Juventus FC (Italy)
Manager: Massimiliano Allegri
Captain: Gianluigi Buffon
Ground: Juventus Stadium, Turin
Qualified: Serie A, 1st
Best Champions League Finish: Champions (1984-85, 1995-96)
2014-15 Champions League: Runners-up
Juventus won their fourth consecutive Serie A last season by a margin of 17 points over their nearest rival. They also made the Champions League final in new manager Massimiliano Allegri’s first season in charge, but lost to Barcelona. They have lost Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez over the off-season, although Paul Pogba has stayed at the club after he rejected a big money contract from Chelsea.
New signings Hernanes and Sami Khedira will give Paul Pogba and Claudio Marchisio support in the middle of the park, and they have signed three new strikers to try and replace Tevez. Mario Mandzukic is a strong player, and Paulo Dybala and Simone Zaza could be very good players in the future. Juan Cuadrado has been loaned in from Chelsea, and he can play on either flank. The defence is the one area where Juve have not lost anyone, and Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli are very strong players, and Patrice Evra, Alex Sandro and Stephan Lichtsteiner should ensure that there is no shortage of quality fullbacks. In goal, Gianluigi Buffon is still going strong after 20 years keeping at the top level for Parma and Juventus.
While they have found replacements for their losses there is no guarantee that the replacements will be able to match the level of Pirlo, Vidal and Tevez. Juventus will not draw any confidence from their start to the season, with a disappointing loss to Udinese followed up by a loss to championship rivals Roma. Buffon, Chiellini, Marchisio, Bonucci, Barzagli and Evra are getting older, and while there are young players coming up in attack, the same players are not coming through in the defence. Allegri does not have a great track record as a manager, and whether the successes of last season were due to him or his great players is unclear.
Star Player: Paul Pogba
Pogba is currently one of the top midfielders in the world, and Chelsea were willing to shell out vast amounts of money to land the young French star. At 188 centimetres he is Juve’s main scoring option from set pieces, and he is a capable tackler and very capable in attack. Juventus will be particularly happy that he came from Manchester United for almost nothing.
Key Player: Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon is the only player to have 150 international caps for Italy, in an international career spanning back to 1997. He has played 425 times for Juve, and has never disappointed. His goalkeeping was good enough for him to be shortlisted, alongside 4 teammates, for the European player of the year award, and if he can keep as well as he did last season then Juve will do well.
Manchester City FC (England)
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Ground: Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Qualified: Premier League, 2nd
Best Champions League Finish: Round of 16 (2013-14, 2014-15)
2014-15 Champions League: Round of 16
Manchester City were comfortably beaten in the league by Chelsea last season, and were knocked out for a second consecutive year by Barcelona in the Champions League. They have improved significantly under Manuel Pellegrini, and this year they are yet to concede a goal in the Premier League, with the side currently sitting pretty after four consecutive victories. This season they will be looking to build on their round of 16 exits of the last two tournaments.
City have spent lots of money assembling one of the best squads in world football. German footballer of the year Kevin de Bruyne has been brought in from Wolfsburg for big money, and he will combine with the likes of Fabian Delph, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jesus Navas, Fernando and Samir Nasri in midfield. Vincent Kompany marshals the defence, playing alongside Aleksandr Kolarov, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Eliaquim Mangala, Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi. Joe Hart is in goal, and he has plenty of experience. Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony are quite different players, and they can combine well in attack. New acquisition Raheem Sterling is immensely talented, and his pace will prove too much for some teams to handle.
While the side is very strong some questions still remain. Sterling is still largely unproven, and while his talent is beyond doubt there is some question as to his aptitude, and he has a tendency to get under the skin of the press and cause media scandals. The extra pressure that will be placed upon them to get past the round of 16 could prove too much, and comfortably getting through their group is something that they will try to work on. Last season it took a last-gasp goal against Bayern Munich to progress, and this is something they would like to avoid. Hart may have played a lot for England and Manchester City, but he is certainly not the best keeper going around.
Star Player: Sergio Aguero
In a team packed with stars, Aguero is the standout. He made his debut for Independiente aged just 15, breaking a record set by Diego Maradona in the process. While he found the net frequently with Atletico Madrid, with City he has stepped it up a notch, and he will need to continue to score well to help his side through.
Key Player: Yaya Toure
Now that de Bruyne is likely to take a spot in midfield alongside David Silva, Toure is likely to find himself playing in a more traditional defensive midfield spot. While he will be forced to play a more defensive game how the Ivorian gets forward and creates chances will be integral. If he can keep a fairly regular flow of goals while maintaining defensive duties then City will be very tough to beat.
Sevilla FC (Spain)
Manager: Unai Emery
Captain: Jose Antonio Reyes
Ground: Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville
Qualified: UEFA Europa League, 1st
Best Champions League Finish: Quarter-Finals (1957-58)
2014-15 Champions League: Did not qualify
Sevilla finished a tense La Liga season in fifth, 1 point behind Valencia and 2 behind Atletico Madrid, but they qualified after winning their second consecutive Europa League title. They defeated Borussia Monchengladbach, Villareal, Zenit and Fiorentina on their way to the final, and in the first Europa League final which guaranteed the winner a Champions League spot they delivered, with two goals to Carlos Bacca enough to seal a 3-2 win against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Europa League hero Carlos Bacca may have left, but the forward line is still strong. Fernando Llorente, Michael Krohn-Dehli and Ciro Immobile have come in, joining former PSG frontman Kevin Gameiro. Ever Banega, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Steven N’Zonzi add strength in the middle of the park, and Yevhen Konoplyanka should cause plenty of issues in tandem with captain Jose Antonio Reyes. Benoit Tremoulinas, Coke and Adil Rami are strong players in defence. Beto and Sergio Rico are both strong goalkeepers, and their competition for a spot in the team should lead to good performances from both men. Sevilla have played a lot of Champions League quality teams in the Europa League, and the step up should not bother them too much.
Questions remain about some areas of the side. Coke and Tremoulinas have got the fullback positions pinned down, but it is unclear who is the best player to partner Rami in the centre of defence. Krychowiak was chosen for the first game, but he is a defensive midfielder, not a centre back. Immobile may have been great at Torino two seasons ago, but at Dortmund it is fair to say he was a bit of a flop. As such, whether he is a suitable replacement for Bacca is unclear. The amount of Champions League experience on the team is not very high, and while they have faced some of their potential opponents they have not faced many teams of the calibre of Juventus and Manchester City. Their 3-0 loss to Atletico last time out will not fill them with confidence.
Star Player: Fernando Llorente
Llorente has been hanging on the edge of the Spanish team for years, first while at Athletic Bilbao and then with Juventus. His career with Athletic was very successful, and he played 333 times in all competitions for the side. He has arrived from Italy and is now in the first team at Sevilla, who will be hoping that he can deliver and score plenty of goals.
Key Player: Grzegorz Krychowiak
Krychowiak can play in the centre of defence or in midfield, and he had great success in his first season with Sevilla. He was the only player from the club named in the La Liga team of the season, and he is likely to take up a role in the centre of defence alongside Rami. Sevilla will be counting on him to perform his duties effectively and keep the defence solid.
Borussia Monchengladbach (Germany)
Manager: Lucien Favre
Captain: Martin Stranzl
Ground: Stadion im Borussia-Park, Monchengladbach
Qualified: Bundesliga, 3rd
Best Champions League Finish: Runners-up (1976-77)
2014-15 Champions League: Did not qualify
Monchengladbach finished three points behind Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, but were still able to qualify automatically for the Champions League as a result. This season they will be hoping for success after years out of the competition, although they will be part of a tough group. Their European campaign finished last season at the hands of Sevilla in the Europa League round of 32, and they will hope that they can defeat the Spaniards this time around.
Borussia Monchengladbach had one of the best defences in the Bundesliga last season, conceding only 26 goals. Yann Sommer has stepped up to become one of the league’s top keepers, and he has had experience in the competition with Basel. The defence of Martin Stranzl, Tony Jantschke, Oscar Wendt and Roel Brouwers is very strong, and Andre Hahn and Granit Xhaka provide solidity in midfield. Thorgan Hazard has a chance to try and step out of his brother Eden’s shadow, and he will be able to combine with Raffael, Patrick Herrmann, Josip Drmic and Lars Stindl to score plenty of goals. Harvard Nordveidt has lots of experience with Norway and he will add a lot to the midfield.
The loss of Max Kruse to Champions League rivals Wolfsburg is big, and the side will struggle to make up the 11 goals that he scored last season, especially given the attack only managed 53 goals in the Bundesliga. Josip Drmic will have to play a key role in scoring those goals, and this pressure could have negative consequences for his form. Gladbach have not had a good start to the season, losing to Borussia Dortmund, Mainz and Werder Bremen and sitting at the bottom of the table. A lack of experience in the competition could ultimately cost them, and if they cannot handle the step up to the Champions League then they could be out the door very quickly.
Star Player: Yann Sommer
Sommer has become one of the best goalkeepers in Germany, and he is undoubtedly a star for Monchengladbach. Since breaking into the Basel first team he has not missed a beat, and after a great season in the Bundesliga he is ready to tackle the Champions League head on. His experience with Basel will be key, as the Germans have not made it to the Champions League for years.
Key Player: Raffael
Raffael was the leading scorer for Monchengladbach in the league last season, and they will hope that he can increase his output to try and cover for the loss of Kruse. He is a player who can definitely step up for Die Fohlen, and if he can score plenty of goals then this process will be made much easier for Gladbach.
This group will be very tough, with four strong teams battling it out, but Manchester City and Juventus have more experience and look to have a slight leg-up over their inexperienced opponents. Borussia Monchengladbach may struggle, especially when trying to fill the void left by star player Kruse, who scored 11 goals and had 7 assists last season.
Prediction: 1. Manchester City, 2. Juventus, 3. Sevilla, 4. Borussia Monchengladbach.