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Champions League Group Stage Preview

Europe’s elite competition begins next week.

UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League - Q1 and Q2 Qualifying Round Draw Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images


International Champions Cup 2017 - AS Roma v Juventus Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Barcelona’s main rival for the top spot in the Group D comes in the familiar form of Italian champions Juventus. The Old Lady progressed through to the final of last season’s campaign before being roundly defeated by a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid. The Champions League remains the missing link for Juventus as well as for Gianluigi Buffon. The legendary figure of football has won almost everything the game has to offer but the pinnacle of European football continues to elude him. At the age of 39, Buffon may not have many chances left to get his hands on the trophy and the keeper himself has suggested this season may be his last.

Rarely has a Juventus squad had a better chance at Champions League victory, especially in recent years although they took a big hit with the departure of Leonardo Bonucci to Italian rivals MIlan. The defender said his 'bond had faded’ with the club and his absence has left a sizeable hole in Juventus’ back line.

Barcelona will be looking to exact revenge for the humiliating way they were dispatched last year at the hands of the Italian champions. The first leg was a masterclass in how to hurt Barça and the return leg at the Camp Not was a demonstration of how to stop Barça. An aggregate defeat of 3-0 sent Barça crashing out signalled that the 6-1 comeback win against PSG was more of a one off than a turn in fortune.

First Fixture: 12th September 2017 (Camp Nou)

Second Fixture: 22nd November 2017 (Juventus Stadium)

Olympiacos FC

Fc Partizan v Olympiacos - UEFA Champions League Qualifying Third Round: First Leg Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

As much as Sporting were, Olympiacos were likely cursing their luck as Francesco Totti drew the balls out. With two of the hardest opponents in the competition, Group D will be a tough ask for the Greek champions. In 2003, Juventus inflicted Olympiacos’ heaviest Champions League defeat with a 7-0 victory in Turin and last season saw them fail to qualify for the group stage and instead played in the Europa League.

Besnik Hasi was unveiled as the new manager in June of this year and knows a realistic aim for his first Champions League season with the club is to finish third and transfer to the Europa League. Olympiacos have an outside shot at claiming that second spot but they will have to hope Juventus and Barcelona take enough points off each other and they will also have to hope for good results away in Turin and Barcelona.

First Fixture: 18th October 2017 (Camp Nou)

Second Fixture: 31st October 2017 (Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis)

Sporting Clube de Portugal

Borussia Dortmund v Sporting Clube de Portugal - UEFA Champions League Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images

The in-theory weakest side of the group is Portugal’s Sporting. The pot 4 side entered the group stage via the play-offs and a convincing 5-1 win over FC Steaua București. Drawn in a group with two genuine contenders for the competition, Sporting will do well to beat their best ever Champions League finish of being eliminated in the group stage.

Jorge Jesus knows if his team are to stand any chance, they must win both games against Olympiacos. They open the campaign with a trip to the Studio Georgios Karaiskakis and know anything less than a win will all but confirm them not reaching the knockout phase. In reality, the best Sporting can hope for is that either Barça or Juve take maximum points from each other and leave the door ajar for a second place finish.

That being said, if you’d have asked their fans if they would prefer a group where they had a chance to progress or if they would like to European away ties at the Camp Nou and the Juventus Stadium, I suspect many would have chosen the latter.

First Fixture: 27th September 2017 (José Alvalade)

Second Fixture: 5th December 2017 (Camp Nou)

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