The top 32 teams from all of Europe are set to begin their quest to be crowned kings, with the Champions League kicking off.

The Group stage phase of the competition will produce the 16 teams which will feature in the last-16 draw in December.

Given the competition is stacked with quality teams that are looking to leave a mark right from the word go, there are legitimate excuses to be thrilled about the Champions League right from match-day one.

We take a look at all the groups and make a prediction on the final standings. Here is Group H …

Ajax [Netherlands]

Manager: Erik ten Hag

The neutrals’ darlings from last season are favourites to top what looks like a tricky Group F. A young Ajax side exceeded expectations and made it to the semi-final last season. The Dutch side became the first team to defeat Real Madrid in a knockout European tie in over three years before they dominated a strong Juventus side.

One of the few teams to have won a European treble, Ajax will give it another go after falling short by just two games last season. But unlike last season, the Dutch champions have been drawn in a group where the teams from pots three and four can produce an upset.

Ajax lost two of their best players Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong to Juventus and Barcelona respectively over the summer. Unlike last season, Ajax will have to carry the burden of expectation.

However, the Dutch champions prize their ability to replenish lost talent. They signed Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez among other players who can go a long way to nullifying the departures.

Ajax have had to defeat PAOK and APOEL on their route to the group stages this season. Given the dynamics of the other teams in the group, Ten Hag’s men should secure the top spot.

Key player: Dusan Tadic

Chelsea [England]

Manager: Frank Lampard

Chelsea qualified for the Champions League as the winners of the Europa League after they beat London rivals Arsenal in the final. They also finished third in the Premier League but the Europa League title earned them a pot one draw.

The London side has been forced to field a young squad this season due to their ongoing transfer ban. It’s too early to take a call on whether this has proved to be a blessing or a curse but their performance in the Champions League could provide us with an answer four months from now.

The defending Europa League champions who last won the Champions League in the 2011/12 season have seen the emergence of several young players such as Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. The injured Callum Hudson-Odoi too can cause trouble to the opposition once he gets going. These players provide a reason to believe that Chelsea could go a long way in the tournament despite the lack of experience.

Although Ajax are favourites to top the group based on their performance in the competition from last season, Chelsea could claim that spot if they are in the right dynamics going into the key fixtures. The 4-0 defeat to Manchester United in the Premier League opener came as a massive setback but the Blues have recovered well to draw level on points with Spurs, United and Arsenal.

Chelsea must ensure they don’t drop points against Lille, stay unbeaten against Valencia and accumulate as many points as possible from Ajax.

Key player: Tammy Abraham

Valencia [Spain]

Manager: Albert Celades

After a disappointing start to their 2018/19 season, Valencia managed a spectacular comeback to finish in the top-four in La Liga and qualify for the Champions League. However, Marcelino, the manager who made it all happe,n was sacked last week and Valencia’s 5-2 defeat against Barcelona evidenced that Albert Celades has a lot of work to do.

Valencia qualified to the Champions League group stages five times in the last decade but made it to the knockouts just twice. They were knocked out in the last-16 by Schalke in the 2010/11 season and Paris Saint-Germain two seasons later.

Los Che roped in a proven La Liga striker Maxi Gomez and Barcelona shot-stopper Jasper Cillessen but had to let go of Santi Mina and Neto. Theh quality of players, though, is the least of their problems.

The management has been a mess, the dismissal of Marcelino was uncalled for and the appointment of Celades was rushed. Valencia could face the ripple effects of these acts in the Champions League. No coach would want his second game at a club to be an important Champions League clash just two days after being thumped by Barcelona.

However, the Spanish side has all the quality to upset the two favourites. Valencia are unpredictable and a clear picture should arrive a few weeks into Celades’ tenure. But they only have an outside chance to make the top-two.

Key player: Dani Parejo

LOSC Lille [France]

Manager: Christophe Galtier

Unlikely entrants into the Champions League, Lille experienced a drastic reversal in fortune after they finished second in Ligue 1 after surviving relegation the previous season. This meant that they were eligible for their first Champions League group stage appearance since the 2012/13 season.

The French side have made it past the group stage of the Champions League only once in their history. They finished above AEK Athens and Anderlecht to finish second behind AC Milan. But Manchester United knocked them out of the competition in the last-16 stage with a 2-0 aggregate win.

Lille must not be hugely optimistic about their chances of finishing in the top-two. Nicolas Pepe and Rafael Leao – two of their best players from last season – have left the club. In replacement, they signed Timothy Weah, Renato Sanches and other youngsters who could fill their boots.

Key player: Renato Sanches


1. Ajax

2. Chelsea

3. Valencia

4. Lille

Source: Sooraj Kamath