Champions League Group F profile: Title holders Real Madrid to run riot
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | September 8, 2016
Champions League Group F profile
With European football back on our screens this September, Coral experts give Champions League Group F tips, as we examine all eight pools for the best punts and profile the teams, players and coaches.
This pool features reigning champions Real Madrid, who picked up an unprecedented 11th European Cup trophy last season, as well as 1996/97 winners Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw.
From a betting perspective, this group looks pretty cut and dried with Zinedine Zidane’s Los Blancos heavy favourites both to finish top (1/2) and to qualify (1/20). Can any of the other three clubs upset Real, who spent just £25m on one new recruit this summer?
Let’s look at the four teams in more detail…
The Benabeu boys are aiming for an incredible 12th Champions League/European Cup triumph this season. To put that in perspective, the next best team AC Milan have seven – and Los Blanco are 11/2 third-favourites to achieve that feat.
Zidane has kept hold of the Real reins for this season after guiding the side he won this competition as a player with to yet another success in Europe, though it is more surprising that he has only brought in one new player this summer.
In fact, £25m signing Alvaro Morata is a product of the Spanish giants’ youth system, before he was offloaded to Juventus in 2014. Perhaps it was his two goals against his former club two seasons ago that led to his return?
The sales of the likes of Jese Rodriguez, Denis Cheryshev and Alvaro Medran mean that Real actually made more money in transfers during the last window, while it is their lowest amount spent since 2003 when they bought David Beckham.
However, they have kept all their key players, and stars such as Gareth Bale, Raphael Varane and Isco seem to be getting better and better. The likes of Marco Asensio, Lucas Silva and Fabio Coentrao have all returned from loan spells last season to bolster the squad too.
On top of that, they have arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be raring to go once fully fit after his Euro 2016-winning exploits.
Losing world-class players such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan in just one transfer window would be enough to rattle most clubs, but for Dortmund it has become the norm and they always seem to recover.
Experienced former Poland captain Jakub Blaszczykowski as well as young midfielder Moritz Leitner have also moved on, but the German’s have spent their money from sales (just under £100m) wisely.
Mario Gotze has returned to the club he started out at, after a mixed three-season spell with Bayern Munich, while Andre Schurrle and France wonderkid Ousmane Dembele have come in to bolster their attack.
Meanwhile, Raphael Guerreiro, Sebastian Rode, Marc Bartra, Emre Mor and Mikel Merino have all been snapped up on the cheap.
We will also no doubt see more of 17-year-old American winger Christian Pulisic this season, after his terrific performances for club and country in 2016, especially if team captain Marco Reus’ injury issues continue.
Under boss Thomas Tuchel in his first season at Dortmund, the club finished a respectable second – although 10 points off champions Bayern – and this campaign will mark their return to the Champions League after reaching the Europa League quarters in 2015/16.
Being winners of this tournament in 1996/97 and runners-up in 2012/13 under Jurgen Klopp, Dortmund certainly have European pedigree, so why not back them at a tasty 13/8 to finish top of the group?
They are odds-on at 1/10 to qualify, and 16/1 to lift a second Champions League trophy exactly 20 years after claiming their first.
Portuguese outfit Sporting could be a real threat for both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in this pool, as they came just two points from winning their first domestic league title since 2002 last season.
At 14/1 to top the group and 11/4 to qualify, their odds certainly are the more appealing, however are likely to fall short and settle for a place in the Europa League knockout rounds by finishing third instead.
Despite selling midfielder Joao Mario and striker Islam Slimani to Inter Milan and Leicester City respectively, and offloading the likes of Naldo, Andre Carrillo and Alberto Aquilani too, the Lions decided to use under half the money to sign replacements.
They have been careful not to spend over £10m on any one player, though, with frontman Bas Dost (£8.5m) being the most expensive. The Dutchman fired in the goals for Wolfsburg during his four-season spell, but will be hoping to improve on his tally of just 10 in 31 last term in all competitions.
Sporting have also decided to take a punt on recruiting talent from South America, Argentina and Brazil to be exact, with Alan Ruiz, Bruno Paulista, Elias, Andre and Marcelo Meli all arriving. Keeper Beto comes in for free from Sevilla, while Joel Campbell and Lazar Markovic have joined on loan for the season from the English Premier League.
In Jorge Jesus, the Lions certainly have a head coach who knows how to go far in Europe having twice been a runner-up in the Europa League (2012/13 and 2013/14) and a quarter-finalist in the Champions League (2011/12) with former side Benfica.
Now that he has a season under his belt in charge of Sporting, he’ll know the club and team better and has the potential to take them far even though they are in a tough group. Jesus led Benfica to top their group back in 2011/12 at the expense of Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, so why not perform another miracle?
Finally, we come to group outsiders and likely whipping boys Legia Warsaw, who are taking part in the Champions League proper for the first time since 1995/96 when they defeated the likes of then-Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers to reach the quarters.
They’ve found life tough in Europe since really, despite winning the Polish top-flight five times including last season in that time, with just two last 32 appearances in the Europa League (2011/12 and 2014/15) being their best efforts.
Of their Group F opponents, the Militarians – as they are nicknamed – are only familiar with Sporting Lisbon, having lost to them across two legs in that 2011/12 Europa League season.
Gone are the days where Legia were feared on the continent, when they reached the 1970 European Cup and 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup semis, but they will undoubtedly aim to make sure they make a good account of themselves.
Former Belgium, Norwich City and Rotherham United midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, ex-Dundee United keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak and forward Aleksandar Prijovic, who was once on Derby County’s books, are the only names familiar to British audiences.
While Legia are expected to finish bottom, they will be aiming to claim a Europa League knockout round place by coming third, and are 16/1 to somehow qualify from the group.
Champions League Group F games
All matches are 19:45 UK time.
Wednesday, September 14th
Legia Warsaw v Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid v Sporting Lisbon
Tuesday, September 27th
Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid
Sporting Lisbon v Legia Warsaw
Tuesday, October 18th
Real Madrid v Legia Warsaw
Sporting Lisbon v Borussia Dortmund
Wednesday, November 2nd
Borussia Dortmund v Sporting Lisbon
Legia Warsaw v Real Madrid
Tuesday, November 22nd
Borussia Dortmund v Legia Warsaw
Sporting Lisbon v Real Madrid
Wednesday, December 7th
Legia Warsaw v Sporting Lisbon
Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund
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