We knew before the results of Thursday’s 2021-22 UEFA Champions League group stage draw that Spain’s five (!) UCL clubs – Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Europa League champ Villarreal — would likely face difficult tests in group play. That’s because this year, pot 1 contains several imminently beatable clubs. That list includes Villarreal and Lille, to name two. Thanks to surprise ’20-21 title winners like the aforementioned clubs, the latter of which somehow took the Ligue 1 title from PSG, we were looking at the strongest pot 2 most of us can remember.
Sure enough, teams like Atleti had to be at least a bit disappointed to land in a group with Liverpool, Porto and AC Milan. If you’re a neutral, you have to love the idea of two battles between Atleti and Liverpool.
Atleti wasn’t the only club from Spain to end up in a solid foursome, either, as Villarreal will have to hold off Atalanta or ManU – not to mention YOUNG BOYS! – to advance in Group F.
Below are some quick takeaways from each Spanish club’s group assignment, in order of their finish in the table last season.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE DRAW OUTCOME FOR LA LIGA TEAMS
ATLETICO MADRID, GROUP B
As we just mentioned, they’ll have to face a Liverpool roster full of players that still vividly remember being shocked in the round of 16 right in ’20, right before the pandemic brought the soccer world to a screeching halt. Atleti had a much better ’20-21 than Liverpool. Even a La Liga stan like me can see that the Reds have a better starting XI than Los Rojiblancos, and I don’t think that’s a hot take.
Elsewhere in the group, Porto is an experienced Champions League club that upset Juve in the round of 16 last year, while AC Milan finished second in Serie A a year ago. So if either Atleti or Liverpool are not sharp, they’re going to be in trouble. In addition to a solid pot 2 club in Liverpool, this group features the clear best team in pot 4 (AC Milan).
REAL MADRID, GROUP D
Real Madrid will feel at home here after landing in a group with Inter Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff Tiraspol (Los Blancos shared a group with Inter and Shakhtar a year ago). They’ll also have to feel fortunate to land alongside another of the pot 1 teams with a not-very-pot-1 roster.
Despite its issues in UCL group play (yet again) in ’20-21, Inter won Serie A last year. If that team were still intact, it would be a hell of a lot more imposing. But without Manager Antonio Conte, Romelu Lukaku or Achraf Hakimi, we’re talking about a significantly diminished club.
I have faith that Real Madrid won’t let Shakhtar embarrass them again. As for Sheriff Tiraspol, I won’t pretend to know anything about them, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they have limited resources compared to Carlo Ancelotti’s team. Real Madrid seem like the winners of the group stage draw, at least among La Liga clubs.
BARCELONA, GROUP E
The Catalans will have to face one of the tournament favorites in Bayern Munich. As we all know, this team’s last clash with the Bavarians quickly turned into a massacre. The good news for Ronald Koeman’s team – in addition to the fact they should have Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele for most of these games – is that they (obviously) don’t have to outperform Bayern to advance from this group.
Call me a Portuguese/Ukrainian soccer hater, but even without Lionel Messi, Barcelona should have too much talent not to advance here, though Primeira Liga favorite Benfica (+110 to win the league) is no pushover.
SEVILLA, GROUP G
On second thought, maybe Real Madrid aren’t Spain’s winners of the group stage draw, after all. While Inter Milan is among the weakest pot 1 clubs, Lille has a pretty strong claim to be the worst of that eight-team group. In fact, ClubElo ranks them No. 41 in the world. So yeah, Sevilla have to be thrilled, and Julen Lopetegui’s team will likely be the favorite to win the group.
Salzburg and Wolfsburg are solid enough opponents, but as a pot 2 club, you can’t ask for a more manageable group stage draw than Lille, Salzburg and Wolfsburg.
VILLARREAL, GROUP F
As we mentioned above, Villarreal will have its hands full with Manchester United and Atalanta. But after winning the Europa League the way they did a year ago, Unai Emery and Co. should be confident. It also helps, experience-wise, that a couple of Villarreal’s players are coming off big summers with La Roja, including Gerard Moreno and Pau Torres.
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