The Champions League group stage is finally about to get underway. As always, we’ll be watching the best players in the world competing for Europe’s top club teams in a bid to win Europe’s top club competition.
As well as the chance for club glory however, the Champions League also offers one of the biggest stages in all of professional sports for the superstars to make an impression. So here’s our group-by-group look at the playmakers who should have a major impact on the 2014-15 Champions League.
Malmo, Olympiacos, Atletico, Juventus
Group A figures to be fairly lop-sided once the matches begin, with Juventus and Atletico Madrid standing as strong favourites to advance past the two weaker sides. Frankly, it’s tough to name a playmaker on Malmo or Olympiacos capable of shaking up the group.
The real question will be which of the favourites comes out in first position. Both put high emphasis on teamwork rather than individual talents, and although Juventus No.10 Carlos Tevez might be more striker than creator, he could give the Italian club the edge with Atletico now missing Diego Costa up top and Thibaut Courtois in goal. Atleti’s creative elements still rely on Koke and Turk veteran Arda Turan, who recently struck the winner in the Madrid derby.
Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets, Real Madrid
This too will be a top-heavy group, with Liverpool and Real Madrid almost certain to advance. Coutinho wears the No.10 for Liverpool and is the team’s most reminiscent archetypal playmaker. However, if the club wants to keep up with the goal-scoring ability of Real Madrid, newcomer Mario Balotelli will need to be the one making plays up top alonside Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, have their own shiny new No.10 in James Rodriguez. We wrote previously about James’ mission to succeed as a No.10 for Madrid, but the fact is he’ll have a lot of help. Beyond the shirt numbers, Madrid is simply loaded with creative playmakers in the forms of Toni Kroos, Isco, and Luca Modric, not to mention speedy goalscorers Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Zenit, Monaco, Leverkusen, Benfica
Group C should be more closely contested, and that will give the playmakers a real chance to make a decisive impact. A year ago Monaco would have looked a clear favourite here, but not only do they lack their most creative player from last season (James Rodriguez), they’re now without the goalscoring Radamel Falcao (on loan to Manchester United).
One to watch in Group C is Leverkusen’s new attacking midfielder and No.10 Hakan Calhanoglu, who at just 20 years old has a chance to make a real impact in the group stage.
Arsenal, Galatasaray, Anderlecht, Dortmund
Arsenal have to like their draw in Champions League. Although young Jack Wilshere wears the No.10, the playmakers most will be watching are Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla. If these three gel, along with new signing Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal will be favourites, with Dortmund close behind, who re-signed a playmaking favourite of theirs in the form of Shinji Kagawa.
However, if you’re looking for playmakers to watch, Galatasaray is still home to Wesley Sneijder, who could make enough of an impact to put the Turkish club in contention for the second spot out of Group D.
Manchester City, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Bayern Munich
What a group. As Betfair remarked in its post-Champions League draw analysis, this is the third time in four seasons that Man City and Bayern have been paired in a group. The analysis goes on to display that Man City’s odds of winning the League took a hit, while Bayern remain strong favourites to advance.
Given the incredible quality of Bayern’s playmakers – Mario Gotze and Thiago – and creative wingers – Ribery, Robben and Shaqiri – that’s difficult to argue with. However, Man City creator David Silva leads a talented bunch of his own, and it’s certainly conceivable that Man City could take the top spot. Roma and Moscow are likely out of luck here, though it will be a joy to see the imperious Francesco Totti back on this stage.
PSG, Barcelona, APOEL, Ajax
Group F is the only one that can fairly claim the world’s top No.10: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. But for Barcelona, the playmaking ability extends far beyond symbolic shirt numbers.
As Bleacher Report wrote, the trio of Messi, Neymar, and now Luis Suarez could become one of the most explosive front lines we’ve ever seen; not forgetting the creative ability of Andres Iniesta – a true fantasista.
PSG have the imperious Zlatan Ibrahimovic upfront and playmaking Argentine Javier Pastore, who can provide moments of magic. All of these talents on show may just make Group F the most entertaining to watch.
Sporting, Chelsea, Schalke, Maribor
Colombian star Fredy Montero, No.10 for Sporting, is certainly one to watch, as he looks to prove himself after a move from MLS and the Seattle Sounders. However, the true impact playmakers in this group will be Chelsea’s Oscar, Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, and Schalke’s Julian Draxler— all very talented.
With Schalke and Chelsea expected to advance, this season will be a major opportunity for both Hazard and Draxler to shine on the biggest stages. Although for now, it looks as if Hazard has the better team around him, which means his impact as a playmaker could be enormous.
Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto, BATE, Athletic
This is a somewhat weaker group than most, with Porto and Athletic as the favourites to advance. However, in emerging Brazilian star Bernard, Shakhtar Donetsk possess the most intriguing No.10 of the group. Should Bernard get going, his club certainly stands a chance of progressing.