Both champions of their respective leagues, Barcelona and FC Porto are the clear favourites to advance from Group H, with the other two sides quite simply not being strong enough to compete with them. Shakhtar will be hoping to get the Europa League drop down spot, meanwhile Royal Antwerp will just be happy to be in the competition at all, with it being their first Champions League appearance in 66 years. It looks as if the only real competition in this group will be between third and fourth, with Barcelona winning Group H and FC Porto finishing second.
Barcelona will certainly be happy with this year’s draw, as they face a much easier group than last year where they were drawn with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. It’s a near certainty that Barcelona will win Group H without much of a challenge, although Portuguese teams have been known to cause them some trouble in the past.
Club legends Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba have both joined Messi in Miami, and Ousmane Dembélé has left for PSG. Despite this, they made some smart transfers given their financial woes bringing in Ilkay Gündogan and IñigoMartínez on free transfers, as well as securing loan deals for João Cancelo and João Félix.
There won’t be any problems in the group stage, and they should definitely make it as far as the later stages of the knockout round. This being said, there are doubts as to whether they can compete with the likes of Man City, Bayern and Real Madrid, and making it as far as the final may be too much to ask of the Catalan giants right now.
Portuguese outfit Porto narrowly missed out on the title last season, finishing just two points behind Benfica. Nevertheless, they will be entering this competition confident that they’ll make the knockout stages. They’re currently unbeaten in the Portuguese top flight and will certainly view Shakhtar and Antwerp as inferior competition.
The main difference this season is the departure of midfielder Otávio to Al-Nassr for a club-record transfer fee. They’ve replenished their squad with an influx of young signings including 21-year-old midfielder Nico Gonzáles from FC Barcelona.
It’s almost certain that Porto will finish second in Group H and advance to the knockout stages, but it seems unlikely that they’ll make it much further than the round of sixteen in this Champions League campaign.
Champions League football is returning to Hamburg for the first time since 2006, as Shakhtar Donetsk will be playing their home games in HSV’s stadium. It will potentially be a tough competition for Shakhtar – especially playing away from home – and it would be unsurprising if they finished in last place in the group. They are definitely capable of finishing third, and they have started their domestic campaign unbeaten, winning five of seven.
Their summer transfer window focused on youth, with seven of their ten new arrivals being 21 or under. It’s unproven talent like this which can always be unpredictable, and their inexperience may be their downfall.
It’s near impossible that the Ukrainian team will make it out of the group, but the battle for third with Antwerp will be closely contested. It could go either way, but unfortunately for Shakhtar, fourth place seems more likely right now.
In the final game of last season, a dramatic last-minute equaliser by Toby Alderweireld secured Royal Antwerp their first league title in 66 years. It’s for this reason that Royal Antwerp have the comfort of low expectations. The fans and players are just happy to be in the competition at all, any success is just a bonus. It certainly wouldn’t be shocking if they beat Shakhtar to third place in the group. In the playoff rounds of the tournament they beat AEK Athens in both legs, which will have boosted their confidence coming into the tournament. They have also had a solid start to their domestic campaign, but questions may be raised as to whether they’re squad can deal with the demands of having to play both domestic and European football.
Royal Antwerp are a definite underdog in this year’s edition of the UEFA Champions League, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Last year they showcased their grit and resilience all the way down to the final minute of the season, and they definitely won’t roll over against any team they face.