2018/19 Champions League Analysis: Group F

2018/19 Champions League Analysis: Group F
Simon Winter
Simon Winter
September 14, 2018
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Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.

Premier League title winners Manchester City enter 2018/19 UEFA Champions League as one of the favourites to win the competition outright and looking at their trio of opponents in Group F, it would be a major shock if they didn’t top the section.

City have been paired with Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk in Group E, though the rest of the section is made up of teams who are quite a way from being the best sides in their respective countries.

Lyon finished 3rd in Ligue 1 last season, while Hoffenheim also finished in 3rd spot in the 2017/18 Bundesliga. Group E then, seems set up for a Manchester City procession, though the second knock out qualification place is very much up for grabs.

Let’s take a closer look at the clubs competing for a Last 16 place in Champions League Group F:

Read More: Champions League 2018/19 Outright Betting Tips and Predictions – Group Stage Predictions

Champions League Group F

Fixtures:

19th September 2018

Shakhtar Donetsk vs 1899 Hoffenheim (Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv)

Manchester City vs Lyon (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)

2nd October 2018

1899 Hoffenheim vs Manchester City (Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Sinsheim)

Lyon vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Groupama Stadium, Lyon)

23rd October 2018

1899 Hoffenheim vs Lyon (Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Sinsheim)

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Manchester City (Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv)

7th November

Lyon vs 1899 Hoffenheim (Groupama Stadium, Lyon)

Manchester City vs Shakhtar Donetsk  (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)

27th November

1899 Hoffenheim vs Shakhtar Donetsk (Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Sinsheim)

Lyon vs Manchester City (Groupama Stadium, Lyon)

12th December

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Lyon (Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv)

Manchester City vs 1899 Hoffenheim (Etihad Stadium, Manchester)

Manchester City

Manchester City Raheem Sterling

How did they qualify?

Manchester City won the 2017/18 English Premier League title and went straight into the Champions League Group Stage.

Best Champions League season:

Manchester City reached the Semi Final of the 2015/16 Champions League.

Overview:

Manchester City smashed through the one hundred point and one hundred goal barriers on their way to convincingly winning the 2017/18 Premier League title. The Citizens lost just two games in total during an unprecedently dominant league campaign under Pep Guardiola.

With England conquered, the next challenge for Man City is to make an impact as a major force in Europe. City were helpless to stop Liverpool’s late-season stampede in the Quarter Finals of the 2017/18 Champions League, though this term, the aim has got to be Semi Final qualification at the very least.

City had one of their most modest transfer windows in recent years over the summer, making just one major acquisition in Riyad Mahrez while cutting loose some of the deadwood in their squad. Other targets, notably central midfielders Fred and Jorginho, opted to join City’s Premier League rivals United and Chelsea, though the Citizens’ squad doesn’t lack for quality cover in that area.

It had looked as though City would be without star midfielder Kevin de Bruyne for their entire Group F campaign, though the Belgian’s recovery now looks well ahead of schedule. Even without De Bruyne, the Citizens are odds on to coast through to the knock-out stages. Pep Guardiola has enough quality and variety in attacking areas to make light work of City’s Group F opponents.

Strengths:

Pep Guardiola’s tactical blueprint usually ensures that City dominate possession against most opponents. With their precision passing and perpetual movement in the final third, City seem to open defences up at will. Last season, they averaged an incredible 17.5 shots per 90 minutes in the Premier League and averaged 66.4% possession per game.

Weaknesses:

Pep Guardiola is happy to trade physicality for technical skill in his teams. He likes quick, clever players all over the pitch and while that philosophy can produce some mesmerising football, City can sometimes lack presence when defending set pieces.

Key Players:

David Silva

Arguably the greatest ever Manchester City player, 32-year old Spanish creative genius, David Silva, is still the man that makes the English champions tick. Silva made it into double figures for goals and assists again last season and the 125-times capped Spanish international will expect to hit similar numbers in 2018/19.

Manchester City Sergio Aguero Leroy Sane Bernardo Silva

Sergio Aguero

Argentinean striker Sergio Aguero hit at least 30 goals in 4 of his 7 seasons at Manchester City. The explosive finisher is a goal scoring machine and there are few better all-round strikers in world football at present. Aguero has already scored 5 times in 5 games in 2018/19.

Statistics:

  • Manchester City have lost 4 of their last 5 Champions League matches.
  • Manchester City have won 41 of their last 44 competitive home games.
  • Manchester City averaged 2.78 goals per game in the Premier League last season.

Fixture Analysis

Manchester City play at home 4 times in the Premier League directly before mid-week Champions League fixtures. However, their schedule throws up some really tough looking domestic games immediately after many of their European contests.

A few days after City take on Hoffenheim in Germany on Match Day 2, they take on Liverpool at Anfield. After their Match Day 3 trip to the Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk, City must prepare for a tricky visit to Wembley to play Spurs.

Just a couple of days after they welcome Shakhtar to the Etihad on November 7th on Match Day 4, City play rivals United in the Manchester Derby.

Before City’s Final Group E match at home to Hoffenheim, the Premier League calendar pits them against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Read More: Champions League 2018/19 Outright Betting Tips and Predictions – Top Goalscorer

Lyon

Ligue 1 - Lyon v Nice

How did they qualify?

Lyon finished 3rd in Ligue 1 in 2017/18 and qualified automatically for the Group Stage of the Champions League.

Best Champions League season:

Lyon reached the Semi Final of the Champions League in 2009–10, where they lost over two legs to Bayern Munich. They also reached the Quarter Finals of the competition in 2003/04, 2004/05 and 2005/06.

Overview:

Lyon enter the Group Stage of the Champions League fresh from a free-scoring domestic campaign in Ligue 1. Les Gones scored eighty-seven times during their 2017/18 Ligue 1 season, a total only bettered by runaway champions Paris Saint-Germain.

Replicating their sparkling forward play in the Champions League this season is the target for Lyon, though Bruno Génésio’s side haven’t impressed in their recent European excursions. Last season, they were eliminated at the Last 16 stage of the Europa League by CSKA Moscow and Lyon didn’t make it out of their Champions League Group the season before that.

Lyon will also have to cope without one of the members of their devastating attacking trident of 2017/18. Mariano Diaz, who scored 21 times in all competitions last season, returned to Real Madrid this summer after just once year in France.

Lyon have filled the gap with Celtic’s prolific frontman Moussa Dembélé, though it remains to be seen if he will have the same chemistry as Diaz did with Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traoré.

Strengths:

Lyon have some incredibly exciting young players in their team and Les Gones have devastatingly clinical edge on the counter attack. Nobody scored more goals on the break last season in Ligue 1 than Lyon.

Weaknesses:

Lyon’s squad is blessed with talented young footballers, though there is a discernible lack of Champions League knowhow in their ranks. Playing at such a high level will be a new experience for many of their players.

Key Players:

Memphis Depay

Dutch winger Memphis Depay is a player reborn in Ligue 1 with Lyon after he struggled to make a positive impact in England with Manchester United. Depay hit 22 goals in all competitions last season and his ability to hit the net from all manner of distances makes him a potent weapon in Lyon’s armoury.

Nabil Fekir

Fekir looked certain to leave Lyon over the summer but after his proposed move to Liverpool collapsed, OL fans can look forward to another season of his creative magic from midfield. Fekir scored 18 times and racked up 8 assists in Ligue 1 in 2017/18.

Statistics:

  • Lyon have won just 3 of their last 14 Champions League games.
  • Lyon have lost just 4 of their last 30 matches at home in all competitions.
  • Lyon’s Ligue 1 matches averaged 3.42 goals per game in 2017/18.

Fixture Analysis

Lyon play at home in Ligue 1 directly before 4 of their Group F fixtures, though they are scheduled to play away in the league in 4 of their games straight after mid-week European commitments.

Some of the opponents Lyon face immediately after Champions League games are among the best sides in Ligue 1. Right after their Match Day 1 match away at Manchester City, Lyon host Marseille at the Groupama Stadium.

Just a few days after they play Shakhtar at home on Match Day 2, Lyon must gear up for a trip to play champions PSG on their own patch.

After their potentially crucial trip to the Ukraine to lock horns with Shakhtar on Match Day 6, Lyon are scheduled to play last season’s Ligue 1 runners up Monaco at home.

Read More: Champions League 2018/19 Outright Betting Tips and Predictions – Winners Prediction

Shakhtar Donetsk

How did they qualify?

Shakhtar Donetsk won the 2017/18 Ukrainian Premier League and qualified directly for the Champions League Group Stage.

Best Champions League season:

Shakhtar Donetsk made it to the Quarter Final of the 2010/11 Champions League where they were beaten 6-1 by Barcelona over two legs.

Overview:

Shakhtar Donetsk are a familiar face in the UEFA Champions League having competed at the Group Stage of the competition in seven of the last eight seasons.

The Miner’s squad might not have the sprinkling of stardust that it once did, but Shakhtar will be quietly confident that they can repeat last season’s run to the Last 16 this year.

Shakhtar Donetsk won the Ukrainian Premier League for the second year running and the 7th time in ten years in 2017/18 holding off a stern challenge from traditional rivals Dynamo Kiev to lift the title.

The Miners proved their continental mettle in last season’s Champions League too, emerging from an incredibly tough Group that included Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, Dutch side Feyenoord and this year’s Group F favourites Manchester City. Shakhtar even managed to beat Pep Guardiola’s technicians in the final group match between the teams in Ukraine.

Manager Paulo Fonseca lost key midfielder Fred in the summer as well as chief goal getter Facundo Ferreyra and dynamic winger Bernard, though the club made full use of their extensive scouting network in Brazil to sign another clutch of players that they hope can be developed into household names and sold on over the coming seasons.

However, after losing three key players at once, on paper at least, Shakhtar’s team appears to be considerably weaker then it was this time last year. The Miners will need several of their new faces to hit the ground running to have any chance of Champions League progression.

Strengths:

Shakhtar are incredibly tough to beat on their own patch. Only PSG and Real Madrid have won a Champions League game in the Ukraine in the last 3 years. The Miners took the scalps of Napoli, Man City, Feyenoord and Roma in Ukraine in last season’s Champions League.

Weaknesses:

Their away form in the Champions League is almost a complete inverse of their excellent form at home. Shakhtar have lost 7 of their last 8 matches on the road in the Champions League and really, they have struggled to shake their travel sickness for the bones of a decade.

Key Players:

Marlos

Born in São José dos Pinhais, Brazil, Marlos received his Ukrainian citizenship last year having played his club football in the country since 2011. The attacking midfield has since represented Ukraine at international level, collecting 7 caps in total for his new homeland. The winger scored 22 times in all competitions for Shakhtar last season, which was the best individual goalscoring campaign of his career.

Taras Stepanenko

Club captain and holding midfielder Taras Stepanenko has been patrolling the centre of the pitch for Shakhtar since joining the club from Metalurh Zaporizhya in 2010. The 29-year old loves a tackle and has a highly impressive pass completion rate. Stepanenko completed 87.9% of his passes in the Champions League last season.

Statistics:

  • Shakhtar Donetsk have lost 7 of their last 8 Champions League away games.
  • Shakhtar Donetsk have won 6 of their last 7 Champions league home matches.
  • Shakhtar Donetsk have only lost 3 of their last 18 Champions League home fixtures.

Fixture Analysis

Shakhtar Donetsk play away from home in the Ukrainian Premier League directly before 3 of their Champions League Group F matches.

However, their schedule also sees them given home matches in the league immediately after 4 of their mid-week European clashes.

Shakhtar Donetsk face off against last year’s Ukrainian Premier League runner up Dynamo Kiev just a couple of days before they take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Match Day 4 of the Champions League.

Read More: 2018/19 Champions League Analysis: Group E

1899 Hoffenheim

Eintracht Frankfurt vs Hoffenheim

How did they qualify?

Hoffenheim finished 3rd in the 2017/18 Bundesliga, earning them direct passage to the Champions League Group Stage.

Best Champions League season:

Hoffenheim have never played in the Champions League Group Stage before.

Overview:

Having lost out to Liverpool in last year’s Champions League pre-qualifiers, Hoffenheim finally made to the Group Stage of the competition this season after their 3rd place finish in the 2017/18 Bundesliga secured them a place in the tournament.

Their arrival on Europe’s biggest stage is a seminal moment for the regional club, who have seen incredible growth over the past decade. In Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffenheim have one of the brightest young managerial minds in the game, though 2018/19 will Die Kraichgauer’s last season under his stewardship. The coach, who turned 31 in July has agreed to take over at RB Leipzig next summer.

Hoffenheim beat Borussia Dortmund 3-1 on a dramatic final day of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season to leapfrog BVB into 3rd spot, though both clubs eventually secured Champions League qualification. That result capped a tremendous end to the season for Nagelsmann and Hoffenheim, who lost just one of their last eleven league matches.

Die Kraichgauer had a mixed summer transfer window however – they lost their 2017/18 top scorer Mark Uth on a free transfer after the frontman opted to join Schalke 04 when his contract expired. Serge Gnabry also returned to parent club Bayern Munich after a productive year on loan in Sinsheim.

Hoffenheim strengthened to the tune of approximately €20m, signing multiple players at low cost. Winger Leonardo Bittencourt from Koln and defender Kasim Adams were the standout arrivals.

Strengths:

Hoffenheim’s 3-5-2 formation is more attacking than it appears on paper. Die Kraichgauer’s combination of pace and fluidity in forward areas made them one of the most dangerous teams in the Bundesliga last season. In fact, they finished as the division’s second highest scorers behind champions Bayern Munich.

Weaknesses:

Nine teams in the Bundesliga conceded fewer goals than Hoffenheim last season and with the team having conceded in each of their first three matches of the new season, it looks as though little improvement has been made in that area. Interestingly, 27% of all the league goals they conceded in 2017/18 were scored from set pieces. Their weakness in that area could be further exploited in the Champions League.

Key Players:

Andrej Kramarić

With Mark Uth no longer in the picture, Croatian international Andrej Kramarić is Hoffenheim’s leading man in attack. The former Leicester City employee scored 13 times in all competitions last season and he hit the net 18 times in total the season before. Kramarić has only played 46 minutes of football so far in 2018/19, though that was long enough for him to register his first goal of the new campaign.

Kevin Vogt

Defensive lynchpin and club captain Kevin Vogt played more minutes than any other outfield player for Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga last season. The 26-year old has represented Germany at various age groups from U16 right through to U21 level, though he has yet to break into Joachim Low’s senior squad. Strong rumours over the summer suggested that Bayern Munich had lined Vogt up as a potential replacement for Jerome Boateng.

Statistics:

  • Hoffenheim have lost just 1 of their last 13 competitive matches at home.
  • Hoffenheim have only won 3 of their last 14 competitive away games.
  • Hoffenheim’s matches averaged 3.35 goals per game in the 2017/18 Bundesliga.

Fixture Analysis

Hoffenheim’s Champions League task is made all the tougher by the fact they have to play 5 Bundesliga away matches away immediately before mid-week Champions League games.

The good news is that they play at home in the Bundesliga after all 6 Champions League Group F fixtures, though the damage caused by fatigue from extensive travel might already have been done by the time those home games come around.

The weekend after Hoffenheim play away to Shakhtar on Match Day 1, they face Borussia Dortmund at home in the Bundesliga. Hoffenheim also have a tough fixture directly after their home game with Shakhtar on Match Day 5, as they host Schalke 04 at the Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena.

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