Chelsea, Atletico, Roma, Qarabag in Champions League Group C
Predicted finish1. Atletico Madrid
Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here's a preview for Group C. Who do you think will go through?
One of the most interesting themes of this season's Champions League is how Chelsea will cope with its added demands. After a curious transfer window, they arguably have a weaker squad than last season, when they won the Premier League with few other distractions. Antonio Conte's last Champions League campaign, in 2013-14 with Juventus, ended in elimination at the group stage: can he do better on Chelsea's return to the competition?
Antoine Griezmann remains on board for at least another year and Diego Simeone has, essentially, an unchanged squad to call upon. Those two factors should ensure Atletico are competitive although there are caveats: one is that their transfer ban means any new signings, including perhaps Diego Costa, cannot join until January; there also remains the unknown quantity of how quickly they settle into the shiny new Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
These are interesting times at Roma. Their status as primary challengers to Juventus might have been usurped by Milan this summer, this is their first season in a generation without Francesco Totti, and they have both a new head coach and sporting director. Monchi has already started to work his transfer magic, providing Eusebio Di Francesco with a number of potential gems, the most interesting of which might be Lorenzo Pellegrini. They fell in the qualifiers last season, but an improved performance this term seems likely.
One of those teams who simply will be delighted to be here, Qarabag made history by becoming the first team from Azerbaijan to qualify for the group stages after they beat FC Copenhagen. Managed for nearly a decade by Gurban Gurbanov, their squad is a cosmopolitan collection of players, Haiti's Wilde-Donald Guerrier, South African forward Dino Ndlovu and Spanish former Birmingham midfielder Michel adding to their core.
Game of the group
Chelsea v Atletico Madrid -- Atletico routed Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge in the 2013-14 semifinals, with a certain Diego Costa on target from the spot. Costa's status by the time they face each other this time is anyone's guess: will he be an Atletico player, albeit unavailable to play, once more? Will he be signed on elsewhere? Will he have undergone a miraculous rehabilitation at Chelsea? Whatever the answer, the sub-plots here are numerous.
Qarabag -- In what will surely be a three-way race to make the knockout stage, a maximum return will be expected against the side from Azerbaijan -- but they have a history of good results in Baku, drawing with Monaco and beating Anderlecht in the Europa League two years ago. Could they cause an upset that decides the group?
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.