Champions League | Power Ranking the Premier League contenders' chances of group supremacy
Raf Diallo looks through the four sides looking to glide serenely towards the last-1617:33 Wednesday 12 September 2018, 17:33 12 Sep 2018
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For all the talk that the Premier League was the quote/unquote "best league in the world", the talking on the pitch hadn't matched the verbosity off it since Chelsea somehow ground their way to glory in 2012.
Not until last season that is. Liverpool made a surprise charge to the Champions League final in Kyiv and if it wasn't for those Loris Karius errors, who knows if Jurgen Klopp's side could have beaten Real Madrid.
The Reds grew into last season's tournament but they're starting off on an even stronger footing going into this campaign.
They're representing the Premier League alongside Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham on the elite European stage and each side have been landed with varying degrees of difficulty in their respective groups.
So I've Power Ranked each Premier League side based on their chances of topping each group and giving themselves a seeding when the last-16s come around... assuming they make it that far.
1. Manchester City
You can tell how much a club has progressed as a European power by the type of group they end up being drawn in.
There was a time when City were lumped with Real Madrid, a Borussia Dortmund that reached the final and Ajax, given they were in a lower pot.
Of course, the rule change that means Premier League winners automatically end up in Pot 1 helps but Man City have different sorts of ambitions this time and if Pep Guardiola's fluid contingent were to struggle against Olympique Lyonnais, Shakhtar Donetsk and 1899 Hoffenheim, then there's something seriously wrong.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (right) on the touchline as Manchester City's Vincent Kompany (left) waits to come on as a substitute during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Picture by: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images
All three of those teams would be tricky for a side on a lower rung than the Sky Blues. Lyon are one of the Top 4 sides in France, regularly competing for Champions League qualification; Shakhtar are remarkable as a club that more often than not reaches the knockout-stages despite the conflict in Ukraine leaving them exiled from their own home city and stadium; Hoffenheim are led by bright young coach Julian Nagelsmann and are established in the top half of the Bundesliga.
But City - even without the injured Kevin de Bruyne - should have too much for all three at the Etihad and should be able to pick up points on the road in this group to finish top. Pep eyes will be on what's to come after the New Year.
That glaring error against Leicester last weekend aside, Liverpool look far more solid in goal with the addition of Alisson Becker. Joe Gomez has made a bright start to the season as the defensive partner to Virgil van Dijk.
Their midfield has more depth in Fabiano from Monaco and the dynamic Naby Keita. And Xherdan Shaqiri's arrival as an inside-forward means Mo Salah could get the bit of rest that could help the Egyptian avoid the tiredness that seemed to impact him slightly towards the 2017-18 run-in.
All that doesn't necessarily point to Klopp's team repeating their Champions League run of last season but they will be well placed to make it out of their group.
Whether they can top it though depends on their head-to-head with Paris Saint Germain.
The Ligue 1 champions have the ambition to win the Champions League but have yet to breach the quarter final barrier.
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Picture by: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images
They've brought in German coach Thomas Tuchel who's from the Guardiola school of football thinking and was the man originally tasked with evolving Dortmund after Klopp had taken the squad as far as he could. Not only that, but he also followed Klopp in swapping Mainz for Dortmund as a career path.
So far, he's guided PSG to four wins from four domestically but they've been pegged back in their two most recent games, with the 4-2 win over newly-promoted Nimes seeing the Parisians squander a 2-0 lead before finding themselves level.
Thanks to their potent front three - Liverpool know a thing or two about having one of those - Neymar, a Kylian Mbappe boosted by the World Cup, and Edinson Cavani have got them out of trouble. Tuchel has experimented a little bit, even trying a system that had Angel Di Maria as a wing back.
Meanwhile, Napoli also pose a threat to Liverpool. However, while they ran Juventus close in Serie A last season, they are also adjusting to a new manager - albeit a canny European operator in Carlo Ancelotti.
But they've been leaky at the back in their first three Serie A games and I watched Sampdoria dismantle them 3-0 in their last fixture. They were poor to say the least.
1991 European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade (or Crvena Zvezda to give them their official name) round out the group but are only at this stage of competition for the first time since 1992.
Prediction: I'll stick my neck out here and go for 1st as Klopp's side are further along in their own developmental trajectory than PSG would be under Tuchel who will almost certainly qualify alongside them.
3. Manchester United
You can't take your eyes off Man United this season. Of course, that is not a reference to Mourinho-ball which isn't as tough on the eyes as his harshest critics would suggest but certainly doesn't flow as one would like to see as a neutral.
It's more to do with the sense of self-inflicted drama that Jose brings to proceedings. There's his Cold War with Paul Pogba and the board which burst its banks from the summer into this early season and the inability to harness the best out of centre-backs that he brought to the club in Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. It's Mourinho's third season and the mood doesn't seem right, so watch this space!
That being said, United did get as far as the last-16 last time before a turgid two-legged loss to Sevilla which ended ignominiously on their own patch.
They're in a more difficult group this time though as a Juventus with added Ronaldo top the billing. The former United forward has yet to hit the ground running in Turin as Juve start off with a 100% record domestically but who would bet against him reaching a peak of sorts as the season progresses?
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku (right) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth. Picture by: Adam Davy/PA Wire/PA Images
The Bianconeri are favourites to top the group with good reason, although they found the going tough against Tottenham in last season's Round of 16 before a stirring comeback in the quarter final second leg against Real Madrid proved too little too late before a tempestuous ending.
The Old Lady are joined by the Young Boys of Bern in this group. The Swiss side ended FC Basel's dominance domestically but have never featured at this stage of competition.
However, the one United will really be looking at to avoid a group stage exit will be a Valencia side that have re-emerged after an encouraging 2017-18 and added to their ranks up front with Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea, signing Kevin Gameiro from Atletico Madrid and making Portugal winger Goncalo Guedes' a permanent addition after he started last season so well.
They've made a slow start to the La Liga campaign however and are waiting on a first victory of the campaign.
If Los Che don't spark into life, that will be music to Man United's ears and one would fancy Mourinho's side to find a way to the knock-out stages with just enough weapons to follow in Juventus' wake.
For years, Spurs dreamed of playing at this stage and the last few seasons have seen them lock horns and, at times, beat storied clubs like Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan, while also going toe-to-toe with Juventus last season before the latter's experience told.
Much was made of Tottenham not strengthening what is a strong squad but on the plus side, there is no detrimental impact on cohesion, even if it doesn't make them any more unpredictable.
This time they've been drawn with the Barcelona half of the El Clasico divide. Little needs to be added in regards to Lionel Messi. He's the fulcrum around which the Catalans remain built and it looks like wide attacker Ousmane Dembele has made strides this season which should add pace to an attack that needed another spark after Neymar's defection to PSG.
Should Tottenham fear Barca? Not necessarily. Certainly at the Nou Camp, it will be a tall order but away from home, Barcelona haven't been especially brilliant in Europe over recent seasons and found themselves out at the quarter final stage yet again when they surrendered meekly to an AS Roma comeback at the Stadio Olimpico last Spring. Spurs have a chance in London on October 3rd in their second group game.
They'll hope to go into that game, having got something out of their opening round game against Inter in Milan.
Tottenham Hotspur's Lucas Moura celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game with team-mate Harry Kane during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture by: Nick Potts/PA Wire/PA Images
The Italians are back in the group stage after a long absence and have been tipped to be Juventus' main challengers in Serie A after beefing up their squad.
But Inter are doing an Inter by flattering to deceive. I watched Torino fight back from 2-0 deficit to almost snatch a 3-2 win, settling for a draw instead.
Inter also lost their opening game to Sassuolo, although they have since notched a 3-0 win away to Bologna.
Luciano Spalletti's squad and spine of the team is the strongest they've had for a few seasons with Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic joined at the San Siro by Radja Nainggolan, Dutch defender Stefan de Vrij and ex-Atletico Madrid and Croatia World Cup finalist right back Sime Vrsaljko.
PSV Eindhoven will also be very tricky. The reigning Dutch champions have talent in their own ranks with Mexico World Cup star Hirving Lozano a threat as an inside-forward and it will be interesting to see the master of the cynical tackle Mark van Bommel develop as a manager.
Tottenham are in their straight season at this level and that added know how could make all the difference in what is a very tough group.
Prediction: 2nd behind Barcelona but it may well come down to the final matchday.
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