Among the last teams in were Ajax, who defeated Apoel 2-0 today. The win places Ajax in Pot 2. Olympiakos, Red Star Belgrade, and Club Brugge were also playoff qualifiers.
2019-20 UEFA Champions League Group Stage Pots
As a reminder, there are 32 qualified teams slotted into 4 pots of 8 teams each. Pot placement is based on domestic / European league finish as well as a five-year trailing ranking coefficient.
- Pot 1 has the previous year’s Champions League and Europa League winners. Pot 1 also contains the champions of the top 6 associations. This year, the Premier League has 3 of the Pot 1 spots, with Manchester City (EPL winners), Liverpool (Champions League winners) and Chelsea (Europa League winners).
- Pots 2, 3 & 4 contain the remaining teams. Placement is based on their UEFA coefficients.
Here are the pots.
|Pot 1||Pot 2||Pot 3||Pot 4|
|Liverpool||Real Madrid||Lyon||Lokomotiv Moscow|
|Chelsea||Atlético Madrid||Bayer Leverkusen||Genk|
|Barcelona||Borussia Dortmund||Red Bull Salzburg||Galatasaray|
|Paris Saint-Germain||Napoli||Olympiacos||RB Leipzig|
|Juventus||Shakhtar Donetsk||Club Brugge||Slavia Prague|
|Bayern Munich||Tottenham||Valencia||Red Star Belgrade|
|Zenit Saint Petersburg||Ajax||Inter Milan||Atalanta|
|Manchester City||Benfica||Dinamo Zagreb||Lille|
Also read: 2019-20 UEFA Champions League Title Odds
For around 30 minutes on Wednesday afternoon, Ajax dominated possession, but struggled to create quality looks against Apoel. It was (extremely) early, but I have to admit to wondering whether the darlings of the ’18-19 Champions League were going to need extra time to reach the group stage of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League.
Those concerns were misguided, as it turned out, though Ajax clearly missed attacking midfielder Donny van de Beek, who was out with a leg injury.
Ajax won Wednesday’s second leg 2-0, prevailing despite some early struggles against an Apoel club that packed it in deep in their own end.
Ajax joins the ’19-20 Champions League group stage – Thursday’s draw is scheduled for noon Eastern – after holding on 2-0 over two legs, as Manager Erik ten Hag’s club survived a poor performance in a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
The Dutch club’s massive possession advantage – Ajax held the ball for 74% of the first half – finally started translating into legitimate threats against Apoel keeper Vid Belec around the 30-minute mark.
Ajax’s Dusan Tadic had a great opportunity to open the scoring in the 41st, but was unable to put it away. The Dutch side finally netted what seemed like an inevitable opener moments later. Hakim Ziyech served up a beautiful cross into the box on a set piece, and Mexican midfielder Edson Álvarez headed the ball home to make it 1-0.
Right after halftime, it appeared to be – and should have been — 2-0 after another set piece that was poorly defended by Apoel, but a shocking offsides ruling by VAR took Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s goal off the board.
“Which part of who is offside?”
VAR takes a goal away from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ajax
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) August 28, 2019
For a brief moment, Apoel appeared to equalize on the other end in what would have been a shocking turn of events. But the Cypriot club was clearly offsides, and order was restored at Johan Cruyff Arena.
Ajax continued to control the game for the rest of the second half, and Tadic sealed the deal with a beautiful strike past Belec in the 80th.
Dusan Tadic gets the goal that allowed Ajax to breathe easier. 2-0 and a place in the #UCL group stage is in the grasp
— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) August 28, 2019
Before we go any further, here are the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League Title Odds.
Time for an encore?
Now that Ajax has avoided what would have been a monumental upset, the question is whether they can once again make it out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds. If they reach that stage, they would be one of the last teams anyone would want to see.
Running it back?
While this is clearly not the team that dominated headlines last year, almost all their key pieces are back, with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt the obvious exceptions. In fact, Ajax lost little offensive firepower from a year ago. Goals aren’t everything, but it’s still a huge deal that no one among ’18-19 leading scorers Tadic (28 goals in domestic play last year), Ziyech (16), Huntelaar (16), Kasper Dolberg (11), van de Beek (9) and David Neres (8) left this summer.
Breaking down this team’s chances in its UCL group will be much easier to do once we, you know, are aware of who’s in it, but let’s address a couple quick questions based on the team’s performances against PAOK and Apoel. Against PAOK, Ajax earned a draw in the first leg, 2-2, before winning Leg 2 at home, 3-2 (5-4 aggregate).
Are the draws in the first leg of both rounds of group stage qualifiers an issue?
Not really. It’s not as if this team was ever truly on the ropes, especially not against Apoel. This is no knock on the Cypriot side, but the only reason the aggregate score was 0-0 for over 120 minutes was because Ajax failed to score against a team bunkering down and hoping for a pair of goalless draws. Over the two legs, Ajax attempted 42 shots (15 on goal), while allowing just 13 (3 on goal) and holding possession for about 70% of the 180 or so minutes.
It is worth noting, though, that in last year’s group stage qualifiers, this team’s aggregate victories over two legs were 5-1 over Austrian side Sturm Graz, 5-2 over Belgium’s Standard Liege and 3-1 over Dynamo Kiev.
More importantly, what is the status of van de Beek?
Group stage play begins September 17-18. It is unclear how long van de Beek will be unavailable, but his recovery is going to be vital for his team’s chances. Ziyech was excellent vs. Apoel. And Tadic, as well as Neres, are going to create headaches for opponents, but it’s hard to imagine this team making it out of group play without van de Beek. With him at his best, though, it’s easy to see Ajax among the last 16.
Who: Burnley vs Liverpool
When: Saturday, August 31st @ 12:30pm ET on NBC Sports
Where: Turf Moor
Line: Burnley +1000 | Draw +425 | Liverpool -335
Yes, Burnley at +1000 are heavy home underdogs. But with the game at Turf Moor, expect a physical match from Sam Dyche’s overachieving squad. They will make Liverpool earn every bit of those three points.
Burnley vs Liverpool Preview
Liverpool sit atop the table — the only club at 100% — with a record of 3-0-0. They’re second in point differential (-6 to City’s -7). However, xG has Liverpool massively over-performing this season (again 🙄). Their 6.54 xG is 2.46 better than their actual goals (9). They’ve been lucky on the other end too. Their xGA of 3.97 is almost a full goal more than they’ve given up.
So…can we all just admit that xG is an annoying stat that undervalues squads with elite finishers and goalkeeps? xG hates Liverpool as much as City’s ownership hates not suppressing human rights in their home country.
Regardless, a look at the data would suggest Liverpool is due for regression at some point (the same could’ve been said literally all of last season as well). Burnley is +2 gd, which is respectable for a squad tabbed as a potential relegation candidate four weeks ago.
Burnley pasted Southampton 3-0 at home on their opening day. They had a respectable 2-1 away loss to Arsenal, followed by an even more respectable 1-1 draw away at Wolverhampton. The squad is led by the surprising play of Ashley Barnes. The 29 year-old has been Pukki-esque this season, scoring four times. While Barnes did net 12 times last season, his overall quality of play so far is a complete outlier from his six previous campaign at Burnley.
While it’s easy to scream “small sample size!” that doesn’t tell the full story. It’s not necessarily that Barnes is finishing better than ever. He’s taking significantly more shots per game (4.3!) than his career average (1.8!!!). He’s been a beast on aerials as well, only losing one out 13 this campaign to date. Barnes has stepped up his quality. It might not be sustainable, but this will be his best overall year.
On the opposite side of the pitch, Nick Pope has been the statistically best goalkeeper so far this EPL season. Unlike Barnes, the 27 year-old isn’t having so much of an outlier season as he is an “in-his-prime-and-keeps-improving-kinda-year.”
So, Burnley are finding ways to get Barnes the ball in opportunistic spots and Pope has been cleaning up any messes.
How does Liverpool overcome this? Well…
While the narrative of “shut down Barnes, win the game” is lazy and easy, it’s also at least partly true. However, Burnley’s Johann Gudmundsson and Dwight McNeil are also enjoying career-ish seasons. Along with Erik Pieters (who is doing his best Andy Robertson impression), they’re creating opportunities. Having said that, they’ve benefited from sloppy defending and unsustainable finishing on some of those chances.
Burnley’s goals this year haven’t come from the type of build up that you often see with Liverpool and Manchester City. To be fair, that shouldn’t be expected either. They don’t have the depth / quality. But they are creating opportunities. This isn’t a toothless attack.
Expect a busy day in Liverpool’s midfield. Hopefully it’s a “Good Gini” vs “Bad Gini” performance if Wijnaldum starts. Fabinho will be the key though. Liverpool will try to out-possess Burnley by a considerable margin (in part to take what will surely be a jacked up crowd out of it). If so, Fabinho will be the cog. Expect him to have the most touches and completed passes on the day. If Liverpool win, it may be due to Fabinho having a Man of the Match performance.
Burnley are poor at set piece defending, which is great news for Liverpool. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s service has been on point so far. His delivery could be the deciding factor in this one.
Listen, I don’t feel good about this match. Actually quite concerned. If I was a totally impartial observer I’d likely say a 1-1 draw was in the works.
However, I’m far from impartial. I’ve seen every minute of every Liverpool game the past couple of years. Liverpool have won 12 Premier League games in a row though. And the Champions League. And the Super Cup. They just keep winning. Even when they’re having an off day. It’s in the fabric of their DNA now. So until they stop winning, I’m going to keep picking them to win.
Burnley will give them a scare. Expect a poorly defended through ball to Barnes or Gudmundsson to lead to a goal. Klopp though has another full week to implement tactical changes he needs, and the lads will be rested (unlike Burnley, who have a Wednesday FA Cup game against Sunderland). This feels like a match where Robbo gets his first assist of the year off some brilliant build-up. And then Liverpool find a way to win via converting a set piece or penalty from an overly aggressive take down of Salah / Mane in the box.
Who: Southampton vs Manchester United
When: Saturday, August 31st @ 07:30 am ET on NBC Sports
Line: Southampton +295 | Draw +225 | Manchester United +105
The sense of optimism is quickly fading from Manchester United after suffering back-to-back Premier League upsets. A home defeat to Crystal Palace brought forward the reality that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side is far from reaching their best. However, the season’s just started. As long as United can spike-up their performance-levels again, the Palace defeat would soon be considered a freak accident.
The trip to Southampton, although, isn’t the easiest. Considering that the Saints almost caused an upset against Liverpool recently, come in the back of an impressive away win, it’ll be a compelling task for United to overcome.
Southampton have also been the third most unlucky team in the Premier League so far this season. Their 3 total goals is far below their xG of 5.31. Their 3 total points is much lower than their xPTS of 5.56. However, do you know who the second unluckiest team so far this Premier League season is? Manchester United. Their xPTS of 7.11 is a far cry from their actual total of 4.
So yes, something has to give here.
Here’s where their character’s tested and we’ll know whether or not OGS’ side are tough enough to survive storms.
Southampton Likely XI:
Gunn, Djenepo, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Danso, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Redmond, Ings, Adams.
Coach Raphael Hasenhuttl has a fully fit squad, with reserve left-back Sam McQueen being the only player out. Last week’s star Moussa Djenepo should be rewarded with a start, while the Danny Ings-Che Adams combo should start to cause chaos in the United area.
Manchester United Likely XI:
De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Mata, James, Rashford.
If the defeat wasn’t bad enough, Manchester United’s injury curse struck again last weekend. Luke Shaw is expected to be out for a month after hobbling off against Palace, which means captain Ashley Young should play. Anthony Martial’s also a doubt after picking up an injury, while Mason Greenwood should, for me, also replace the disappointing Jesse Lingard.
Southampton vs Manchester United Match Preview
The pressure is mounting on Manchester United and, I think, will cause a complete meltdown unless dealt with early into the new season. To make things worse, St. Mary’s hasn’t exactly been their fondest places to go to in recent years, as they’ve only won once in their last three visits. Southampton are fearless with their attacking approach, as unless United can take their chances, they’ll definitely have ways to hurt them on Saturday.
While OGS’ side has shown reasons for improvement since the end-of-season debacle in May, there are still some cobwebs in their system. Certain players are still under-performing. There’s still a real lack of depth in multiple areas of their squad. One real positive is how good their new signings are performing.
Despite Harry Maguire as well as Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s defensive vulnerabilities being timely displayed against Palace, they’re still very solid. Daniel James, however, lightened up Old Trafford with an electric display. He seems an absolute thunderous option operating from the left-wing, from where he can cut in and create more goal-scoring opportunities.
The Welsh winger’s their best option down the left. Marcus Rashford should operate more centrally to take swipes at goal. United, for me, must improve moving the ball quicker in the attack. They must create more proper goal-scoring chances. And United must actually take shots on target rather than trying a spectacular to prevail against Southampton.
The hosts, however, won’t make things easy. They’ve created a formidable attacking line inspired by the sizzling Nathan Redmond. Southampton are quick, flexible enough to warp through United’s defence and cause real problems for David De Gea. They also boast compact backline capable of sniffing out predictable attacks, so I think United will need something special to break them open and win the contest.
This is going to be a pretty tight, open-ended affair, as I think will end up as a draw (currently priced +225), mounting the frustrations upon OGS and co.