Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
This is the biggest season for Italian clubs in the Champions League for quite a while. It marks the return of the last Serie A side to win the trophy – Inter Milan – while this is the first year that Italy has four teams in the competition since 2011. On top of that, there’s a genuine hope of a new Italian winner, after Roma’s run last year, and a busy transfer window for Juventus.
All four Italian sides featured in Thursday’s group stage draw, and we’re looking at the challenges facing them this autumn. Could all four Serie A representatives make it through? Will another Portuguese ego inspire an Italian victory in Europe? We’re going group by group through the four sides, examining who is worst off after a tough draw.
Also See: Serie A 2018/19 Outright Predictions
Inter Milan – Group B
— Inter (@Inter_en) August 30, 2018
We’re most interested in seeing how Inter Milan get on in their return to this competition. They last featured in a last 16 game against Marseille back in 2012, less than two years after Jose Mourinho led them to glory in the competition. The club never reached those heights again, and now they’re making a return over six years later. They were strong in the transfer market this summer, with their signings marking them out as the second strongest side in Italy.
However, their absence from Europe hasn’t done them any favours. They were in the lowest pot in the group stage draw, which landed them a difficult pool. The Nerazzurri face Barcelona, Tottenham and PSV Eindhoven, which leaves them facing a difficult fight to make the last 16.
There’s plenty of history in this group, given that Inter beat Barca in an ill-tempered tie in 2010. The San Siro saw the arrival of Gareth Bale later that year. He famously terrorised Maicon across two group stage meetings. However, that was peak-Inter, now this side is finding its feet, and they look out of their depth here.
PSV are a solid enough side to cause problems in this group, while Tottenham showed their European class last season. They topped a group including Real Madrid. Barcelona have their eye on reclaiming European bragging rights back from Real, so Inter have their work cut out. Their goal this season has to be to enjoy some big ties at home, while boosting their reputation in Europe.
Napoli – Group C
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) August 30, 2018
Napoli all but shelved their Champions League hopes last season, viewing the 2017/18 campaign as a rare chance to strike a blow to Juventus domestically. Maurizio Sarri’s men lost three of their first four, finishing third and ending up in the Europa League. This time around, they have Carlo Ancelotti in charge – a three time winner of this competition as a manager. Can he inspire more success from the Partenopei?
They’ve been given an awful draw, facing last season’s runners-up Liverpool and Ancelotti’s former side Paris Saint Germain. The French champions will be looking to finally go all the way, while Liverpool will feel like they have unfinished business in Europe. Those two are the clear favourites to take top spot, and now Napoli are facing two of the most potent attacking trios in world football.
While Ancelotti’s experience is going to be huge for Napoli this term, it won’t be enough to bridge the gap to those two. However, the Partenopei should be more competitive this time, unfortunately for group minnows Red Star Belgrade.
Roma – Group G
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) August 30, 2018
Roma were the story of last season’s Champions League, after their momentum comeback against Barcelona. They played out a thrilling tie with Liverpool, and now last season’s semi-finalists are up against the reigning champions. The Giallorossi will clash with Real Madrid this year, having been boosted by their run last season.
However, any optimism for their European campaign has been quickly dampened by club legend Francesco Totti. He said the club will, “do everything we can to finish second”. That comes after a season which took them to the last four in this competition, when they topped their group ahead of Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. While it makes sense not to have too much expectations, a little optimism is needed here.
After all, Roma’s draw was wrapped up with clashes against CSKA Moscow and Plzen; hardly household European names. The Giallorossi should be as good as guaranteed a spot in the next round, so they should set their sights on challenging the holders.
Juventus – Group H
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) August 30, 2018
The Italian champions are the third favourites for the Champions League, following Man City and Barcelona. That comes after they made their ambitions in Europe clear with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. Six straight seasons as the top scorer in this competition shows his value. Will he be able to take Juve all the way?
To do that, Ronaldo has to go through his former side Manchester United. This meeting brings back memories of that famous semi-final from 1999. The Portuguese international is also making just his second return to Old Trafford since leaving in 2009.
There’s more to this group than just the two heavyweights, as the ambitious Valencia are returning to the big time. After a summer recruitment drive they look solid, but really they should be challenging United for second in this group. Given the start to the season at Old Trafford and Juve’s ambitions of ending their near misses in this competition, this is a group which the Serie A champions should win.
Can Serie A mount a challenge?
The draw certainly hasn’t been kind to Italian sides, and Serie A isn’t quite competitive enough to put forward four sides who can make the last 16. It would be a surprise to see either Inter Milan or Napoli make it through the group stage, so an improvement on last season’s displays is unlikely. Roma should get another crack at the knockout stage, while the pressure will be on Juventus to go all the way. While Italian sides are making progress in Europe, they’re set for a difficult year in the Champions League.
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