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2019-2020 Champions League Preview

Information on every team in the group stage.

Juventus v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur will learn their fate for the group stage in the UEFA Champions League tomorrow at 6:00 PM CET (12:00 PM ET) in Monaco. Spurs, who ran the gauntlet last year to get to the final and came up just short, are looking to take that final step and hoist the trophy at this year’s final in Turkey.

For those of you who have just picked up the sport and are following Tottenham Hotspur, the UEFA Champions League is regarded as the biggest club competition there is. All 53 member countries of the Union of European Football Associations participate in the tournament. The clubs that ultimately make the group stage, also known as the Round of 32, have qualified based on their performance last year in their domestic leagues. While the highest rated leagues get more bids (England, Spain, Germany and Italy each get four automatic bids), some clubs have to go through as many as four rounds of playoff rounds to get into the competition. Dinamo Zagreb, for example, had to start in the second round of qualification this year.

It’s all worth it, of course. For simply making the group stages, teams will cash an eight-figure cheque and will increase their winnings based on performance. The more wins and the deeper you go, the bigger the payday for the club.

So who is in this year? Let’s go over the contenders and how they arrived.

Pot One

As is standard, the Champions of Europe, Europa League winners, and top six league champions remaining will all slot into Pot One. Spurs cannot be drawn against a team from their own association, which means three of these clubs are already off the menu for the group stage. That still leaves some strong clubs for Spurs to draw.

Liverpool F.C.

Qualification: Champions of Europe (gdi...)

Home Ground: Anfield (54,074)

Association: Premier League (ENG)

Liverpool exercised their demons in last year’s competition by defeating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the final. They also accumulated the most points ever in the Premier League never to win the title, getting beat out by Manchester City thanks to the Cityzens remarkable run of form. Virgil Van Dijk is probably the best defender in the world at this point and Liverpool’s attack is still terrifying.

Chelsea F.C.

Qualification: Europa League winners

Home Ground: Stamford Bridge (41,631)

Association: Premier League (ENG)

Chelsea finished third in the Premier League last season, but punched their ticket into Pot One by winning the Europa League last season, dispatching Arsenal in the process to knock our fellow Londoners back to the second-tier competition. Chelsea are in the midst of a transfer ban, but still have some firepower in their squad. N’Golo Kante is still one of the best holding midfielders in the world and Kepa proved to be a solid shot stopper. Their attack needs to gel in a hurry, though. Tammy Abraham will eventually be the regular striker once he’s comfortable and Christian Pulisic should end up in the Starting XI once he fully adjusts to the English game.

F.C. Barcelona

Qualification: Champions of Spain

Home Ground: Camp Nou (99,354)

Association: La Liga (ESP)

Barcelona had a 3-0 lead going into the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, only to blow it and give up four goals unanswered at Anfield to end their campaign. They still won La Liga by a comfortable 11 point margin, but that’s not good enough for the Catalan giants. Barcelona brought in Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid and Frenkie de Jong from Ajax. There is still a chance they could pry Neymar away from PSG again for the right price. Oh yeah, they still have Lionel Messi.

Manchester City F.C.

Qualification: Champions of England

Home Ground: Etihad Stadium (55,097)

Association: Premier League (ENG)

Somehow, Manchester City repeated as champions. They also did the domestic treble by winning the FA Cup and Carabao Cup. Of course, Cityzen supporters will tell you it’s a bittersweet season because VAR took away their chance at winning the Champions League, which I will still watch to this day. City didn’t drop wild amounts of money this summer, but did fill some holes. Rodri and João Cancelo have joined this club, as has Angelino. Kevin de Bruyne is the engine that makes this attack tick.

Juventus F.C.

Qualification: Champions of Italy

Home Ground: Allianz Stadium (41,507)

Association: Serie A (ITA)

Juventus practically sleepwalked their way to a Serie A title last season, finishing on 90 points and crushing the hopes and dreams of Napoli rather early. Ronaldo isn’t quite the Ronaldo of old, but he still had 28 goals in 43 appearances. Former Chelsea boss and smoking aficionado Maurizio Sarri is now in charge and will look to manage a squad that has the talent to make a deep run in Europe’s biggest competition.

F.C. Bayern Munich

Qualification: Champions of Germany

Home Ground: Allianz Arena (75,024)

Association: Bundesliga (GER)

Bayern Munich had to wait until the final day of the season to lock down the Bundesliga title, nipping Borussia Dortmund by two points. Their Champions League performance went out with the sound of a wet fart, losing to Liverpool 3-1 in the Round of 16 but never looking like a real threat to the eventual European Champions. Manager Niko Kovač had made it clear he wants the German champions to return to European glory this season. Lucas Hernandez will shore up the back line while the always dangerous Robert Lewandowski is certain to hit 40+ appearances up top. Phillipe Coutinho was brought in on loan this summer from Barcelona to provide more attacking options.

Paris Saint-Germain F.C.

Qualification: Champions of France

Home Ground: Parc des Princes (47,929)

Association: Ligue 1 (FRA)

The running joke of the Champions League in recent memory is watching PSG find new and interesting ways to bow out of a competition they have been desperate to win. Last season, they somehow lost to Manchester United on away goals. This is the same United that went into a tailspin not long after this performance. PSG may not hang onto Neymar as the Brazillian wants to move back to Spain in some way. Former Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye got a massive payday to join the French giants this season while Kylian Mbappe will spend at least one more season in the French capitol.

F.C. Zenit St. Petersburg

Qualification: Champions of Russia

Home Ground: Gazprom Arena (68,000)

Association: Russian Premier League (RUS)

Winners of the annual Weakest Club In Pot 1 award once again, Zenit St. Petersburg have looked lackluster at best at the start of this season, even though they’re in a five-way tie for top of the table. The Russian Champions did bring in Wilmar Barrios (remember him?) to shore up the midfield but their 4-4-2 attack still centers around Artem Dzyuba doing magical things in front of net. He’s now 31 years old and is probably on his last legs. The problem for Zenit is that they don’t have anyone reliable to replace him with. Sardar Azmoun should provide a boost, but he’s not a world beater by any stretch of the imagination.

Pot Two

Thanks to their recent performances in Europe, Spurs are now rather comfortably in Pot Two. There are some very strong clubs joining them in this pot, which is welcome as it means they will avoid them.

Real Madrid C.F.

Qualification: Third place finish

Home Ground: Santiago Bernabeu (81,044)

Association: La Liga (ESP)

It’s hard to find a club that fell from grace harder from one season to the next than Real Madrid in the 2018-19 season. Finishing third in La Liga a whopping 19 points behind Barcelona, this squad looked tired and old in attack and disinterested everywhere else. Zinedine Zidane is back at the helm and spent the GDP of a small island nation to re-tool this squad. Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo, Éder Militão and Ferland Mendy are a part of the influx of talent brought in to be the new galaticos of Madrid. Somehow, Gareth Bale is still on this roster after a very public transfer saga that never happened. Zidane is also still trying to pry away Paul Pogba from Manchester United but may have to settle for Donny van de Beek or Christian Eriksen instead.

Atletico Madrid C.F.

Qualification: Second place finish

Home Ground: Wanda Metropolitano Stadium (67,829)

Association: La Liga (ESP)

Antoine Griezmann is no more and probably dead to every single supporter at the Metropolitano. The nine-figure transfer fee was used to purchase João Felix from SL Benfica for a whopping €126m. Atletico had a rough showing in the Champions League last season, bowing out in the Round of 16 to Juventus, 3-2 on aggregate. Diego Simeone will no doubt have this squad ready, as he always does. Felix looks to be the real deal, though, while Morata and Lemar will help shore up the attack.

Borussia Dortmund

Qualification: Second place finish

Home Ground: Signal Iduna Park (81,365)

Association: Bundesliga (GER)

Falling just short of the Bundesliga title in 2019, Dortmund look to change things for the upcoming campaign. No doubt, they will be in a dogfight with Bayern Munich over the Bundesliga. Their Champions League performance was cut short by Tottenham Hotspur in the Round of 16, losing 4-0 on aggregate. Jadon Sancho got a new contract that makes him one of the highest paid teenagers in Europe. Axel Witsel is a solid pickup in the midfield while Marco Reus will help direct the attacking band as he moves to a more central position in the 4-2-3-1 formation of Lucien Favre.

S.S.C. Napoli

Qualification: Second place finish

Home Ground: San Paolo Stadium (55,000)

Association: Serie A (ITA)

Napoli had a strong showing last season, finishing in second place in Serie A on 79 points. Their European campaign did not go as well as they failed to get out of the group stage in the Champions League. They were eliminated by Arsenal in the quarterfinals of the Europa League to further the disappointment. Mertens, Insigne and Milik combined for a whopping 53 goals last season. They will be the three-headed monster again for the Italian side that is led by Carlo Ancelotti.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk

Qualification: Champions of Ukraine

Home Ground: Metalist Stadium (40,003)

Association: Ukrainian Premier League (UKR)

Shakhtar cruised to another league title last season but disappointed in European play. They failed to reach the knockout rounds of the Champions League and made a swift exit from Europa League in the Round of 32, getting smacked around by Eintracht Frankfurt 6-3 on aggregate. Junior Morales looks to build on last year’s campaign of 26 goals in all competitions while Marlos and Kovalenko will be the primary midfielders in the attacking band with him. They’re a solid side and can be an annoying one to deal with in Europe, so be happy that they’re in the same pot as Spurs.

Tottenham Hotspur F.C.

Qualification: Fourth place finish

Home Ground: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (62,062)

Association: Premier League (ENG)

As we are all aware, Tottenham Hotspur rode a hell of a wave last season to make the Champions League final but the injury bug eventually caught up. There are still plenty of questions for this squad, especially with their start in England. The future of Christian Eriksen is still very much in the air but newcomers Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele were paid big money to shore up a midfield that looked like a M*A*S*H unit last year.

A.F.C. Ajax

Qualification: Champions of Netherlands; play-off qualifier

Home Ground: Johan Cruyff Arena (54,990)

Association: Eredivisie (NED)

It seems cruel that Ajax had to go through the qualification play-offs to get into the group stage, given their performance last season. It didn’t help that they lost Mathijis de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, but they managed to hang onto Ziyech and Neres to keep a solid attack in place. Ajax have hoped that Kasper Dolberg ascended by now, but it’s clear he has lagged behind this generation. Erik ten Hag is a quality manager and will be expected to win another Eredivisie title, but the question is can he recapture the magic of last season? Dusan Tadic will have to repeat his incredible campaign to do so.

S.L. Benfica

Qualification: Champions of Portugal

Home Ground: Estadio da Luz (64,642)

Association: Primiera Liga (POR)

Losing João Felix hurts, there’s no question to that. What doesn’t hurt is the massive fee that the Portuguese champions acquired from Atletico Madrid for him. Carlos Vinícius and Raúl de Tomás were brought in to shore up an attack that is quite dangerous even without Felix. Seferović led the way with 27 goals in all competitions while Rafa Silva was arguably their best player last year not named Felix. Benfica were sent to Europa League in the group stages and eventually lost to Frankfurt in the quarter-finals. They are fun to watch when they’re clicking, so expect them to terrorize one of the Pot One teams this season.

Pot Three

This is where we start getting the wild card teams. The first two pots are loaded with talent and clubs that are expected to make this competition year in and year out. The final 16 clubs are looking to become this year’s Ajax and surprise a few people along the way. There are still some heavy hitters here, though, so don’t let the draw fool you.

Olympique Lyonnais

Qualification: Third place finish

Ground: Groupama Stadium (59,186)

Association: Ligue 1 (FRA)

Another season, another UCL qualification for Lyon. The French side finished top three again to qualify for this year’s competition after making it to the knockout rounds last year. Coming out of a group with Manchester City is nothing to sneeze at, though Barcelona handed them a brutal 5-1 thumping in the Round of 16. Lyon had their squad picked apart this summer with Tanguy Ndombele joining Spurs, Nabil Fekir heading to Real Betis and Ferland Mendy joining Real Madrid. There’s still some firepower in this side including 20 goal scorer Moussa Dembele and Manchester United cast-off Memphis Depay, who has resurrected his career after leaving England.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen

Qualification: Fourth place finish

Ground: Bay Arena (30,210)

Association: Bundesliga (GER)

Leverkusen probably want to forget last year’s European campaign altogether. While they got out of the group stages in the Europa League by winning their group, they strung together two lackluster performances against Krasnodar in the Round of 32 to make a surprising exit. Kai Havertz hit the 20 goal mark last year from midfield while Kevin Volland chipped in 15 himself. Leon Bailey is still looking to take that next big step in his career and improve on his five goal output last season. Jonathan Tah is solid center back that takes command of the back four.

Red Bull Salzburg

Qualification: Champions of Austria

Ground: Red Bull Arena (31,000)

Association: Austrian Bundesliga (AUS)

The big concern in Salzburg for this coming season was how the club responded to losing Israeli International Moanes Dabour, who scored an eye-popping 37 goals for the Austrian champions. That performance landed him at Sevilla this year. American manager Jesse Marsch apparently doesn’t have a problem, given that they’re off to a scintillating start: Five wins in five matches, 22 goals scored and only three given up. Marsch has been using a system that spreads the ball around to create numerous threats, though the ones to watch are Takumi Minamino and Hannes Wolf. This could be a quietly scary team to draw in the group stage.

Olympiacos F.C.

Qualification: Second place finish; Play-off qualification

Ground: Karaiskakis Stadium (32,115)

Association: Greek Superleague (GRE)

The Greek giants are back in the Champions League after a year away in the Europa League, falling to Dynamo Kyiv in the Round of 32. Finishing second to PAOK by just five points (PAOK went unbeaten with just four draws), Olympiacos qualified the hard way by fighting out of the second qualification round, defeating Viktoria Plzen, Basaksehir, and Krasnodar to punch their ticket. There aren’t many names people will recognize on this list, but pay attention to Kostas Fortounis. The attacking midfielder scored 16 goals last season and is a solid player at 26 years of age.

Club Brugge KV

Qualification: Second place finish; Play-off qualification

Ground: Breydel Stadium (29,062)

Association: Jupiler League (Belgium)

Another club that made their way through the qualification rounds, Club Brugge eliminated LASK on the final day of the preliminary rounds with a 3-1 aggregate victory. Eliminated in the group stages last year, Brugge had a quick exit in the Europa League at the hands of RB Salzburg. A player to watch (and one that’s hard to miss) is Hans Vanaken, an attacking midfielder who stands a whopping 6’5” (1,95m) tall.

Valencia C.F.

Qualification: Fourth place finish

Ground: Mestalla (55,000)

Association: La Liga (ESP)

It took until the final day of the La Liga season last year, but with a 2-0 victory over Valladolid, Valencia snuck back into the Champions League by a mere two points over Getafe and Sevilla. Halfway through the season, they were stuck in 12th and looked to be headed for a dreadful finish. Instead, they only lost three matches the rest of the way and also made it to the semi-finals of Europa League, dropping a 7-3 aggregate decision to Arsenal. Rodrigo, Gameiro and Mina combined 40 goals last season in all competitions, although nobody on the squad finished in double digits in the La Liga season itself.

F.C. Internazionale Milano

Qualification: Fourth place finish

Ground: San Siro (80,018)

Association: Serie A (ITA)

If there is one club who is chomping at the bit to draw Tottenham Hotspur in the group stages, it has to be Inter Milan. The Italian side thought they were a lock to get into the knockout rounds on Matchday 3 last season, but we all know how that movie ended as Inter dropped to the Europa League. Romelu Lukaku has joined this side from Manchester United with something to prove to the world and Stefan de Vrij is a quality defender. The Mauro Icardi saga is going to go right up to the deadline but he seems headed for the exit. Ivan Perisic moved on as well, joining Bayern Munich this summer.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb

Qualification: Champions of Croatia

Ground: Maksimir (35,123)

Association: First Division League (CRO)

Dinamo Zagreb just missed out on UCL football last season, getting knocked out by BSC Young Boys in the play-off round. The Croatian champions made a decent run in Europa, but fell to Benfica in the Round of 16. They were not seriously challenged in their domestic league, winning by 25 points over runners-up Rijeka. Orsic, Olmo and Gavranovic knocked in 37 goals last season across all competitions and Bruno Petkovic is another player who will see plenty of time in this attack.

Pot Four

Pot Four is almost always a random assortment of steady participants and newcomers in the Champions League, given the highest coefficient by any club in this grouping is just 28.5 points. Nothing is a given as we saw last year with Inter Milan falling short of the knockout rounds and a couple of seasons ago with AS Monaco’s run out of the final pot. This year’s grouping has a couple of quality sides to watch out for.

F.C. Lokomotiv Moscow

Qualification: Second place finish

Ground: RZD Arena (27,320)

Association: Russian Premier League (RUS)

One of the four Moscow clubs in the league, Lokomotiv finished eight points behind champion Zenit Saint Petersburg but earned an automatic bid in the process to the Champions League. There’s nothing flashy about this side, as is the case with most Russian sides. They are physical as can be and, while they don’t exactly light up the scoreboard (only 45 goals in league play last season), they can steal points if you aren’t careful.

KRC Genk

Qualification: Champions of Belgium

Ground: Luminus Arena (23,718)

Association: Jupiler League (BEL)

Winning their first league title since 2011, Genk are a fun side to watch. They have a very strong attacker in Mbwana Samatta, who scored 32 goals in 51 appearances last season. He is, without question, the main man in attack for the Belgian side. Gone is Leandro Trossard, who now plays for Brighton and Hove Albion while Ruslan Malinovskyi joined Italian club Atalanta, who are also in the Champions League this season. Expect players such as Jakub Piotrowski and Joseph Paintsil to step into their shoes as both are 21 and are on the radar of many European clubs.

Galatasaray S.K.

Qualification: Champions of Turkey

Ground: Turk Telekom Stadium (52,223)

Association: SuperLig (TUR)

One of the toughest places to play on the road in Europe, Galatasaray nipped Basaksehir for the Turkish SuperLig title last year by just two points after trailing them for most of the season. Top goal scorer Henry Onyekuru left the club this summer to join AS Monaco, leaving Algerian International Sofiane Feghouli as the primary man in attack. Expect to see Younes Belhanda and Ryan Donk more this campaign in the midfield while Fernando Muslera is the unquestioned #1 for the club.

RB Leipzig

Qualification: Third place finish

Ground: Red Bull Arena (42,959)

Association: Bundesliga (GER)

If you ever want to get a fan of German football fired up, just mention RB Leipzig and grab a drink. No matter your opinion on how the club is owned and operated, there is no doubt the quality in this side. Timo Werner recently signed a new contract that keeps him at the club until 2023, which is his reward for scoring 20 goals in 36 appearances last year. There are some other familiar names such as Lukas Klostermann and Jean-Kevin Augustin. They may not be quite as good as when they had Naby Keita in midfield, but don’t overlook this side: They play some attractive football and had a +34 GD in league play last season.

S.K. Slavia Prague

Qualification: Champs of Czech Republic; Play-off qualification

Ground: Sinobo Stadium (21,000)

Association: Fortuna League (CZE)

Slavia Prague finally got over the hump to qualify for the Champions League this season. They earned their bid into the play-off round by beating out Viktoria Plzen by five points with a staggering +53 goal differential. This is a team that can hurt you from different spots on the pitch, whether it comes from midfielders Tomas Soucek or Josef Husbauer, or getting the ball to striker Milan Skoda. 22 players scored at least one goal last season, so expect a lot of distribution when up against this side.

Red Star Belgrade

Qualification: Champions of Serbia; Play-off qualification

Ground: Rajko Mitic Stadium (55,538)

Association: SuperLiga (SER)

I mentioned Galatasaray earlier being one of the toughest places to play a match on the road, but if there’s anywhere tougher, it’s in Belgrade taking on Red Star. The videos on YouTube showing where the players walk out look like a bomb shelter as the stadium shakes from fans jumping up and down while chanting. They return to the Champions League after making a remarkable qualification run last season to make the group stages, though found themselves at the bottom of Group C when it was all said and done. Milan Pavkov and Richmond Boakye are two names to watch out for while Comorian International Ben slammed home 25 goals last season.

Atalanta B.C.

Qualification: Third place finish

Ground: Gewiss Stadium (21,300)

Association: Serie A (ITA)

If the Cartilage Free Captain writer’s Slack had a favorite team outside of England down the stretch last year, it was Atalanta. This squad is a treat to watch and actually led Serie A in scoring last season with 77 goals and an incredible run in their last 13 league matches, taking 31 points from a possible 39 and not dropping a single match. Duvan Zapata is a fantastic striker who scored 28 goals in 48 appearances last season, but don’t sell Josip Ilicic or Mario Pasalic short as the two midfielders were vital players in their successful season.

LOSC Lille

Qualification: Second place finish

Ground: Stade Pierre-Mauroy (50,186)

Association: Ligue 1 (FRA)

The final team in Pot Four comes to us from France. After a second place finish behind PSG in Ligue 1, Les Dogues are ready to show everyone that this team was more than just Nicolas Pepe and a bunch of random players. American fans will recognize Timothy Weah on this squad, who joined this summer for €10m from PSG, though he’s yet to feature for the club. Jonathan Bamba is expected to lead the attack now, along with Loic Remy and Jonathan Ikone. Lille may not be as good as last year because of Pepe leaving to join Arsenal, but anything can happen in this competition.