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.
The winners of last season’s Champions League and one of the competition’s Semi Finalists make up half of the combatants in Group G. It’s understandable then, that both Real Madrid and Roma have been heavily backed to make to the knock out stages again this year.
In their way stand a much-changed CSKA Moscow from Russia and a relatively unknown Viktoria Plzeň from the Czech Republic – teams who will be happy to play the role of underdogs.
On paper, Group G looks relatively straightforward, but will the quartet of teams finish in the order people expect them to? Read our detailed analysis of each club in the section below:
19th September 2018
Real Madrid vs Roma (Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid)
Viktoria Plzeň vs CSKA Moscow (Doosan Arena, Plzeň)
2nd October 2018
CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid (VEB Arena, Moscow)
Roma vs Viktoria Plzeň (Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
23rd October 2018
Roma vs CSKA Moscow (Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
Real Madrid vs Viktoria Plzeň (Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid)
CSKA Moscow vs Roma (VEB Arena, Moscow)
Viktoria Plzeň vs Real Madrid (Doosan Arena, Plzeň)
CSKA Moscow vs Viktoria Plzeň (VEB Arena, Moscow)
Roma vs Real Madrid (Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
Real Madrid vs CSKA Moscow (Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid)
Viktoria Plzeň vs Roma (Doosan Arena, Plzeň)
How did they qualify?
Real Madrid qualified for the Champions League as winners, having lifted the trophy for the 3rd season in a row in 2017/18.
Best Champions League season:
Real Madrid have won the European Cup/Champions League a record breaking 13 times duing their history (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018). They were also beaten in 3 Finals (1962, 1964 and 1981).
2018 has been both an era defining and era ending year for Real Madrid so far. Having become the first team to win the Champions League three times in a row since the tournament’s revamp in the early nineties, Real said goodbye to two of their favourite and most influential sons.
Manager Zinedine Zidane chose to end his stint as Real manager on a high and iconic attacker Cristiano Ronaldo left to seek out new challenges with Juventus in Serie A. Ronaldo’s switch to Italy felt like a seismic shift in power between two of the continent’s heavyweights, though Real will hope that his departure allows other players to emerge from his shadow and shine.
Los Blancos turned to former Spain coach Julen Lopetegui to recalibrate the club post-Ronaldo, stealing him from the national team on the eve of the World Cup. Unlike Zidane, Lopetegui is a system-based coach, who builds teams in the literal sense of the word instead of relying so much on the brilliance of individuals.
Real used a chunk of the Ronaldo money to finally solve their keeper conundrum, signing Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea. Los Blancos also spent big on promising Brazilian attacker Vinícius Júnior and exciting young right back Álvaro Odriozola. In addition, Real brought Mariano Díaz back from Lyon, though there are doubts about the impact the 25-year old can make on his return to Spain with competition for places up front so intense.
Even without Ronaldo, Real’s squad remains star-studded and packed with serial winners. The Champions League’s most successful ever side are among the favourites to win it again this year.
Real Madrid have world-class players proven at the highest level in every position. As an attacking force, they are almost unparalleled – they have only failed to scored once in their last 34 competitive matches in all competitions.
Having lost Ronaldo, it will be interesting to see who Real turn to when they are in need of an inspirational match winner in tough fixtures. Gareth Bale has the ability to be the team’s new talisman, but can he stay fit for the entire season?
Even though he is almost universally disliked, Sergio Ramos is a player that everyone would want in their team. His mastery and use of the game’s dark arts is often overstated however, and when you strip back his clandestine reputation, you’re left with arguably the finest centre half in world football.
Fresh from a string of virtuoso performances for Croatia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Luka Modric’s standing in the game could hardly be higher. The metronomic passer is simply a sensational footballer. Modric is the conduit through which all good things flow for Real Madrid.
- Real Madrid are unbeaten in 27 of their last 30 Champions League fixtures.
- Real Madrid are unbeaten in 37 of their last 39 Champions League home matches.
- Real Madrid have won 8 of their last 10 Champions League away games.
Real Madrid’s fixtures before and after their Champions League fixtures are evenly balanced between home and away games. Los Blancos play away in La Liga 3 times and at home domestically 3 times before mid-week European commitments.
Similarly, they play away 3 times and at home 3 times directly after their 6 respective Champions League Group G matches.
A few days before their Match Day 2 date with CSKA Moscow in Russia, Real must come through the Madrid derby against city rivals Atlético Madrid.
Just a couple of days after their Match Day 3 home clash with Viktoria Plzeň, Real travel to the Nou Camp to take on Barcelona in El Classico.
How did they qualify?
Roma finished 3rd in Serie A last season, earning them direct passage into the Champions League Group Stage.
Best Champions League season:
Roma made it to the Final of the 1983/1984 European Cup, where they were beaten at penalties by Liverpool.
Roma came within touching distance of the Champions League Final in 2017/18, narrowly losing 7-6 over two legs to Premier League side Liverpool. After a tumultuous summer in the transfer market, Roma’s team looks decidedly weaker than it did last season however.
The Giallorossi ripped the guts out of their midfield, choosing to cash in on the Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman, who moved to Inter and Marseille respectively. Roma also sold first choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker to Liverpool in a record-breaking deal.
The revolving door at the Stadio Olimpico kept spinning right through the transfer window, with the number of players leaving and arriving both reaching double figures before the market closed. The most high-profile arrivals were Steven Nzonzi, Javier Pastore and Justin Kluivert, though Roma fans were largely unimpressed with the business done by transfer supremo Ramón Monchi.
With their new-look team, Roma have picked up just one win from their first four Serie A matches of the 2018/19 season. Pressure is already starting to build and numerous reports are suggesting that Monchi is already looking to jump ship.
The Giallorossi’s chances of emulating their terrific Champions League run of last season look slim, though Lady Luck has definitely smiled on them in the Group Stage draw.
Eusebio Di Francesco has manufactured a fantastic team spirit at Roma. The Giallorossi showed their resolve in last season’s Champions League, overturning a huge first leg deficit to beat Barcelona in the Quarter Finals and they almost repeated the trick against Liverpool in the Semis. Their ability to fight back against the odds could be a potent weapon in the knock out stages again.
After such a huge turnover of personnel in the summer, Eusebio Di Francesco still has work to do to find a settled team and system. Tactical uncertainty and experimentation is always a guarantee when so many new players come into the team at once, and Di Francesco has struggled to find a formula that works in the opening weeks of the 2018/19 season.
32-year old centre forward Edin Dzeko is Roma’s biggest and most consistent goal threat. The Bosnia and Herzegovina international scored 24 times in all competitions last season, including 8 goals in 12 Champions League fixtures. An injury to the former Man City star would be catastrophic to Roma’s chances of progressing from the Group.
Daniele De Rossi
With Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan no longer at the club, Roma legend Daniele De Rossi suddenly stands alone as the main man in midfield. The classy veteran played 10 of Roma’s 12 matches in the Champions League last season, highlighting just how important the 35-year old still is for the Giallorossi.
- Roma won 4 and lost 4 of their last 8 Champions League fixtures.
- Roma have won just 1 of their last 16 Champions League away matches.
- Roma have kept just 1 clean sheet in their last 29 Champions League away games.
Like Real Madrid, Roma have an even mix of home and away Serie A matches in and around their Champions League Group G games. The Giallorossi play 3 times at home and 3 times away before their European fixtures, with the same split in home/away games directly after their UCL matches.
A few days before their Match Day 2 fixture against Viktoria Plzeň, Roma must come through the Derby della Capitale against their bitter city rivals Lazio.
After they take on CSKA Moscow at home on Match Day 3, Roma make the trip to Naples to take on last season’s Serie A runners up Napoli.
Their first league game after playing Real Madrid on Match Day 4 in Rome, is another match in the capital against Inter Milan.
How did they qualify?
CSKA finished 2nd in the Russian Premier League in 2017/18. The top two teams in that league qualify directly for the Champions League Group Stage.
Best Champions League season:
CSKA Moscow made it to the Quarter Final of the 2009/2010 Champions League where they were beaten over two legs by Inter Milan.
CSKA Moscow enter the Champions League Group Stage for the 6th season in a row this year, though the Krasno-sinie team has a very unfamiliar look to it in 2018/19.
Long-serving defenders Sergei Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutski and Aleksei Berezutski, all hung up their boots over the summer, tearing out the team’s foundations in one fell swoop.
The trio’s decision to retire at the same time has left a defensive chasm that Manager Viktor Goncharenko will need some time to fill. Goncharenko has lost a back three with over one thousand appearances between them and CSKA face navigating the Champions League Group stage with a hugely inexperienced set of replacements. Talented midfielder Aleksandr Golovin also moved on, transferring to Monaco in Ligue 1 after an impressive showing at the World Cup.
With their veteran defenders calling it a day, the overall average age of the CSKA Moscow squad has taken a dramatic dive – in fact, the Koni’s ranks are among the most youthful in the entire Champions League.
There is a regenerative feel to their team that potentially makes CSKA a much more exciting outfit than we have seen over the past few seasons. They are favourites to finish ahead of Viktoria Plzeň in the race for a Europa League spot, though CSKA will be quietly confident of making a push for second place.
CSKA have some incredibly gifted young players in midfield and attack. The low average age of the team means there should be plenty of energy and running power in the side.
Without Ignashevich and the Berezutski brothers, CSKA Moscow’s squad is almost completely shorn of top-level experience. Viktor Goncharenko will hope that his young players are fast learners.
20-year old striker Fyodor Chalov is on the cusp of stardom. The CSKA youth product has been sensational in the opening weeks of the 2018/19 season, netting 6 times in 8 games in total. Chalov is an old-school, penalty area expert, who sniffs out and finishes off half chances for his team. There are still rough edges to his all-round game, though his potential is huge.
Tipped to be the next big Croatian midfielder superstar, 20-year old Kristijan Bistrović has been catching the eye of many of Europe’s biggest teams. Bistrović has only been at CSKA since January after signing from Slaven Koprivnica, but his performances have already made him a fan favourite. Bistrović combines technical prowess with a physical robustness in midfield and the youngster is incredibly well-rounded for his age.
- CSKA have won 4 of their last 5 away Champions League Group and qualification games.
- CSKA have only lost 4 of their last 16 Champions League home matches.
- CSKA only kept 1 clean sheet in 6 Champions League Group matches last season.
CSKA Moscow play away from home in the Russian Premier League directly before 5 of their mid-week Champions League fixtures and the extensive travel involved could take its toll on their performances.
CSKA also have tough fixtures against their local rivals before and after several of their Group G games. They play at home to Spartak Moscow in the game immediately after their Match Day 1 clash with Viktoria Plzeň.
After they host Real Madrid on Match Day 2, they play city rivals Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian Premier League in their next domestic outing.
CSKA must come through a tough test away at Dinamo Moscow before they play Roma in the Russian capital a few days later. CSKA take on Zenit directly after their game against the Giallorossi in another tricky Premier League tie.
Read More: 2018/19 Champions League Analysis: Group F
How did they qualify?
Viktoria Plzeň won the 2017/18 Czech HET Liga and qualified directly for the Champions League Group Stage.
Best Champions League season:
Viktoria Plzeň qualified for the Group Stage of the 2011/12 and 2013/14 Champions League. The were eliminated after that stage on both occasions.
Viktoria Plzeň won the HET Liga in the Czech Republic for the third time in four season in 2017/18, beating Slavia Prague to the title by seven points. Viktoria limped over the line somewhat after winning just nine of their last eighteen league matches, though they did just enough to secure the club’s fifth overall league championship.
Viktoria are rightly considered the weakest team in Group F, though that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed as a threat completely. The Czech side won plenty of plaudits for their performances in last season’s Europa League. Plzeň made it all the way to the Last 16 of the competition, where they were eventually eliminated by Sporting CP after extra time.
Financial limitations and a responsible fiscal policy means that Viktoria are unable to make any considerable moves in the transfer market, though Manager Pavel Vrba is used to operating in that kind of environment. Under Vrba, Viktoria play a progressive, passing style of football and the talented Coach’s approach has helped to modernise the game in general in the Czech Republic.
Finishing in 3rd position in Group G would be seen as a fantastic achievement for this Viktoria side, who would probably look more at home in the Europa League. They might not have the requisite quality to finish that high however.
Viktoria Plzeň have a very settled team, filled with players who know Pavel Vrba’s system inside out. The collective continuity in the side should help them to play above themselves.
While their first eleven is relatively strong, there is little depth beyond that for Viktoria Plzeň. If they do pick up any injuries, Viktoria could struggle badly.
Talented striker Michael Krmenčík is the team’s chief goal getter. The 17-times capped Czech Republic international has already bagged 7 goals in 8 appearances this term. The 25-year old scored 4 times in 6 Europa League starts in 2017/18, proving his ability to produce on the continental stage.
Club captain and vastly experienced centre half Roman Hubník is the glue that holds the Viktoria defence together. The 34-year old, who was capped for the Czech Republic 29 times between 2009 and 2016 brings a wealth of organisation knowhow to the Viktoria team.
- Viktoria Plzeň have won 7 of their first 8 league games this season
- Viktoria Plzeň have won just 2 of their last 14 Champions League fixtures.
- Viktoria Plzeň kept 5 clean sheets in their first 8 league matches in 2018/19.
Viktoria Plzeň have away matches in the HET Liga directly before 4 of their mid-week Champions League Group G games. They do however, have home games in the league straight after 5 of their Group G matches.
Their first league game after their Match Day 1 game against CSKA Moscow sees them take on last season’s 3rd placed HET Liga team Jablonec away from home.
A few days before their Match Day 2 clash with Roma, Viktoria play host to Sparta Prague, who finished 5th in the Czech Republic’s top-flight last season.
Viktoria play Sigma Olomouc at home after returning from their Match Day 5 match with CSKA in Russia. Sigma finished 4th in the HET Liga in 2017/18.
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