To the Point UEFA Champions League Draw Thoughts and Predictions: Group B

I thought the Gareth Bale transfer was all fine and well until I realized he was going to play my club twice in the Group Stages. (Sorry Copenhagen faithful, I’m a Juventus fan.) The Ozil loss takes a little sting out of Madrid’s attack, but it is still a world-class attack to be reckoned with. The Juve-Real games will not only be fun to watch from a neutral standpoint, (I won’t be watching from a neutral standpoint, but you know, it sounds good ) they will also be a good test for both sides. Both have the potential to go far in the competition, if not winning it outright. Facing another team of their caliber in the Group Stage will better prepare them for the knockout rounds than beating a minnow by six goals. (Again, sorry Copenhagen.)

I’m not sure who to pick to win the Group. Juve has the talent, but also hasn’t put their new squad to the test against any notable competition. Same with Madrid. I do know that Gala will be heading to the Europa League in the third slot (they got a worse draw than Arsenal) and I know … well, enough bashing of Copenhagen. I’ll take the safe route and say Juve and Madrid tie atop the group, and the Italians win it on goal differential.

Prediction- Juve, Real, Gala, Copenhagen.

To the Point UEFA Champions League Draw Thoughts and Predictions: Group G

Welcome to the “Most Enviable to Play In, Least Enviable to Watch Group.” In this group you’ll find your typical minnow (Austria Wienn), a team trying to rebound from the loss of their best player (Atletico), a team trying to prove that oodles of money spent in the snowy, Russian north will win you something in Europe (Zenit). And finally, possibly the biggest, most successful feeder club in the word (Porto).

Look, Champions League football is Champions League football, but would you rather watch Zenit vs Austria Wien or Juventus vs Real Madrid? Or even Chelsea vs Schalke? The group’s TV ratings might be poor, but the teams in it are certainly not complaining. Arsenal would probably let Mikel Arteta play for Spurs to be re-placed in this group. Now, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but Arsenal, or for that matter any team in a tough group, wants to be in this group.

All in all, this group isn’t so bad. The Hulk/Porto reunion will be interesting, but outside of that it’s hard to find any notable sticking points in terms of staying in front of a TV to watch the games.

Prediction- Atletico, Porto, Zenit, Wien.

To the Point UEFA Champions League Draw Thoughts and Predictions: Group C

This is PSG’s group to lose. Let me repeat, PSG’s group to lose.

Benfica seems a solid bet to advance in the second slot, but the unpredictable nature of the Champions League could provide otherwise. Not to disrespect the other respective leagues and teams, but PSG has to be excited that they got grouped with teams from Belgium, Portugal and Greece as opposed to Arsenal, who got high finishers from Italy, Germany and France.

PSG will win the group easily. Going through with a 100 percent record isn’t out of the question, but a trip to Benfica could be tough.

Prediction- PSG, Benfica, Anderlecht, Olympiakos.

Tigers’ Dombrowski Keeps Looking Better and Better

Dave Dombrowski is one of the better GMs in the sport of baseball. Maybe the best. His latest trades are a testament to that.

First off, Miguel Cabrera? Remember him? MVP having a ridiculous year? Widely regarded as the best hitter in the known universe?

You know what Dombrowski gave the Marlins for him? Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badnehop and some minor leaguers. Fun fact, of the players that Florida Miami got from Detroit there are more players currently on the Brewers’ payroll (two) than the Marlins (zero).  So that was a train robbery, not so much of a trade.

The Tigers recently exchanged more players with the Marlins at last year’s trade deadline. Detroit acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a package of prospects highlighted by starting pitcher Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly. My reaction was extremely skeptical. I thought Turner was much too high of a price to pay for a stop-gap piece (Sanchez). I’ll raise my hand and say I was wrong, because I was. Sanchez has not only resigned with Detroit for the long term, but he has also warranted that contract extension with tremendous pitching. The former Marlin is a Cy Young dark horse and leads the league with a microscopic 2.61 ERA. He was also arguably Detroit’s best pitcher during last year’s World Series run.

There is also the case of Infante. Not only has he solved the massive black hole that was second base, but he has also exceeded expectations with a .325 batting average, further bolstering an already terrifying lineup.

The price that was paid to bring Sanchez and Infante back/ to Detroit was a package including Turner and Brantly. Both are on the Fish’s big league roster and both look to be part of the team’s future. Neither seemed to have that look in Detroit, mostly due to established players ahead of them on the organizational depth chart.

The Tigers continue to make extremely smart trades that make the rest of the league look foolish for not making the deal. Sanchez and Infante join a growing list that includes Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson.

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Real Madrid’s Star Offloading Will Come Back to Hurt Them

Madrid’s biggest knock, at least comparatively to arch-rival Barcelona, is the lack of youth. Historically, they tend to spend their money on superstar players instead of investing in youth. During the recent transfer window Madrid did buy a superstar, but they also invested in youth. Albeit someone else’s. They paid Leverkusen 6.5 million euros to get Dany Carvajal back. They also spent an astounding 69.2 million euros on the young midfield pairing of Isco and Asier Illarramendi. That’s even more astounding considering that, at the time, Real had Kaka, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso and six- million-euro-signing Casimero in the center of the park. That’s two full midfields of players who could probably start almost anywhere.

Then Madrid signed Gareth Bale, who also plays midfield, and happens to be one of the best players in the world.

Real have/had way too many big name contracts, and players in general on the books (see midfield, above.) So they sold off hit man Gonzalo Higuain, winger Jose Callejon and central defender Raul Albiol, all to Napoli for 62 million euros. They also sold two of their many midfielders; Kaka is heading back to AC Milan for free. Free. Further justifying Madrid’s 65 million euro investment in him. Sound business there.  Plus, Mesut Ozil is heading to Arsenal for 50 million euros.

I don’t think this mass offloading of players will hurt Madrid in terms of production on the field. They did, after all, spend a lot of money for players similar and younger to those they let go, but it will hurt them if they play against their former players. Kaka, Ozil and the new Napoli contingent are all in the Champions League this year. Questions can be posed that Kaka is past his prime, Ozil’s team is stuck in a terribly difficult group and Napoli hasn’t gelled yet. But who knows? Maybe Madrid runs into a rejuvenated Kaka-led Milan squad and bows out in the early knockout rounds? Maybe Ozil assists on a few goals for Arsenal that the Gunners wouldn’t have scored without him, maybe those goals knock out Real? (Fun fact, check out this.) Maybe Gonzalo Higuain goes off on his former club in a two-leg knockout round. After all, Madrid is susceptible to forwards scoring on them in bunches. Lewandoski anyone?

While a front four of Benzema with Ronaldo, Ozil and Bale behind would have been terrifying in a 4-2-3-1 formation, it’s not going to happen. Putting Luka Modric or Isco in Ozil’s place certainly isn’t the end of the world, but the loss of Ozil and others will come back to haunt the Bernebau’s residents.

To the Point UEFA Champions League Draw Thoughts and Predictions: Group F

It keeps getting worse for Arsenal fans. Not only have the English stalwarts been hit by a massive rash of injuries, rashes not included, at least not to the public’s knowledge, but they had been largely inactive on the transfer market. Something that looked bad before the Mesut Ozil signing considering Spurs and Man City spent a lot of cash to improve their teams.

Anyways, this is a tough go for the Gunners. Any of the four teams would be favored to go through in Group G, or possibly even C, but alas all are stuck in Group F. It’s hard not to see Dortmund going through to the next round while Napoli also looks strong. The Paternopei have augmented an already strong side with numerous signings from Real Madrid as well as reliable keeper Stanley Tucci Pepe Reina.

I previously had Arsenal last in this group before the Ozil signing. Now I’m not so certain. Dortmund is definitely going through; who goes second is more of a tough decision. Ultimately it comes down to picking your poison. While overall, I think Napoli is a more balanced squad, they are largely untested as a group and haven’t jelled yet. Yes, a 3-0 thrashing of Bologna is nice, and a 4-2 win at Chievo is lovely, the level of competition is nowhere near that of their CL group.

Arsenal has also shown that they are deft at beating newly-formed, “jelling” squads. See the derby win over Spurs as exhibit A. Ozil and Napoli’s inexperience as a group propels Arsenal into the knockout stages again. Sorry Marseille.

Prediction- Dortmund, Arsenal, Napoli, Marseille.

To the Point UEFA Champions League Draw Thoughts and Predictions: Group C

This is PSG’s group to lose. Let me repeat, PSG’s group to lose.

Benfica seems a solid bet to advance in the second slot, but the unpredictable nature of the Champions League could provide otherwise. Not to disrespect the other respective leagues and teams, but PSG has to be excited that they got grouped with teams from Belgium, Portugal and Greece as opposed to Arsenal, who got high finishers from Italy, Germany and France.

PSG will win the group easily. Going through with a 100 percent record isn’t out of the question, but a trip to Benfica could be tough.

Prediction- PSG, Benfica, Anderlecht, Olympiakos.

To the Point UEFA Champions League Draw Thoughts and Predictions: Group A

It may seem an easy draw for Manchester United at first, but it is anything but that. United will likely go through to the next round, but not without some fierce competition.

Leverkusen could provide the Red Devils with the stiffest competition of the group. Despite losing top players Andre Schurrle and Daniel Carvajal to Chelsea and Real Madrid, the German club has replaced them with younger, exciting players for the future, including impressive German prospect Emre Can from Bayern Munich.

The group is home to two other teams who lost some of their stars to bigger clubs. Real Sociedad will be looking to replace Asier Illarramendi while Shakhtar Donetsk will look for a quartet of young Brazilians spearheaded by Bernard to fill the shoes of Fernandinho, Razvan Rat and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. This preview piece also wins the award for “Highest Number of Difficult Names to Spell Per Capita.”

Given time to progress, the current Shakhtar team could easily advance in second place. This time, however, their inexperience will be their down fall. Sociedad romped over perennial CL stalwarts Lyon in the qualifying round. Look for them to continue that form into the knockout stages.

Prediction- Man United, Sociedad, Shakhtar, Leverkusen.