UEFA Champions League Preview: Group C

Every day, we at 32 Flags will preview each group in the UEFA Champions League as we build up to the first group stage games of the competition. Today, we are previewing Group C.

Finally, we get to the real fun of the Champions League Group Stage, as the first two groups we’ve previewed (Group A and Group B – see a pattern unfolding) are pretty straightforward. Group C is anything but that with four teams with realistic hopes of making it out of the group stages and earn even more money for the transfer kitty next summer. None of these teams are going to scare the crap out of the rest of Europe, but all are capable of beating anyone on any given day. So, naturally, we’re left to predict the most difficult group of them all.

Group C Teams and Country (Position in UEFA Coefficient/Position in UEFA Coefficient Compared to Just Last Season):

SL Benfica/Portugal (No. 5/No. 1)
FC Zenit/Russia (No. 21/No. 15)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen/Germany (No. 24/No. 20)
AS Monaco/France (No. 156/No. 123)

Player to Watch in Group B: Hulk/FC Zenit

Brazil had a horrific World Cup (by its standards) and Hulk also wasn’t on point on the individual level. However, early indications are that he’s really put that behind him as the Russian league has gotten under way. All the guy has done is play in five league games and score five goals. If Zenit is going to move on from this group Hulk needs to be scoring goals in bunches.

X-Factor in Group B: Hakan Calhanoglu/Bayer Leverkusen

If Leverkusen is going to move on in this group Calhanoglu it will do so because of its attacking play. Leading that group under new manager Roger Schmidt is his biggest role. The 20-year-old Turkish international has been a heck of a goal scorer out of the midfield while at Hamburg, scoring 11 goals in 32 appearances before his summer move to Leverkusen. His ability to play well and score goals could help mask what is a shaky defense heading in to group play.

Percentage of Advancing out of Group Stage (According to ESPN’s SPI Index)

SL Benfica: 66.9%
Bayer Leverkusen: 64%
AS Monaco: 36.2%
FC Zenit: 33%

Most Important Game: SL Benfica vs. FC Zenit, Matchday 1, Sept. 16

Benfica returned to the Champions League last season, and it was nothing short of disaster for the Portuguese club. Zenit will pose as a difficult test to open things up in the group, and a win at home in this group can go a long way. While other games are going to have a lot of importance, Benfica can’t afford to get off on the wrong foot in this one and that makes this the “most important” game in a group that is full of toss up games.

Teams to Move On: Benfica and FC Zenit
Team to Move On To Europa League: Bayer Leverkusen

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a contributor to The Comeback as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10. He also is a member of the FWAA and has been covering college sports since 2011. Andy is an avid soccer fan and runs the Celtic FC site The Celtic Bhoys. If he's not writing about sports, you can find him enjoying them in front of the TV with a good beer!