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.
2018/19 Champions League Group H is one of the most fascinating looking sections in the opening stage of this year’s competition.
With Ronaldo leading the charge, Serie A behemoths Juventus are the clear favourites to top the Group.
Beyond that, things look a little muddier however and though the bookmakers’ have tipped Manchester United to join Juve in the knockout stages, Jose Mourinho’s team look far from convincing this season.
La Liga side Valencia will be looking to prey on any weakness shown by United in the Group Stage and Switzerland’s Young Boys will hope to bring more to the table than ammunition for innuendoe.
Read our detailed analysis of each team in Group H below:
19th September 2018
Young Boys vs Manchester United (Stade de Suisse Wankdorf, Bern)
Valencia vs Juventus (Mestalla, Valencia)
2nd October 2018
Juventus vs Young Boys (Juventus Stadium, Turin)
Manchester United vs Valencia (Old Trafford, Manchester)
23rd October 2018
Young Boys vs Valencia (Stade de Suisse Wankdorf, Bern)
Manchester United vs Juventus (Old Trafford, Manchester)
Valencia vs Young Boys (Mestalla, Valencia)
Juventus vs Manchester United (Juventus Stadium, Turin)
Manchester United vs Young Boys (Old Trafford, Manchester)
Juventus vs Valencia (Juventus Stadium, Turin)
Young Boys vs Juventus (Stade de Suisse Wankdorf, Bern)
Valencia vs Manchester United (Mestalla, Valencia)
How did they qualify?
Juventus won the 2018/19 Serie A championship in Italy.
Best Champions League season:
Juventus won the European Cup in 1985 and the Champions League in 1996. Incredibly Juventus have lost in the Final of the competition on 7 separate occasions 1973, 1983, 1997, 1998, 2003, 2015 and 2017). No other club has lost as many finals at Juventus.
Having lifted their 7th domestic title in as many seasons in Italy, Juventus are enjoying a period of unprecedented dominance in Serie A. Exerting such control over a notoriously tough league for the bones of a decade is a fantastic achievement, though Juventus’ failure to win a single Champions League during that period has taken some of the gloss off their accomplishment.
Finals have been reached and lost, most recently in 2017 and 2015, but with each subsequent failure at continental level, the pressure to win intensifies and Juventus’ hunt for Champions League glory has mutated from a quest into an obsession.
Their Quarter Final exit in last season’s competition was a proverbial gut punch that shook Juventus into action. They raided their conquerors, Real Madrid, for chief agitator Cristiano Ronaldo, in a statement signing that rocked Europe to the tune of approximately £105m.
Further sacks of cash were exchanged for Valencia’s João Cancelo and AC Milan’s Leonardo Bonucci, who returned to his spiritual home after a short spell at the San Siro. Douglas Costa’s loan move from Bayern Munich was also made permanent while faithful servants Gianluigi Buffon, Gonzalo Higuain and Stephan Lichtsteiner were cut loose .
Their summer business has left Juventus will a squad comparable to any in world football. The Old Lady is trying everything to avoid being the bridesmaid instead of the bride again this season.
Even with Ronaldo added to their attacking options, Juventus’ real strength still lies in defence. With Bonucci restored to the heart of their backline alongside Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus look even more impenetrable than they did in 2017/18, when they conceded just 24 times in 38 games.
It’s hard to identify a real weakness in such an incredibly well-balanced squad. Any club that has a history of losing finals might have a mental block of sorts to deal with however. If Juventus do make it to the Champions League final again this season, they will have to jump that psychological hurdle to win.
Who else? The all-time leading scorer in the Champions League will be looking to add to his 116 goals in the competition this season. After a slow-ish start, Ronaldo bagged his first 2 goals for Juventus against Sassuolo at the weekend, breaking his duck just in time for the first fixture of the Champions League against Valencia.
Battle hardened centre half Giorgio Chiellini has been at Juventus since 2005 and he continues to give every fibre of himself for the Old Lady’s cause. Chiellini is just about as complete a defender as you are likely to find, but he is very much cut from the old-school cloth. Plenty of Champions League strikers will be left battered and bruised this season after facing Chiellini.
- Juventus are unbeaten in 20 of their last 23 Champions League matches.
- Juventus are unbeaten in 23 of their last 26 Champions League home games.
- Juventus have won 15 of their last 18 home games in all competitions.
Juventus’ Champions League cause is helped considerably by the fact they play at home in Serie A directly before each of their 6 Group H fixtures.
The flip side of that, is that they are scheduled to play away from home in the league immediately after each of their European matches. The way their fixtures have fallen, there is much more risk of fatigue effecting their Serie A performances than their Champions League displays.
After Juventus host Manchester United in Turin on Match Day 4, they travel to the San Siro to play AC Milan.
Juventus face Milan’s city rivals Inter in the Derby d’Italia just a couple of days before their Champions League Match Day 6 clash with Young Boys in Switzerland.
How did they qualify?
Manchester United finished 2nd in the 2017/18 English Premier League and secured automatic passage through to the Group Stage of the Champions League.
Best Champions League season:
Manchester United have won the European Cup/Champions League 3 times in their history (1968, 1999, 2008). The were also beaten in two Finals (2009 and 2011).
Manchester United are one of Europe’s most abstruse football teams. In 2017/18, United achieved their highest Premier League finish since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, yet the team is regularly torn apart in the media over their reductive, pragmatic style of play.
Playing poorly and winning has become United’s trademark under Jose Mourinho and that well established pattern of performances shows little signs of changing this season.
Frustration in the transfer market, a salty relationship between the manager and several star players, and a sizeable division in the fanbase are all problems that have been running concurrently at United, leaving the club in a constant state of flux.
Bookmakers’ have priced United at as long at 28/1 to win the Champions League outright this season, which makes them about the 10th favourite to go all the way in the competition.
With their disorganization in defence, lack of mobility in midfield and complete absence of chemistry in attack, it’s easy to see why they are probably the least fancied “big” team in the Champions League this season.
Making it out of Group H and into the knockout stages has got to be the number one target for United – anything beyond that feels like bonus territory for Mourinho’s Red Devils. Last season’s embarrassing defeat to Sevilla in the Last 16 if last season’s competition is still fresh in the memory and United will be desperate to avoid a similar scenario developing in 2018/19.
If United do manage to take the lead in a particular game, then they are experts at strangling the life out of the contest. Their team is packed with physical, aerially dominant players who love nothing more than dropping back in large numbers and digging in to protect a lead.
Despite their array of talented, attacking players, United don’t create near enough opportunities to score. United ranked 6th for average shots on goal and for average shots on target per game in the Premier League last season. So far in 2018/19, they have looked equally directionless in the final third, ranking 8th and 5th in the same metrics.
David de Gea
United’s super-human stopper continues to defy physics with his match-defining saves. Without the Spaniard between the sticks, United would lose far more games than they should. Expected goals models show that United should concede far more often than they actually do. De Gea is the main reason that they don’t.
He might not be the most polished centre forward in world football, but Romelu Lukaku is still incredibly effective. His all-round game and link up play continue to let him down at times, but the Belgian international is a prolific goal scorer. In a squad severely lacking in finishers, Lukaku is an absolutely vital contributor.
- Man Utd have only lost 1 of their last 12 Champions League home games.
- Man Utd have failed to win 11 of their last 15 Champions League away matches.
- Man Utd have scored at least once in 23 of their last 25 Champions League home fixtures.
Man Utd are scheduled to play away in the Premier League before 4 of their Champions League Group H games. 3 of their matches directly after their mid-week European fixtures are also scheduled to be played away from Old Trafford.
Before hosting Juventus in Manchester on Match Day 3, United will have to come through a tough fixture against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
A few days after the return match between United and Juventus in Turin on Match Day 4, the Red Devils take on bitter rivals Man City at the Etihad.
United’s potentially crucial Match Day 6 fixture in Spain against Valencia is quickly followed by a trip to Anfield to take on Premier League title hopefuls Liverpool.
How did they qualify?
Valencia finished 4th in the 2017/18 Spanish La Liga. The top four finishers in that league go straight into the Champions League Group Stage.
Best Champions League season:
Valenica were beaten Champions League Finalists in 2000 and 2001.
Valencia are back in the Group Stage of the Champions League for the first time since the 2015/16 season, though the landscape at the Mestalla has changed considerably since their last ill-fated foray into the continent’s top club competition.
In 2015/16, Valencia finished 3rd in their Group behind Russia’s Zenit and Belgium’s Gent, losing four of their six games along the way. If their summer transfer business is anything to go by, Valencia are doing everything in their power to ensure that they don’t repeat the mistakes of that embarrassing campaign.
Having finished in the last of four Champions League qualification spots in La Liga last season, Valencia went to work in the transfer market, securing permanent deals for Gonçalo Guedes and Geoffrey Kondogbia.
Valencia also added Kevin Gameiro, Michy Batshuayi to their attacking options on permanent and loan deals respectively, while Mouctar Diakhaby, Jeison Murillo and Cristiano Picchini were brought in to bolster the defence.
João Cancelo was the highest profile departure, though Valencia had already grown accustomed to life without the full back after he spent last season on loan at Inter. Los Che will see Cancelo soon however when they face his new employers Juventus in Group H.
Keeping hold of Dani Parejo and Rodrigo was Valencia’s best business however. The players had been courted by Barcelona and Real Madrid, though their decision to stay at the Mestalla ensured that the club entered the 2018/19 with huge optimism.
Valencia have superb technical footballers all over the pitch. Their options in every position have been well fleshed out by summer clever summer business, and there are goal threats wherever you look in their squad.
26.3% of the goals conceded by Valencia in La Liga last season were scored from set pieces. Their inability to defend properly from dead balls is something opponents can exploit in the Champions League.
Rodrigo was Valencia’s top scorer last season, netting 19 times in total in the most prolific individual campaign of his career. The Spanish international was also instrumental in linking midfield and attack for Valencia. He remains one of the most influential players in the team this season.
Valencia supporters were understandably thrilled when their club managed to swing a deal to sign exciting winger Gonçalo Guedes from PSG on a permanent basis this summer. The 21-year old is one of the most promising young players in Europe and though he has wrinkles to iron out in his game, his livewire performances made him a fan favourite at the Mestalla in 2017/18.
- Valencia have lost 5 of their last 7 Champions League fixtures.
- Valencia have only won 3 of their last 14 Champions League away games.
- Valencia are unbeaten in 11 of their last 14 Champions League home games.
Valencia play at home in La Liga directly before 5 of their Champions League Group H matches. They do however have to play away games in the league immediately after 5 of their mid-week European games.
Just a few days after their Match Day 2 visit to Manchester United in England, Valencia host Barcelona at the Mestalla in La Liga.
Their Match Day 5 trip to play Juventus in Turin is followed by an equally tough domestic fixture against Real Madrid in the Spanish capital.
Read More: 2018/19 Champions League Analysis: Group G
How did they qualify?
Young Boys won the 2017/18 Swiss Super League and then had come through a double-legged play-off game against Dinamo Kiev to make the Champions League Group Stage.
Best Champions League season:
Young Boys have never made it to the Group Stage of the Champions League before this season.
Young Boys are still riding the crest of a wave having won their first Swiss domestic league title since 1985/86 last season. Their dose of euphoria was doubled when they edged out Dinamo Kiev in the Champions League pre-qualifiers and now Young Boys are preparing for fixtures against European giants Manchester United, Juventus and Valencia.
Incredibly, Young Boys finished fifteen points ahead of a Basel side that had won eight Super League titles in succession before last season. Young Boys’ attractive style of football turned heads over the summer however and Coach Adi Hütter was lured to the Bundesliga by Eintracht Frankfurt, who moved quickly to replace Bayern bound Niko Kovac. Young Boys brought in Gerardo Seoane from FC Luzern to take the reins at the club following Hütter’s departure.
Little is expected of Young Boys in an extremely tough looking Champions League Group, but that lack of expectation means the Swiss side can go out and play with a relative amount of freedom. The Swiss champions like to attack and the section’s bigger clubs might be surprised about how many men they commit forward in search of goals.
There are a few older heads dotted about a largely inexperienced squad at the Stade de Suisse Wankdorf. Miralem Sulehmani, Guillaume Hoarau and Steve Van Bergen, formally of Ajax, PSG and Hertha Berlin respectively will all be key in helping to knit the younger players together into a competitive unit.
Finishing 3rd in the Group would be seen as a fabulous achievement for the first timers. The distinct lack of quality in their ranks might seem them fall short of that target however.
Young Boys employed a high pressing, fast passing style last season which was easy on the eye and extremely successful. Under Gerardo Seoane, they look to be switching to a more possession-based approach, though there is a good chance they will revert to the tried and tested formula of last season in the Champions League.
Young Boys are lacking top level quality in every department. They won’t lack for enthusiasm or effort, but ultimately, their squad looks a level or two below the rest in Group H.
Former Newcastle United youngster Kevin Mbabu had been impressing on loan at Young Boys from Rangers in 2016/17 before making his move permanent last summer. The full back has been further enhancing his reputation down the right flank this year and a move to the Bundesliga could happen as early as January.
Defensive midfielder Sékou Sanogo brings a physical presence to the Young Boys engine room and his ability to win the ball back and set the team on the attack is crucial to how the Swiss champions play. Sanogo has been at Young Boys since 2014 and has been capped once at international level by the Ivory Coast.
- Young Boys didn’t lose any of their first 10 matches of the new season.
- Young Boys are unbeaten in their last 18 competitive home matches.
- Young Boy’s matches averaged 3.47 goals per game in the Swiss Super League last season.
Young Boys play away from home in the Swiss Super League before 4 of their Champions League Group H fixtures. They also play away after each of their last 3 European games.
Directly after both of Young Boys Group H meetings with Manchester United, they take on Swiss Super League title rivals Basel.
Before their Match Day 3 clash with Valencia, Young Boys must negotiate a tough league fixture away at Zurich. They play Grasshopper away before they travel to Spain for the return fixture with Valencia on Match Day 4.
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