Champions League Preview – Group E

Italian soccer savant Samantha Savarino stops by to take a look at a group that might have as much excitement as any in this year’s group stage, in Group D.

This group should be straightforward. Defending champions Chelsea and Juventus are the two clear favorites, even with Shakhtar Donetsk having the talent and pedigree to throw a wrench into things.

This may come up against some criticism, but I think Juve are the most talented team in this group. Despite the 10-month ban of gaffer Antonio Conte for failing to report match-fixing by an opponent while manager of then Serie B side Siena in the 2010-11 season, the Old Lady have not missed a beat, as they have won their first three league games. The team historically has the mentality of always having an attacking style, and that is perfect for this season’s squad with front men like Alessandro Matri and Sebastian Giovinco heading the line. Andrea Pirlo carried over his great play at midfield for Juventus last year into the Euros this past summer, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Chelsea, is what I like to call, a “brutta bestia” (ugly beast…trust me, it’s a compliment). To be clear, it symbolizes a team that even though it should be beatable, it can surprise adversaries and come home with a win, because one never knows what to expect out of this bestia (beast)- sort of what Chelsea was like in their run to the title. The big question is whether Fernando Torres can take over for last year’s Final hero and Chelsea demigod Didier Drogba. His well documented struggle since moving from Liverpool might have been more due to outside factors (e.g. getting adjusted to London city life and trying to become comfortable with it) than just a supposed loss of touch. His form in Euro 2012 for Spain showed that he definitely has the form in him still. Eden Hazard’s summer addition form Lille has been better than advertised, and his midfield creativity could easily rival that of Pirlo, and shift the advantage to the Blues.

Shakhtar Donetsk also plays a very attractive and attacking style of football. Don’t forget that just a couple of years ago, Shakhtar won their Champions League group (which included Arsenal) with 15 out of a possible 18 points. In the Round-of-16, they absolutely dismantled Roma and gave them a soccer lesson at the Stadio Olimpico. Many of those players from that 2011 squad are still there, including goal-scoring experts Willian and Luiz Adriano. But this also is the same team that followed that success with an abject disaster of a Champions League campaign last season. So which Shakhtar will show up?

I honestly can say that I don’t know that much, if anything about Nordsjælland. They did win the Danish Superliga last season, and the experience of playing in Champions League football should be a wonderful experience and give them a nothing-to-lose attitude while out on the pitch.

The race for the top spot in the group is too close to call. I think Juventus can do it, but they have to force at least a tie away to Chelsea in today’s game to have a shot. No matter what, defending champs Chelsea will be there as well.

1. Juventus/Chelsea
2. Chelsea/Juventus
3. Shakhtar Donetsk
4. Nordsjælland

Samantha Savarino was born in Sicily, and fell in love with the Rossoneri of AC Milan as a young girl after seeing them win the 1989 European Cup and falling in love at the first sight of Paolo Maldini. She currently is a registered nurse at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey, and has also spent time as ranking member of the Milan Club of New Jersey in Totowa.

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