Could this be Manchester City’s easiest Champions League Group yet?
Manchester City have been drawn into Group F of this season’s UEFA Champions League alongside Shakhtar Donetsk, Lyon and Hoffenheim.
It is the second season in a row that City have both been drawn in Group F and drawn alongside Shakhtar Donetsk, the team who inflicted City’s only group stage defeat last season, albeit in the final game of the group stages which was certainly considered a dead rubber by everyone involved with City. Shakhtar were again winners of the Ukrainian Premier League ahead of Dynamo Kiev losing only 5 games across a 32 game season. They averaged a respectable 2.13 goals per game and conceded less than 1 per game on average. However, this must be taken with a pinch of salt when you consider the quality of Ukrainian football. Shakhtar are lead by the impressive Paulo Fonseca who received all kinds of plaudits from Pep Guardiola when he visited the Etihad last season and I for one am surprised that none of the bigger European clubs had a strong look at Fonseca over the summer. I feel he is destined for great things. Shakhtar eventually fell at the round of 16 stage to Roma on away goals, which considering how well Roma fared in the Champions League last season is by no means an embarrassment. Shakhtar will again provide a stern test for City with their appetite for quick ball movement and clever positional play.
Alongside the familiar foes in Group F are two new opponents.
Hoffenheim will be embarking on their first official foray into Europe’s elite footballing competition after being bested by Liverpool in the playoff rounds last season. Hoffenheim are able-ally guided by young coach Julian Nagelsmann who led the side to third in the Bundesliga guaranteeing Die Kraichgauer automatic qualification this time round. Hoffenheim are quite a difficult team to get a read on and I must admit I haven’t watched them at great length. They only won 44% of their matches in the Bundesliga last season, scoring at a rate of 1.94 goals per game while conceding 1.41. They averaged 1.61 points per game and if this was scale up to a 38 game season as the Premier League is they would have finished 7th, 2 points behind Arsenal. They don’t seem to be a team who favours holding onto the ball all that much either as they averaged 51% possession in the Bundesliga last season, all of which I would imagine will play into Guardiola’s hands.
The final side in Group F is Lyon of France. Lyon qualified for the Champions League by also being the 3rd best side in their country. They finished the 2017/2018 season with the second highest amount of goals scored and the second lowest conceded in Ligue 1 finishing just 2 points behind Monaco but some way adrift of PSG. Lyon are a team full of exciting young players who are on the rise currently and are at that level where the elite teams in Europe begin to sniff around. The likes of Tanguy Ndombele and Bertrand Traoré are some of the more unfamiliar names who caught the eye last season for Lyon, whilst the more familiar names of Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir continue to impress for the French side. Lyon are a highly athletic team, something which has troubled Guardiola’s City in the past and an away trip to the Parc Olympique Lyonnais could provide a stern test for the blues especially as City may still be missing Kevin De Bruyne when the Group Stage commences.
As a City fan, however, you have to pleased with this draw. When you consider the draws of the other English sides in this year’s competition it could have been much, much worse. City will be confident that they can beat each of the teams in Group F and progress through to the Knockout Phase without any major hiccups. In terms of City’s aspirations in Europe, the hierarchy of the club are certainly looking to win the whole competition. Chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has insisted from day one of Guardiola’s reign that he has ultimately been hired to bring continental success to the Etihad. Nevertheless, an easy group doesn’t always guarantee success in the Champions League as we saw last year.
But for now, we can only look forward to having European nights back in Manchester for another year and we shall have our fingers crossed for that coveted Champions League trophy.