With the international break behind us, the European competitions will be front and centre over several midweeks (writes Frank Crivello).
We’ve seen where everyone is drawn, now let’s have a look at each team’s prospects. There are three Serie A teams in the Champions League, and three in the Europa League.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TEAMS
- Group D; drawn with Barcelona, Olympiakos, and Sporting Lisbon
- Group Breakdown: All of the casual fans will review this group and say that it’s Barca and Juve for the top two spots. However it’s not as simple as that. Sporting Lisbon are an improving side with plenty of attacking talent; Gelson Martins in particular is one to watch. Olympiakos are not the threat they have been in the past, but going to Athens midweek is never easy. We all know the pedigree that a modern-day Barcelona brings to this group.
- This Champions League will be a success if: Juventus reach the quarterfinals. Juve fans through are going to say getting back to the final would be a success. Getting back to the final may be a bridge too far for the Old Lady, and it’s possible they are the runners-up to Barcelona in this group. That means a group winner and the possibility of another strong opponent in the round of 16. Still, this is a side that is firmly among the best in Europe, so reaching the last eight should be acceptable. Given how other teams in this competition have strengthened, I can’t see Juventus getting much further than that.
- Group C; drawn with Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, and Qarabag.
- Group Breakdown: welcome to European competition, Eusebio di Francesco. Atletico Madrid have reached three semifinals in the last four seasons and play a very tactically rigid game under manager Diego Simeone. Chelsea dominated the Premier League last season under Antonio Conte, and with the summer arrivals you can argue that they are better this season. Qarabag will play the happy to be here role after upsetting FC Copenhagen in the playoff stage. Six points are a must against the Azerbaijan outfit if they are to have any chance of progress.
- The Champions League will be a success for Roma if: they reach the last 16. With everyone expecting Chelsea and Atletico to go through, it will be a tough mountain for Roma to climb. Matchday One is home against Atleti, and could ultimately decide whether the Giallorossi are contenders for a knockout place, or will be resigned to a place in the Europa League. Despite the recent track record from the Rojiblancos, the hope is that this is the beginning of their Champions League window closing.
- Group F; drawn with Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Feyenoord.
- Group Breakdown: Welcome to the fun. Group F should be the highest scoring group and it shouldn’t be close. The home and away that Napoli have with Manchester City could combine for 12 goals themselves. Shakhtar aren’t the threat that they use to be, but they have an attacking philosophy, and going to the Ukraine is not an easy proposition. The Partenopei get that challenge out of the way in Matchweek 1. Feyenoord are the defending Eredivisie champions, a league hardly bereft of goals. They gave Manchester United a bit of a tussle in the Europa group stage last season, so they’re not to be overlooked.
- The Champions League will be a success for Napoli if: They reach the quarterfinals. The attractive football is a joy to watch, but now it’s time to show progress. Napoli were stalled in the last 16 last season and again a few seasons ago. To show that this is a club on the rise on the European stage, it needs to be at least among the last eight.
Clearly, I’m pessimistic about any of Serie A team’s chances to lift the Champions League trophy in the Spring, but will more than welcome it if it happens!
EUROPA LEAGUE TEAMS
- Group D: drawn with AEK Athens, Austria Wien, and Rijeka
- Group Breakdown: This was about as good a draw as the Rossoneri could have expected. For a team that still needs to come together with all the newly acquired talent, it will help to have games that on paper should be wins. Athens has been good to Milan considering they won the Champions League there in 1994 and 2007. Milan have also been very successful in their meetings with AEK through the years. Rijeka will be a tricky proposition; the Croatian side pushed Olympiakos over two legs in the Champions League playoff before succumbing. Austria Wien are who Milan open with and three points to set the tone will be a must.
- The Europa League will be a success for Milan if: they win it. You don’t put a team like this together and not have ambition to win something. Completing their collection of European trophies might be their best chance of accomplishing that, and the Milan brass have said they are competing on all fronts, including the Europa League.
- Group E; drawn with Everton, Lyon, and Apollon
- Group Breakdown: Welcome to European competition, Atalanta. This is one of the tougher groups in the Europa League largely because the Bergamo outfit is in it. Gasperini’s men are retooled to challenge in this competition. Everton have a revamped squad, and many will feel that they and Lyon are favorites to progress. The French side reached the last four in this competition last season, knocking out Roma along the way, so they’ll know how to deal with Italian teams. Apollon round out the group and the Cypriots appear to be making up the numbers. Getting six points off them is critical for Atalanta to have a chance.
- The Europa League will be a success for Atalanta if: they qualify for the knockout phase. Qualification means that there is stability in this team and the 4th place finish in Serie A last season is validated. Everton are beatable, as are Lyon. If Atalanta somehow get points off either of them, they stand a good chance to go through.
— Calcio e Finanza (@CalcioFinanza) September 11, 2017
- Group K; drawn with Nice, Zulte Waregem, and Vitesse
- Group Breakdown: An interesting mix for Simone Inzaghi’s men to contend with, but a group that Lazio should be comfortable with nonetheless. The trip to Holland to play Vitesse will indicate Lazio’s seriousness about this competition. The Biancacelesti didn’t reinforce the squad as much as what may be needed to compete domestically and on the continent. Nice have players with Serie A experience in Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijeder. Zulte Waregem are from Belgium and have been in and out of competitions. The casual fan would suggest that Lazio and Nice are the favourites to progress, but how serious are they about this competition?
- The Europa League will be a success for Lazio if: they reach the last eight. The team is good enough to get that far, and it’s a matter of how serious they take things. Getting out of the group shouldn’t be an issue, and Inzaghi’s men are good enough to get through the first two knockout stages.
So all in all, it should be a solid season for Serie A teams in Europe. They are all good enough to get out of their group stages, and even if Roma don’t qualify from their Champions League group, 3rd means a Europa League place. All six teams should be playing in European competitions in February, 2018, with a varying degree of expectations for each.