Published On: Thu, Aug 25th, 2016

3 perennial heavyweights that could crash out in the group stage

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Thursday’s 2016-17 Champions League group stage draw produced the usual tough quartets and, admittedly, some four-way battles more appropriate for the Europa League.

But, like Manchester United, Valencia, and FC Porto last season, supposed giants of the European scene will inevitably be toppled by less storied clubs in the competition.

Here are three perennial heavyweights that could fall at the Champions League’s first hurdle this term:

Borussia Dortmund


Borrussia Dortmund‘s annual barricading of the Westfalenstadion doors to prevent Bayern Munich from looting its best talent failed to hold this year -influential skipper Mats Hummels departed for Bavaria, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan left for Manchester United and Manchester City, respectively.

And after three years spent fading into obscurity while developing weight issues at Bayern, Mario Gotze can’t be expected to be his best.

Manager Thomas Tuchel has acquired some of the most exciting youngsters on the continent in Ousmane Dembele, Raphael Guerreiro, and Emre Mor, but Real Madrid, Sporting Lisbon, and Legia Warsaw could prove a tough initiation in Group F.

Positives can be drawn from Dortmund’s record against Los Blancos, but Zinedine Zidane’s outfit will be favoured to get the better of the two ties. A trip to Bernabeu Stadium on Dec. 7 could be extremely damaging.

The all-important bouts could come against Sporting, though, which has managed to retain Islam Slimani, Joao Mario, and William Carvalho so far this summer to boast superb individual talent.

Juventus


Juventus has been paired with old foe Sevilla in Group G. The Andalusians practically sent the Turin giant out of the Champions League last term, beating it on the final day of the group stage to ensure Manchester City faced Dinamo Kyiv in the Round of 16, while the Old Lady was pick-pocketed by Bayern Munich.

Sevilla went on to win an unprecedented third-straight Europa League crown, while Juventus continued to dominate the domestic scene – but it won’t necessarily be these sides sharing the top two spots.

If Olympique Lyonnais keeps hold of Alexandre Lacazette, it’s capable of exploiting the energy Juventus has lost in the middle since the sale of Paul Pogba – even against Massimiliano Allegri’s impeccably organised backline. The away clash between the teams could be particularly tricky – it comes just days before Juventus will travel to an AC Milan resurrected by its recent Chinese takeover.

Dinamo Zagreb rounds off the quartet, but Croats can’t be underestimated, particularly since it took three points from Arsenal in last season’s group stage.

Manchester City


Celtic qualified by barely overcoming Israeli minnow Hapoel Be’er Sheva by a 5-4 aggregate scoreline, but don’t underestimate Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Four days after Pep Guardiola’s City heads north to Glasgow, it will have to exercise squad rotation at Tottenham Hotspur for a vital date in the Premier League calendar. For the home leg – and concluding tilt of Group C against Celtic – it’s the same story, slated between meetings with English title hopeful Chelsea and incumbent top-flight champion Leicester City.

The obvious titan in the group is Barcelona. The Blaugrana conquered City at the Round of 16 in both 2014 and 2015 – winning all four meetings – and will be be determined to show up its old boss. The triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar running at Aleksandar Kolarov in his new position of centre-half? It could get embarrassing.

Group C also allows City to renew relations with Borussia Monchengladbach. Under Manuel Pellegrini, the Blues scored four goals in the final 15 minutes over two ties – turning one group point into six – in entertaining, high-scoring fixtures. Gladbach is now complemented by the signings of Christoph Kramer and Jannik Vestergaard, so City might not be so lucky this time.



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