Now that the Group Stage Draw has been completed you really have a feeling that European football is just around the corner. The Champions League will begin on 18 September. Matches will also be played on 19 September, 2–3 October, 23–24 October, 6–7 November, 20–21 November, and 4–5 December 2012.
Let's start with a look at the groups.
|FC Porto||Arsenal FC||AC Milan||Real Madrid CF|
|FC Dynamo Kiev||FC Schalke 04||FC Zenit St. Petersburg||Manchester City FC|
|Paris Saint-Germain FC||FC Olympiakos||RSC Anderlecht||AFC Ajax|
|GNK Dinamo Zagreb||Montpellier HSC||Málaga CF||Borussia Dortmund|
|Chelsea FC||FC Bayern Munich||FC Barcelona||Manchester United FC|
|FC Shakhtar Donetsk||Valencia CF||SL Benfica||SC Braga|
||FC Spartak Moscow||Galatasaray SK|
|FC Nordsjaelland||FC BATE Borisov||Celtic FC||CFR Cluj|
So there you have it - all eight groups. Some very exciting (Groups D, which looks especially appealing, and G, for obvious reasons, stand out) while while some appear somewhat uninspiring, like Group H for example. Let's take a closer looks at the groups, starting with group A
This group features two league champions, Porto and Dinamo Zagreb who won the Portuguese and Croatian league, respectively, and two teams that ended last season in second place, Dynamo Kiev and Paris Saint-Germain. PSG and Porto appear to be clear cut favourites of the group but Dynamo Kiev shouldn't be underestimated. The long trip to Ukraine and the style of football the team plays could force teams to drop points.
Nonetheless, Dynamo is at least the favorite to finish Group A in third place which will ensure them a place in the Europa League. I don't expect Dinamo Zagreb to pose a big threat to finish the group stage in one of the top two places but they could surprise and finish third. However, considering the struggles they went through to even qualify for this stage I don't expect them to play more than six games in Europe.
Group B also includes two domestic league champions, Olympiakos and Montpellier, but unlike in Group A where we had two runners-up this time two third placed teams complete the group. To me this is a group with no clear favorite as the top two seeded teams, Arsenal and Schalke, are both without a win so far in the season (though Schalke have played only one game) while the low seeded teams are no slouches.
Anybody could really beat anybody at this point but when all will be said and done I expect Schalke to top the Group with Arsenal sneaking through to the next round. Montpellier should challenge hard for a top two finish but in the end I don't see it happening, should be enough for a third place finish and Europa League football though.
This is one of those groups where it appears you have one clear favorite to finish top, despite the fire sale they held in the summer, but after that anything can happen. Zenit St. Petersburg and Anderlecht both won their leagues while Málaga finished fourth in Spain, behind three other Champions League teams.
Málaga's money problems have been well documented recently but I wouldn't bet against them to finish in second place or at least third. How all teams perform in the Russian cold will be crucial in the process of deciding who will be able to remain in the Champions League but that alone could win Zenit a second place finish, however, I have a feeling Malaga will finish second. I like Anderlecht but I don't see them making it out of this group.
The group of death? It certainly appears so. All four teams are domestic league champions and all four teams have a chance to make it trough to the next round. Borussia struggled in Europe last season even though they weren't handed a particularly difficult group, but their European form should improve this season. Ajax is somewhat of a dark horse as everybody takes them for granted to make it in the competition but everybody writes them off pretty quickly. They could easily challenge for the Europa League place.
And now for the two powerhouses - Real Madrid and Manchester City. When these two teams meet it should be a real treat. In my opinion City are one of the few teams that can challenge Real Madrid physically which should make for a fascinating game. In the end I see these two giants making in to the next round of the competition with Borussia edging Ajax for a place in the Europa League
This is also a very interesting group. Had Chelsea not won the Champions League last season they would not be in the draw in the first place, but so far this season they appear to play much better and the addition of Eden Hazard looks to be absolutely brilliant. Juventus is the other team destined to advance to the next round of the Champions League after their magnificent undefeated Serie A campaign.
But in the middle of those two big name clubs you have another Ukrainian club that has the potential to mix things up. Shakhtar, who won the Ukrainian league last season, showed against Barcelona what a difficult team they can be but surely anything more than a third place finish for them is out of reach. The fourth member, Danish champion Nordsjælland, is a Champions League debutant and I don't see them challenging for anything.
Only one league champion is in this group, and that one is from Belarus, while one team finished second, Bayern Munich, and two finished third, Valencia and Lille. Last season's finalists, Bayern Munich, and Valencia are favorites to finish the group in the top two places. Both of these two clubs should without much problems win games over the "other" two group member and head-to-head games should decide the winner of the group - probably Bayern.
Lille would've been a much bigger threat had Hazard stayed in France but they should still challenge for a third place finish. BATE, however, could challenge to take points away from Lille but I still fancy the French team to advance to the Europa League.
The group with FC Barcelona. Barça avoided all of the big name clubs from pots two through four but didn't manage to avoid a long trip. The trip to the Russian runner-up will be a difficult one but Spartak's visit to Barcelona won't be easy either considering Barça problems with Eastern Bloc teams.
Portuguese runner up Benfica will also pose a good challenge for a top two finish. However, we must not forget Scottish champions Celtic who can turn this group on its head quickly. In the end Barcelona should take this group fairly easily with Benfica taking second place. I also believe Celtic will take third place though I think it's really a tossup between them and Spartak
After shockingly dropping out of the competition early last season, Manchester United were handed a relatively easy group and they should finish the group in first place without much problems. Second place should, also fairly easily, go to last seasons third placed team in Portugal, Braga. Though Turkish champion Galatasaray could be a team that surprisingly makes it to the next round of the Champions League.
Romanian champion Cluj shouldn't pose a threat to any of the teams, however, last season APOEL showed you can't really rule out any team. That being said they are destined for a bottom finish with Galatasaray taking third place.
That's a "quick" analysis of all eight Champions League groups. Please share in the comments if you agree with my assessments of how the Group stage should end.