The draws for the group stages of Europe’s two club competitions now set, Eric Devin takes a look at each of the five Ligue 1 sides’ groups and assesses their chances of progressing.
Champions’ League Group A (Arsenal, Basel, Ludogorets)
Key Fixture: At Arsenal, Matchday Five
Paris Saint-Germain showed last season that while they are not quite at the level of the Spanish triumvirate or Bayern Munich, they are definitively in the next tier; one wonders what might have happened had Laurent Blanc displayed more tactical flexibility or a willingness to rotate his players. New manager Unai Emery inspires no such doubts, and with a strengthened squad, will be eager to make his mark in this competition after a middling group stage exit with Sevilla last season.
Arsenal are, at this point, no cause for alarm as far as winning the group goes, especially as they will be missing several key players for their trip to the Parc des Princes.
Basel have been tricky in the recent past, especially for the likes of Liverpool and Saint-Etienne, but the loss of Breel Embolo leaves a gaping hole as far as a proven goalscorer is concerned. Unless the French champions conspire to get but a solitary point from their two encounters with Arsenal, not only is progression all but assured, so too is topping the group.
Chance of Progressing: 95%
Champions’ League Group E (CSKA Moscow, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayer Leverkusen)
Key Fixture: At Tottenham, Matchday One
Monaco showed their grit in coming from behind to defeat Fenerbahce over two legs, and backed that up by thoroughly controlling an admittedly weakened Villarreal team at home. As Leonardo Jardim’s young squad continues to develop, the confidence of the likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Jemerson growing, Monaco should only improve.
Mauricio Pocchetino’s Tottenham are the obvious attraction here, but Spurs, like CSKA, would seem to lack the type of squad depth that Jardim enjoys after an uninspiring transfer window. That is not to discount the London side, only to argue that Monaco and Leverkusen seem, owing to their canny summers, seem better suited to balancing the league and European competition than do Tottenham.
Once Chicharito returns from a hand injury, he is easily the most dangerous player on any of the four teams, and the German side should top the group, with Monaco slight favourites to edge Spurs for second.
Chance of Progressing: 60%
Champions’ League Group H (Juventus, Sevilla, Dinamo Zagreb)
Key Fixture: Sevilla, Matchday Six
Barring a handful of miraculous results, Juventus should walk this group, the real battle being between Lyon and Sevilla for second. While the Spanish club are the three-time defending Europa League champions, the departures of manager Unai Emery, Ever Baneg, Grzegorz Krychkowiak and Kevin Gameiro make for a worrying lack of continuity.
New boss Jorge Sampaoli was superb at the helm of the Chilean national team, but a dearth of club experience in Europe could be an issue. Lyon, on the other hand, have given their squad much-needed depth in the summer, only seeing Samuel Umtiti depart.
If the team continue the form that they have shown under Bruno Genesio, they should be able to get four points from Sevilla, that and doing the double over Dinamo Zagreb likely enough to progress, although it is far from a foregone conclusion.
Chance of Progressing: 60%
Europa League Group C (Anderlecht, Mainz 05, Qabala)
Key Fixture: At Mainz 05, Matchday One
Saint-Etienne acquitted themselves well enough in their two rounds of qualification, and their recent consistent performances in Europe saw them in the second pot for the draw, and they managed to avoid any of the true behemoths.
Anderlecht have shown themselves to be a tricky proposition in recent European seasons, but the loss of Dennis Praet and Steven Defour has left the team shorn of much of their creativity.
Hardly an ideal situation to begin with, a robust Saint-Etienne side should be able to resist the Belgians with ease, leaving Mainz as perhaps Les Verts’ most worrying opponent.
The club where the names of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel were made continues to be an aggressive force, but Saint-Etienne have a great chance to lay down an early marker, their Matchday One trip likely to serve as a guide for how the group will sort itself out. Qabala did beat a disappointing Lille, and are far from an ideal road trip, but will do well not to finish bottom of the group.
Chance of Progressing: 70%
Europa League Group I (Schalke 04, Salzburg, Krasnodar)
Key Fixture: Red Bull Salzburg, Matchday Four
Nice, on the other hand, had a somewhat difficult draw. As a fourth seed, things were never going to be easy for Lucien Favre’s club, but in one of Germany’s traditional powers, Schalke were certainly one to avoid. The Royal Blues will have a restructured back line after the departures of Joel Matip and Roman Neustadter, although Benedikt Howedes remains at the club.
Barring some shock results, new manager Markus Weinzierl should see the team through in first place, leaving new money sides Salzburg and Krasnodar to battle it out with Nice.
Were this the Nice side of last season, Les Aiglons would be at least evens to progress, but with a young team struggling to score goals, it is difficult to see past a veteran Krasnodar team. Salzburg are a less tricky opponent, due to the middling quality of the Austrian league, but if Nice are to advance, they will likely need maximum points against Oscar Garcia’s side.
Chance of Progressing: 20%