Champions League Group Stage Draw Review
Due to the pandemic, the balls for the Champions League group phase were drawn this year in Geneva behind closed doors. There were also some awards conferred for achievements in the past season. FC Bayern Munich was the first team to be drawn from the bowl, thus forming the head of Group A. Over the course of the evening, they were joined by Atlético Madrid, RB Salzburg and Lokomotive Moscow.
You can always count on Diego Simeone’s team to perform on the international stage. For years, Atlético Madrid has been one of Europe’s top teams, even reaching the Champions League final twice in 2014 and 2016. The head to head record between the Bayern and Atlético of recent times is also fairly even: In Madrid, the Spanish won twice, in Munich Bayern came out on top twice. However, it were Diego Simeone’s Rojiblancos who beat Pep Guardiola’s Bayern in the 2016 semi-final. Other than that, there have only been two more matches contested between the two teams in European competitions. Both in the 1974 final: After a draw in the first game, Bayern won the replay clearly 4-0.
But it is the present that is much more exciting. Atlético, and we will analyze this in our preview of the group games in more depth, have changed. The narrative that the team would only defend and rely on transition moments is at best only partially true. Simeone’s team has made great progress recently, particularly with the ball. Atlético has long since become more than just a pressing machine that makes life difficult for every opponent through an unpleasant way of playing. Simeone has been working hard to add a presentable possession game to his team, which could often be seen last season. With Luis Suárez they have gained an exciting new player for the center-forward position and Joāo Felíx has also already shown that he can become a difference maker in the future. The two group stage fixtures will definitely be two thrilling games that all fans can look forward to. And it will definitely be a challenge for FC Bayern, as Atlético is without doubt one of the best teams in the world.
Their next lot gave Bayern the advantage of a short trip. About 115 kilometers lie between Salzburg and Munich. The game against the marketing tool of Red Bull will also be interesting on a sporting level. Salzburg have always stood for a modern, energetic and offensive soccer. It should be expected that Salzburg will want to put a lot of pressure on Bayern.
After many years of failing in the qualifying phase, Salzburg managed to qualify for the Champions League for the second time this season. Fans can look forward to a young team that is full of young talents who see Salzburg as a springboard for the big leagues – or for their sister club RB Leipzig. More about this in our preview.
As if to offset the short trip to Salzburg, the visit to their third opponents will see Bayern having to make the trip to Moscow. From a purely sporting point of view, the fixture should not present them with a lot of surprises. The Russians will try to solve their task by means of unpleasant defensive and transition football.
The problem for Bayern here lies perhaps in the context of the match. A long journey, a defensive bulwark that will require a lot of running to be broken down and the tight schedule this season could cause problems surrounding the two matches, if not regarding the game against Lokomotive itself. Nevertheless, it must be the ambition of Bayern to win both games.
The group on the whole is quite interesting. Especially the contest with Atlético Madrid stands out, of course. A team who demand as much intensity from their opponents as the Spaniards will not have been the first choice of Bayern, who are already faced with a strenuous schedule anyway. Nevertheless, the clash has great appeal. Flick’s pressing and offensive football against a currently evolving, but still defensively strong Simeone-Atlético. The two teams are likely to play out the group win between themselves.
Salzburg is also a rather unpleasant opponent, but clearly inferior than Atlético, especially on an individual level. Normally, both matches are mandatory wins for FC Bayern, but who knows what is normal this season? The marketing club has definitely the quality of a proper stumbling block. The same applies to Moscow, even though they are the big outsiders in the group. In all probability they will be fighting with Salzburg for a place in the Europa League. The question is whether they will somehow succeed in annoying the top teams in the direct face-offs. An uncontested canter through the group stage by Bayern, as they did last season, is rather unlikely. But in view of their opponents, it is a must that they progress to the knockout stages.
The individual awards also garnered a lot of attention. Even before the group stage lots were drawn, Manuel Neuer was declared goalkeeper of the past Champions League season. In between the draws, Joshua Kimmich (defender of the season), Kevin de Bruyne (midfielder of the season) and Robert Lewandowski (forward of the season) won further awards. Soon thereafter Lewandowski was able to rejoice once again. With 15 goals and 6 assists in 10 Champions League games, he earned the award for European Footballer of the Year. Coach of the season is Hansi Flick, who beat Julian Nagelsmann and the English champion Jürgen Klopp.
In the women’s competition, Sarah Bouhaddi (goalkeeper of the season), Wendie Renard (defender of the season), Dzsenifer Marozsán (midfielder of the season) and Pernille Harder (forward of the season) won. Except for Harder (former VfL Wolfsburg, now FC Chelsea), all these are players from Olympique Lyon. Lyon coach Jean-Luc Vasseur also won the award for Coach of the Season. However, it was Harder who was voted European Footballer of the Year.