Five Spanish Football teams have made it into the 2015-16 edition of the Champions League: Sevilla, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid. Sevilla made it by winning last year’s Europa League, Valencia got in via a playoff with Ligue 1 side Monaco. Barcelona are the defending champion, (boasting Lionel Messi, the winner of this year’s UEFA Best Player in Europe award) having beaten Juventus last May for the trophy.
Of the eight groups Group D (Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach) seems the toughest as last year’s runners up will have to contend with a tough City and an invigorated and always dangerous Sevilla. In Group F, perennial contender Bayern Munich should have a pretty straightforward time with Arsenal, Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos as their opponents.
For Spanish Football teams there is more of a mix. In Group A, Real Madrid only have to worry about PSG as Malmo and Shakhtar Donetsk should not be too much of a challenge. In Group C, Atletico have Benfica, Galatasaray and Kazakhstan’s FC Astana, with the Portuguese and Turkish sides the tougher competitors. This group is not a gimmie. In Group E, Barcelona have Bayer Leverkusen and AS Roma to contend with aside from BATE Borisov. The Catalans should move on but will have to show their stuff against the Germans and Italians.
In Group H, Valencia should have a good chance of moving on as they are paired up with Lyon, KAA Gent and Zenit St. Petersburg. Finally, ex-Real Madrid keeper, Iker Casillas, now playing for Porto, has a wonderful opportunity to poke nemesis Jose Mourinho in the eye as the keeper and Chelsea manager clash when they play in Group G, which also includes Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
This year’s competitors are a collection of the usual subjects but with a series of changed rosters, and some alternate teams who could provide a few twists. Assuming Bayern Munich (with Arturo Vidal), Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG (with Angel di Maria), Manchester United (with Bastian Schweinsteiger and the return of Chicharito), Juventus (with Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado), Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea (with Pedro and a healthy Radamel Facao), Porto (with Iker Casillas), Valencia, and Lyon, make it, as they should, that leaves us with four spots that could include Eredivisie champions PSV (with an integrated Andres Guardado), Europa League champions Sevilla, Portuguese champions Benfica, and Serie A runners up AS Roma. That is a loaded sixteen!
Given the way Spain’s La Liga has started, and the manner in which many of Europe’s other top contenders have begun their domestic campaigns (Juventus is in 17th place, Bayern Munich is in 3rd, Chelsea is in 10th) this could be shaping up to be a surprising Champions League year. Yes, it is very early on in European play. Yes the luck of the draw could always play an unbalancing role. But so far it seems something’s in the air. Some teams may well implode at home and that will have repercussions in European play.
The impression one gets is that the pendulum will swing wildly for a time and either there will be wholesale upsets, or when the dust settles and we are down to just eight, that pendulum will have come to rest with PSG (with a healthy Angel and a vibrant Zlatan), Barcelona (with a rampant trident), Bayern (with a Pep Guardiola twist), Real (with Bale and Ronaldo having made amends), Chelsea (with Mourinho pulling wins out of defensive top hats), Manchester United (with Van Gaal finally putting his imprint on the team), and Juventus (with the Old Lady showing new tricks), joined by one upstart.