2015-16 UEFA Champions League Preview – Group D

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

Form Guide

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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

Form Guide

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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

Form Guide

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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

Form Guide

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

Prediction

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.

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Classy Barça too much for Juve

FC Barcelona have taken out the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League in Berlin, stylishly defeating the Italian champions 3-1. An early goal to Ivan Rakitić was cancelled out by Álvaro Morata, but goals to Luis Suárez and Neymar ensured that Barcelona would take out their fifth European title. The match had the perfect start for Barça when Rakitić opened the scoring within 5 minutes. Lionel Messi, Daniel Alves, Neymar and Andrés Iniesta combined in a great passing move to get the Croatian on his own in the area, and Gianluigi Buffon had no chance to save it. Barcelona continued to get most of the territory, although Juventus made some dangerous looking counter attacks. Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci were being pulled away from each other by the width of Neymar and Messi, and Iniesta was a dangerous presence in midfield.

At the start of the second half the momentum started to shift towards the Italians, with Juventus playing more inside their half. Despite this Barça started the half well, with Buffon making an incredible reflex save to keep out Suárez. Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio were starting to get some control back for Juve, however, and Marchisio’s backheel was the catalyst for an equaliser. Marchisio played the backheel past two Barça defenders to right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, who was able to get inside the penalty area and pass to Carlos Tévez. Tévez made an accurate shot which keeper Marc-André ter Stegen had a hard time saving, and the ball spilled out to Morata, who was easily able to stroke the ball into the back of the net. Paul Pogba was denied a penalty after he and Alves tussled for the ball inside the box, and a few minutes later Suárez had scored after a ruthless counter-attack. The Catalans swarmed in numbers upon the Juventus penalty area, and after Buffon made a great save to Messi’s shot Suárez pounced, easily putting the ball away. The die seemed cast when Neymar appeared to score with a header, but the goal was disallowed as the ball came of the Brazilian’s hand before going into the back of the net. Juventus were desperate for a goal, and they attacked doggedly, but Luis Enrique’s approach left plenty of open space around the ground for his forwards to run in to. A couple of positioning errors at corners by ter Stegen were not capitalised upon by Juve, and Neymar was able to get a goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time when he capitalised on Juve’s last-gasp attack. The goal signalled the end of the match, sealing a league, cup and Champions League treble for Barça and providing a fitting end to Xavi’s career with Barcelona.

Top 5
1. Neymar (Barcelona)
Neymar had a great impact on the game in the first half, where he was a constant threat on the left wing. His pass to Iniesta was a key part of the first goal, as was the part where he drew two defenders out of the box to create extra space. He kept Stephan Lichtsteiner busy throughout, and scored a much deserved goal at the end of the game.
2. Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Pogba deserves credit for the way that he played, both in attack and defence. He was hard-working in defence, and was treated fairly harshly by the refs for his combative style of play. He stuck with this style despite being booked in the first half, and he was a key player in attack, assisting Andrea Pirlo from deep in midfield.
3. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona)
Iniesta may have been subbed out of the game late, but his impact in the early stages largely contributed to Barcelona’s success. He provided an assist for Ivan Rakitić after a great burst of speed into space and then a clever pass to the unmanned player. He was incredibly dangerous throughout the first half and was a constant struggle for the Italians.
4. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Messi was very effective on the right wing throughout the first half, and during the second half he was dangerous on the counter. His shot was the spark for Barcelona’s second goal to Luis Suárez, and he was dangerous when he cut in from the wing during the second half. In that play he combined twice with Suárez, but his shot was just over the bar.
5. Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
Buffon kept Juventus in the game when Barcelona were pressing in the first half with some great saves. He couldn’t have done much to stop the goals that the Catalans scored, but he made great saves to both Daniel Alves and Luis Suárez, the first of which he made with his weight going in another direction.

Berlin – Olympiastadion
Juventus 1 (Morata 55)
Barcelona 3 (Rakitić 4, Suárez 68, Neymar 90+7)
Referee: Cüneyt Çakir (Tur)
Juventus: Buffon – Lichtsteiner, Barzagli, Bonucci, Evra (Coman 89), Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Vidal (Pereyra 79), Tévez, Morata (Llorente 85).
Barcelona: ter Stegen – Daniel Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Rakitić (Mathieu 90+1), Busquets, Iniesta (Xavi Hernández 78), Messi, Suárez (Pedro Rodríguez 90+6), Neymar.