Champions League: group stage draw

Georg Separator August 30, 2019

FC Bayern Munich has to travel to England, Greece, and Serbia in this year’s Champions League group phase. They will meet with Tottenham Hotspur, Olympiakos Piraeus, and Red Star Belgrade in Group B.

In Tottenham, they are going to encounter one of last season’s Champions League finalists. Olympiakos and Red Star are two much less well known sides in European football, but they should not be underestimated too.

The group phase commences in about three weeks time on 17 and 18 of September. In this article, we will introduce the three opponents on Bayern’s way to Istanbul, which will be host to the final on 30 May, 2020.

Tottenham Hotspur

Last year’s finalist was the most difficult draw possible after Real Madrid in pot 2. Mauricio Pochettino’s team is known for a modern, pressing-intensive style of football and somehow succeed to keep up with their much more wealthy rivals from London and Manchester in spite of limited available means year after year. In their pre-season preparation game against Bayern earlier this summer, Bayern had to experience, and struggle with, their pressing first hand.

This march, Tottenham made the “New White Hart Lane” their new home. There, Bayern will play their away game to Tottenham in one of Europe’s most modern grounds. Another recent development at Tottenham is that they have invested money into their squad. Since this summer’s transfer window, Tanguy Ndombélé signing at €60 million from Lyon is the club’s new record transfer.

Tottenham’s head to head record against Bayern is as short as it is balanced. Bayern progressed from their 1982 UEFA Cup home and away tie and Tottenham got their revenge one year later, same cup, same tie.

Olympiakos Piraeus

After virtually having a mortal lock on the Greek title for years on end, Olympiakos had to make way for other teams in the last two seasons – an unaccustomed picture. Olympiakos is a Champions League regular, but they hardly ever go through to the knockout stages. In all likelihood, they will face the same fate again this year, the opposition from Munich and London just seems too strong.

The team’s star is captain and former Kaiserslautern player Konstantinos Fortounis, who scored an impressive 17 goals and 16 assists in the league last season.

Bayern have faced Piräus only four times too. They won all four games, a comprehensive 4-0 and 3-0 in the Champions League group stage in 2015/16 the last time.

Red Star Belgrade

Serbia’s serial champions of a former era could end a long period of title drought last year. For the first time ever, the team located between Save and Donau qualified for the Champions League for its 2018/19 edition, where the competition of Napoli, PSG, and Liverpool proved a step too far. This year, coming in third in the group and thus reaching the Europa League would have to qualify as a great success.

The Serbian’s captain is German player Marko Marin, who seems to flourish in Belgrade after an endless to and fro between countless European clubs, including, incidentally, Olympiakos.

Bayern have faced Red Star five times. Their last meeting was in 2007, when they met each other in the UEFA Cup group stage. Bayern won 3-2 away in Belgrade that time. Their most memorable clash however happened in in the semi-final of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, the predecessor to the Champions League, in 1991. After the team of Jupp Heynckes had lost their home game 1-2 with a good helping of a lot of bad luck, they went ahead 2-1 in the return leg before events conspired against them and by an unfortunate collaboration, Klaus Augenthaler and Raimond Aumann made it 2-2 through an own goal.

Easy group but not quite luck of the draw

To finish up, let us evaluate the draw through a statistical lens. As an indicator, we draw on the “Soccer Power Index“ (SPI), which is compiled by stats website FiveThirtyEight. The highest possible value in this metric is 100. Currently, Manchester City at 94.7 ranks as the world’s strongest club side.

According to the SPI, the most difficult possible group draw for Bayern would have been a group with Real, Salzburg, and Lille, at an average strength of 78. A group with Donetsk, Zagreb, and Prague, on the other hand, would have been the nominally most simple group possible for Bayern at an average strength of 63.

Bayern’s actual group with Tottenham (84.5), Belgrade (62.4), and Olympiakos (74.8) stands at an average of 74. This sits squarely in the middle between good and bad luck. Anything else than Tottenham and Bayern advancing to the knockout stages would mean a huge upset. But the fight for first and second place is wide open.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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