With a new season comes a new edition of Europe’s premier football competition; the UEFA Champions League. After a brief spell in the Europa League last year, in which Chelsea went all the way, the London side are back fighting for ‘the one with the big ears’.
Chelsea were placed in Group H and were shortly joined by Ajax Amsterdam, Valencia and LOSC Lille. As for the other English teams, Liverpool will play Napoli, RB Salzburg and Genk. Tottenham will travel to Germany, Greece and Serbia to play Bayern Munich, Olympiacos and Red Star Belgrade respectively. Finally, Man City have by far the easiest group in the competition as they play Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb and Atalanta. Meanwhile Man United and Arsenal await their Europa League fate later in the week.
Whilst Chelsea by no means have the hardest group, it is also not the easiest. All four of the teams in group H could progress to the knockout stages which should make for a thoroughly enjoyable set of games. Each of the teams have strengths and weaknesses which could make group H the hardest to predict.
Despite being the dark horse of last years edition of the competition, they are a much different looking side this year. The two sides haven’t met since 2010 in a friendly in which we lost 3-1 so there isn’t much to go off in terms of previous meetings. The loss of both De Ligt and De Jong may have raised significant funds for the Dutch team but they did lose their two best players. Defensively they are weak and lack real depth after failing to replace De Ligt. The defence favoured by Erik ten Hag in the league so far has had an average age of 21, so is relatively in experienced as well. However, they are still an incredible, young, forward thinking side with and attack boasting Tadic, Neres, Van de Beek and Ziyech. They will still be dangerous and I expect them to challenge Chelsea for first place in the group.
Valencia could pull off a shock and win this group, but equally I could easily see them coming fourth. Last year they started in the Champions League but were relegated to the Europa after coming third behind Man United and Juventus. They were then knocked out by Arsenal in the Semi-Finals. The Spanish side had a good summer with the arrivals of Cillessen, Maxi Gomez and Cheryshev however are currently sat 17th in the league after two games. Like I said, the Spanish side could go either way. Interestingly, the two previous times these clubs met in the group stage, Chelsea have made it all the way to the final (07-08,11-12).
After surprising everyone and finishing 2nd in Ligue 1 after narrowly avoiding relegation the previous year, Lille were rewarded with a place in the UCL group stages. Unfortunately for them, they’ve ended up in a group that they probably won’t get out of, especially after the loss of their key man: Nicolas Pepe. They still have exciting talent up front in the likes of Jonathan Ikone and Jonathan Bamba but I doubt they have the quality in other areas to progress from this group. They have promise but I’m not sure they are of a Champions League quality yet. Chelsea do owe them a favour though, as they did sell us a certain Belgian back in the day.
Overall, I think Chelsea should progress comfortably alongside Ajax. Valencia and Lille will be good challenges but I think we will get the better of them; we have more quality all over the pitch. That being said, this will be Lampard’s first taste of European football as a manager and it will be interesting to see how his adventurous style of football fares on Europe’s biggest stage.