Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, the third and fourth placed sides in La Liga respectively, complete Spain’s four-team contingent to the 2017/18 Champions League. Real Madrid and Barcelona take up the other two spots.
Atletico Madrid [Group C]
The 2014 and 2016 finalists have been placed in Group C alongside Chelsea, A.S. Roma and Azerbaijani Champions League debutants Qarabag.
The Madrid club are expected to sweat it out for the top spot with the English champions, with their last meeting coming in the semi-final of the 2014 Champions League, ending 3-1 on aggregate with all the goals scored at Stamford Bridge.
Both clubs have strengthened since then, with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard developing into one of Europe’s finest players, while Diego Simeone can call on Antoine Griezmann, who was named as the third best player by FIFA.
Arguably, the matches between these two teams will decide top spot, but Roma will prove to be a stern test even if their summer window hasn’t been as good as anticipated, losing Antonio Rudiger to Chelsea and Mohamad Salah to Liverpool without replacements.
Atletico Madrid have the European nous that Chelsea’s current crop, and indeed Antonio Conte, doesn’t have; the Italian has never made it past the quarter-final throughout his career as a manager, not exactly a record to scare Atletico’s warriors.
Qarabag is the team likely to finish bottom of the table as the Azerbaijanis are competing in the Champions League for the first time, but with a little more heart and luck, they might just upset Roma.
Banana skin: Roma
Slightly weakened, but crucially they retained the services of star midfielder Radja Nainggolan, through which most of Roma’s play flows. They’re not an easy team to beat by any means and were the one side to really challenge Juventus for the Serie A title last year.
Sevilla [Group E]
The club have taken a well deserved break from the Europa League as that’s no longer the level they’re supposed to be competing at, after winning it for three consecutive seasons. They have since stepped up to the Champions League and are poised to do well.
Their last Europa League win came against an opponent they’re going to be locking horns with in this group, Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp’s team got to the final of the Europa League in 2016, but lost to the Spanish club after a horrible second half showing.
The Merseysiders are a much more stronger proposition right now though, with the addition of Salah and Sadio Mane since they last faced one another, even if their defence is still rather suspect.
Spartak Moscow are a team that has underperformed in the Champions League of late. They’re the reigning Russian champions, but don’t have enough to really trouble their group stage opponents. The best they can realistically aim for is a shot at the Europa League.
For Sevilla, therefore, it leaves a relatively clear run to the Round of 16, and top spot will likely be decided by the two games between themselves and Liverpool.
Banana skin: Spartak Moscow
Liverpool aren’t exactly a banana skin given that they’re very much expected to test Sevilla in both fixtures, but Spartak Moscow too will give them a hard game, particularly away from home. The long round trip to Russia is mentally taxing whilst the game itself will be tough. It could be the difference between second and third.
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