to what I think/hope/pray will end up being a dogfight for second place between Bayer and Monaco. When the rubber hits the road I’m going with Chicharito over the rejuvenated corpse of Radamel Falcao. As for CSKA, the loss of Ahmed Musa will likely prove telling.
Prediction: Tottenham; Bayer; Monaco; CSKA
This one is pretty simple: Real Madrid is head and shoulders above – and Legia is head and shoulders below – the rest, making the group more or less a battle for second between the other two. I like Sporting, which is a talent factory and should also be flying high being led by a number of important players from the Portuguese national team, but I’m going with BVB thanks to the return of boner-boy Mario Goetze.
Prediction: Real; BVB; Sporting; Legia
Lucky, Lucky Leicester’s good fortune continues. The club has struggled to “find itself” after the loss of do-everything/be-everywhere midfielder N’Golo Kante this summer but – in the spirit of “go big or go home” – I’ll be god-DAMNed if those foxy sumbitches didn’t just go balls to the wall with their summer signings. There is nothing “lucky” about that, of course, but Leicester was blessed by being drawn into the weakest of all the groups. Porto will do what Porto always does and find a way to advance to the knockouts, and some years Copenhagen or Brugge might have had a shot at advancing but both have looked surprisingly weak so far this season (especially the Danish club). Thus, while I do have some concerns about whether all of Leicester’s fresh faces will mesh again this season, I’m going to go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Prediction: Porto; Leicester; Brugge; Copenhagen
Juventus is a more legit UCL threat this season than even 2014-15 when they made it to the final (falling to Barcelona). Long story short, this is shaping up to be a walkover for the Old Lady. Lyon has been surprisingly conservative this summer for a club that got its ass handed to it by PSG in Ligue 1 last season, and ultimately is unlikely to threaten Sevilla, who looks set to continue the success achieved under Uni Emery after bringing in Jorge Sampaoli. Dinamo is coming off their 11th – ELEVENTH – straight domestic title and may have enough to push Sevilla, but ultimately it is hard to see them keeping pace with the Spaniards.
Prediction: Juventus; Sevilla; Dinamo Zagreb; Lyon
So there you have it. Games start one week from today. Can’t wait.
Reminder: USMNT is back in action today with the final World Cup qualifier at home (Jacksonville) against Trinidad & Tobago to close out the semifinal round. Preview coming later this afternoon.
Sam U.L. Army