Champions League: Group Draw – Initial Thoughts

The Champions League is nearly back! The draw of the group stage took place just a few hours ago. FC Porto were in a good position, on the basis that, as Portuguese League Champions, we were in Pot 1. This almost entirely ruled out the possibility of drawing 2 top tier teams. Porto drew old familiar foes Altético Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Club Brugge.

My immediate thoughts: that was a pretty good draw! Given all the possibilities, especially the teams in Pot 2, I thought the group could have been much more difficult. It kind of feels like a very difficult Europa League group, so I’m happy about that. But let’s have a look at each opponent in more detail.

Atlético Madrid

This is a familiar foe for Porto, as we played them last season in the group stage as well. The results weren’t great – after a 0-0 draw in Spain to start the qualifiers, we lost 3-1 at home in the last match of the group stage. That loss resulted in the elimination from the Champions League and subsequent drop to the Europa League.

Overall, Porto have faced Atlético Madrid 8 times in Champions League history, with mixed results: 2 wins, 3 draws, 3 losses. There is a score to settle, especially after last season.

This is a team that is very hard to play against since Diego Simeone took over and transformed the DNA of this club. He moulded the squad into an extension of himself – extremely hard working, very aggressive (sometimes dirty), very disciplined and prioritising defensive stability over attacking prowess. The results have been mostly outstanding, as Atlético have done extremely well in the Champions League, often going beyond the quarter-finals, and won La Liga just 2 seasons ago.

They have lost Luis Suarez (big name, but no longer a starter) and Hector Herrera (mostly a bench player), and signed the Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel (free transfer, Dortmund) and the Argentinian right-back Nahuel Molina (18m€, Udinese). They also brought back Alvaro Morata, after a loan deal at Juventus. No major changes, but a net positive, so we should expect to see a slightly improved version of the team that we faced last season. Players like Matheus Cunha or João Félix are also likely to have bigger roles.

I’m expecting two really tough games, that could go either way. I would slightly favour Atlético to win the group, but I’m betting on two draws against them.

Porto has a score to settle with Atlético after losing at home last season.

Bayer Leverkusen

This is the wild card of the group. I don’t know what to expect from them. They haven’t lost anyone of note, kept the coach who guided them to 3rd place in the Bundesliga last season and even signed Adlam Hlozek (13m€, Sparta Prague). But they have really struggled to start the season, losing their first 4 games! This includes a 3-0 loss at home to Hoffenheim last weekend and a 4-3 loss at 3rd division Elversberg (!) in the first round of the German Cup.

Historically, Porto tend to struggle against German teams. The home record is 10 wins, 3 draws and 6 losses in 19 games (a 52% win ratio) and 3 wins, 5 draws and 11 losses in 19 away games (an ugly 16% win ratio). Our record against Bayer Leverkusen is 3 losses and 1 draw – pretty miserable.

If Porto can manage to get one win against Bayer, that should be enough to see us go through.

Porto lost both times against Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League knock-out stage in 2020.

Club Brugge

They are the team we should be beating both times. We have tended to do well against Belgian teams in recent years, and I expect that to continue. They are a good team, make no mistake about it, and would probably fight for the title in Portugal. But if we can’t beat the team in Pot 4, then we have no business trying to qualify out of the group stage.

They started the season OK, with 3 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss in the Jupiter Pro League. They have a fair amount of experience in the squad, with the likes of Simon Mignolet, Dedryck Boyata and Hans Vanaken, as well as some interesting players like Andreas Skov Olsen, Noa Lang or former Sporting Bas Dost. But they have lost their top scorer from last season Charles De Ketelaere (30m€, AC Milan), so they should be weaker, especially on offence.

Whilst the match in Belgium will be tough, I predict Porto will beat them both times. We have 3 wins and 1 draw against them in the Champions League.

Porto beat Brugge 2-1 (away) and 1-0 (at home) the last time both teams met in the group stage of the Champions League.

Overall Expectations

In case you were counting, I predicted Porto would finish on 11pts: 2 draw against Atlético Madrid (2pts), 1 win and 1 loss against Bayer Leverkusen (3pts) and 2 wins against Club Brugge (6pts). That would be enough to qualify and potentially in first place. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation, even though our team is less talented than last season’s, and last season we got bounced out of the Champions League group stage. Lessons will be learned, especially from facing Atlético.

The fixtures haven’t been announced yet; usually the order of these games has quite a big impact on how everything plays out. We only know this will be a very condensed group stage, due to the World Cup starting in November, so domestic form will definitely carry over. The matches will take place on the following dates:

  1. 6 or 7 September
  2. 13 or 14 September
  3. 4 or 5 October
  4. 11 or 12 October
  5. 25 or 26 October
  6. 1 or 2 November

I will be post match reports after each game, similarly to what I have done after the League games (you can read about our last match here). Stay tuned!

FC Porto won the 2003/04 edition of the Champions League.

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