FEATURE | Bundesliga clubs in the Champions League: Group by group analysis

The Champions League draw has taken place and there are some attractive ties for the Bundesliga teams taking part in this season’s European competition. Few fixtures, however, will draw more attention than record Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich pairing with Barcelona in Group C. 

In Group D, Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt are faced with 2019 Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur. In Group F, fans of DFB Pokal holders RB Leipzig fans will be looking forward to the ties against 2022 title holders Real Madrid.

Amongst the most challenging fixtures is likely to be Borussia Dortmund’s pairing with English champions Manchester City in Group G. Meanwhile Bayer Leverkusen, who finished third in 2021/22, will be looking to get something out of their matches against Atlético Madrid in Group B.

Group C: Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Viktoria Plzen. 

In Group C, Bayern Munich is tied with Inter Milan, who finished second in last season’s Serie A. Simone Inzaghi’s side have added firepower in attack with the return of Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea. They have also made Joaquin Correa’s move from Lazio permanent for €25m. The ‘Nerazzurri’ have one of the best backlines in Serie A, conceding on average less than a goal a game. Inzaghi’s side are masters of the creative game. They create spellbinding combinations and outstanding positional play, they also have great balance in midfield and will be a challenge for any side facing them this season. 

In Barcelona, Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern will face a side who will be gunning for revenge after the crushing 8-2 defeat in the last meeting of the clubs in the 2020 quarter-final. It will also be interesting to see how fans at the Allianz Arena welcome back Poland international Robert Lewandowski. Barcelona appears to have overcome the financial restraints that have restricted the club’s ability to register new players and have strengthened the side with explosive winger Raphinha from Leeds United and Jules Koundé at centre-back. 

The fourth team making up the group is 2022 Czech Republic champions Viktoria Plzen, managed by former Czech national team coach Michal Bilek. Viktoria has finished in a top two spot in all but one of the last ten seasons but should present the most manageable challenge in one of the toughest groups.

Verdict: Bayern Munich to go through. 

Bayern Munich’s Champions League fixtures:

  • Inter vs Bayern Munich, September 7
  • Bayern Munich vs Barcelona, September 13
  • Bayern Munich vs Viktoria Plzen, October 4
  • Viktoria Plzen vs Bayern Munich, October 10
  • Barcelona vs Bayern Munich, October 26
  • Bayern Munich vs Inter, November 1

Group D: Eintracht Frankfurt, Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting Lisbon, Olympique Marseille

Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2022 Europa League win was the first title for a German club, not called Bayern, since the 1997 Champions League and UEFA Cup win of Ruhr Valley neighbours BVB and Schalke 04. SGE’s win was the highlight of a poor European season for German clubs with only ‘Die Adler’ progressing past the quarter-final stage of the competition.

Drawn in Group D, one tie Eintracht will not be relishing is against Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur. The eight-time FA Cup winners who finished fourth last season have despite interest from Bayern Munich retained England captain Harry Kane. South Korean star striker Heung Min-Son, who was the leading scorer in the Premier League with 23 goals last season is also still available to the North London side. Spurs have beefed up the attack adding €58m signing Richarlison from Everton in the transfer window. The side have one of the most balanced squads in the Premier League and the depth in their squad should put them in a good position to win the group.

Sporting CP finished six points behind Benfica in the 21/22 Primeira Liga season. This summer has seen the club strengthen their defensive capabilities with the arrival of Ruben Vinagre from Wolves on a permanent basis, Jeremiah St. Juste from Mainz 05 and Pedro Porro from Manchester City. Upfront the Portuguese club can rely on Portugal international Paulinho, who scored 14 goals in the past season, and the league’s top scorer in 2021, Pedro Gonçalves. As BVB found out to their peril in the group stage of the competition last season, Sporting CP is a team which cannot be underestimated, the ‘Green Dragons’ progressed whilst the Signal-Iduna-Park-based club were relegated to the Europa League.

Eintracht’s third opponents is Olympique Marseille, who finished an impressive second place in Ligue 1 last season. OM have invested a club record €70m in this summer’s transfer window, signing Mateo Guendouzi and Pau López on permanent deals. Marseille can count on some of the most loyal fan bases at the Stade Velodrome and will offer little respite in what will surely be the ‘group of death’ in this season’s competition.  

Verdict: Eintracht to finish third in group.

Eintracht Frankfurt’s Champions League fixtures:

  • Eintracht Frankfurt vs Sporting CP, September 7
  • Marseille vs Eintracht Frankfurt, September 13
  • Eintracht Frankfurt vs Tottenham Hotspur, October 4
  • Tottenham Hotspur vs Eintracht Frankfurt, October 12
  • Eintracht Frankfurt vs Marseille, October 26
  • Sporting CP vs Eintracht Frankfurt, November 1

Group F: Real Madrid, RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk, Celtic

2020 semi-finalists RB Leipzig, who picked up their first silverware with the DFB Pokal win in 2022, can be confident of progressing but will need to be wary of Real Madrid and underestimating Celtic and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Despite limited transfer activity this summer, 14-time tournament winners and current holders Real Madrid will be among the favourites again this season. The ‘Meringues’ team that won the 2022 title has quality across the squad. Real scored 80 league goals in the past season and won the title with a 13-point advantage over second place Barcelona. Names like Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić and Karim Benzema represent the European ‘Royalty’ of football. A new signing to watch out for is Aurélien Tchouameni in central midfield, who joined from AS Monaco for €75m. Real have more than enough in the tank to win this group. 

The bet Celtic took on Australian coach Angelo Postecoglou has confounded even the most cynical of observers. ‘The Hoops’ recovered from their second-place finish in 2021 to arch-rivals Rangers and were crowned SPL champions in May. This summer they have added to their young talented squad which includes Scotland internationals Greg Taylor and Callum McGregor. The squad has been improved with the permanent signing of Portuguese winger Jota, who scored 13 and created 14 goals in the SPL last season. Celtic are high scoring, netting 92 goals and have an exceptional defence, conceding only 22 in 21/22. As Dortmund found out last season when they went out to Rangers in the Europa League, the leading Scottish clubs can represent more of a challenge than might be expected.

A warm welcome is guaranteed for the only remaining Ukrainian representative in the competition, Shakhtar Donetsk. Although a familiar face to Champions League fans, the ‘Orange and Blacks’, who this season due to the military incursion in the East of Ukraine by Russia, will be playing their matches 700km away in Kyiv’s Olympic stadium will look considerably different than in past season. 18 players have left in the off season with right winger David Neres leaving for Benfica and Brazilian right-back Dodo transferring to Fiorentina. Brazilian forward Fernando also departed for RB Salzburg. The club have had to rely on an intake of Ukrainian players and were only able to invest €5m on the squad over the summer. Donetsk, who missed out on the 21/22 title after the league was abandoned, are a shadow of the side that reached the Europa League semi-final in 2020. 

Verdict: Real Madrid and RB Leipzig to progress.  

RB Leipzig’s Champions League fixtures:

  • RB Leipzig vs Shakhtar Donetsk, September 6
  • Real Madrid vs RB Leipzig, September 14
  • RB Leipzig vs Celtic, October 5
  • Celtic vs RB Leipzig, October 11
  • RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid, October 25
  • Shakhtar Donetsk vs RB Leipzig, November 2

Group G: Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund, FC Copenhagen.

Borussia Dortmund was drawn in Group G of the Champions League, where they will meet FC Copenhagen, Sevilla and Manchester City.

Despite getting beaten in both legs in the tournament in 20/21, fans of the ‘Black and Yellows’ will be looking forward to a reunion with striker Erling Haaland. It’s early days and the recent exposure to the ‘Cityzens’ should benefit Edin Terzic’s game plan, but overall BVB are likely to be outgunned and will struggle to gain momentum against the formidable English champions. Pep Guardiola’s side have added outstanding defensive-midfielder Kalvin Phillips to their already strong squad and most observers will have Manchester City as joint favourites for the 2023 title. 

Record Europa League winners Sevilla have finished in the top four in the last two seasons in La Liga. The ‘Palagans’ as Sevilla are known, are a side built around the outstandingly effective Argentinian Marcos Acuña. This summer the squad has been strengthened notably, adding Isco from Real Madrid and Brazilian Marcão at centre-back. Tactically, Sevilla are exceptional when in possession and above all formidable at creating chances in the box. Whilst Dortmund can take confidence from eliminating the Spanish club in the 20/21 season, Julien Lopetegui’s side could also prove a greater stumbling block than at the last meeting of the two clubs.

The ties against FC Copenhagen are the most winnable in the group for BVB. The only previous encounter between the German club and the Danish club was in the 2000/01 Europa League last 32 which BVB won 1-0. Coach Jess Thorup brings good European experience having led former club Midtjylland to the last 16 of the Europa League in 2021. The 14-time Danish champions will be hard to grind down, they lost just four games and conceded 19 goals in the Danish league in season 21/22. 

Overall, the group is likely to be tight and BVB may well need to win all their home games, except City, and get something away in Copenhagen and Sevilla to have a good chance of progressing.

Verdict: Dortmund to finish third in the group. 

Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League fixtures:

  • BVB vs FC Copenhagen, September 6 
  • Manchester City vs BVB, September 14 
  • Sevilla vs BVB, October 5 
  • BVB vs Sevilla, October 11
  • BVB vs Manchester City, October 25 
  • FC Copenhagen vs BVB, November 2 

Group B: Porto, Atlético Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge

2021 La Liga champions Atlético Madrid will be a tough challenger for first place in the group. The strength of the Atlético side is in its attack. The club scored 65 goals in last season, a tally beaten only by Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish league. Although Luis Suarez has left the club, Alvaro Morata has been recalled at centre-forward from Juventus. Diego Simeone who has managed the club since 2011, can take confidence from the club retaining Joao Felix in midfield despite strong interest from the Premier League. The ‘Indios’ can also rely on one of the most consistent keepers in Europe with Jan Oblak. Atlético have an impressive side which has not finished outside of the top four in La Liga in the last four years and should be favourites to progress as leaders.

Porto, the current Portuguese champions, who are managed by Sérgio Conceição, won the title with a record-breaking 91 points in 21/22 but have crucially lost two of their leading players this summer. From their midfield, maestro Vitinha, who was at the heart of the side, has joined PSG. Fan favourite Fabio Viera has been signed by Arsenal in a €36m deal. Despite the much-needed financial bonus that the deals have brought the ‘Blue and Whites’ who reported losses during the pandemic, even a coach as talented as Conceição may struggle to get the best out of the 30-time Portuguese champions this season. One player to watch out for in the side is 17-year-old winger Gabriel Veron who joined from Brazilian side Palmeiras. 

Club Brugge won the Belgian League last season. They are a young side, with an average age of 24, that is filled with talent. Amongst the club’s leading players are Danish international winger Andreas Skov Olsen. Talents to watch out for are fellow Dane midfielder Casper Nielsen and former Barcelona striker Ferran Jutgla. The Spaniard has scored five and created two in just six matches. Second only in the Belgian league history to RSC Anderlecht with 18 championship titles, the ‘Black and Blues’ main aim this season will be to improve on their group stage exit at the bottom of a group made up of Manchester City, RB Leipzig and PSG.

Verdict: Bayer Leverkusen to progress alongside Atlético Madrid.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Champions League fixtures:

  • Club Brugge vs Bayer Leverkusen, September 7
  • Bayer Leverkusen vs Atlético Madrid, September 13
  • Porto vs Bayer Leverkusen, October 4
  • Bayer Leverkusen vs Porto, October 12
  • Atlético Madrid vs Bayer Leverkusen, October 26
  • Bayer Leverkusen vs Club Brugge, November 1

Ben McFadyean

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