The final group in the UEFA Champions League, Group H is filled with talent, champions, history, and potential to be a thrilling contest between the four squads. Group H contains last year's UCL Champions Chelsea, Italian world beaters Juventus, Russian champions Zenit as well as Swedish Champions Malmo to finish off the group. Continuing our UCL coverage on The Intermission, we dive into Group H and see the truth behind the upcoming matches…
UCL Champions, Chelsea are the first of the 4 teams in Group H, they aim to go back-to-back this campaign after a wonderful last season under manager Thomas Tuchel. The blues had a fantastic amount of depth and talent just last season, now after the summer transfer window has passed, the signings they’ve brought in just make them even stronger. Tuchel mainly starts a 3-4-3 formation that utilizes the wingbacks of Marcos Alonso and Reece James, whipping in crosses and quick pacy through balls that left defences so vulnerable last season. In addition, the quality in the midfield is arguably one of the best in Europe at the moment, Ngolo Kante, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovacic have a phenomenal set of footballing abilities. If that be controlling the tempo, closing down passing lanes, restarting counterattack, they’ve got it all. Even in Chelsea’s attack, one of the biggest signings this season, Romelu Lukaku will be leading the front and he’s already off to a great start in the Premier League, netting 3 goals in 3 matches so far. The blues do lack a little in the defensive department but their presence on the pitch is too strong for opposing teams, a true dominating side that is coming back this season for more. I predict them to top the group but have a tough time doing so if Juventus can recoup their threatening form of recent years.
36-time Italian Champions, Turin’s Juventus is back in the Champions League once again. After falling short of the Serie A title to Inter Milan last season, the Old Lady still managed to grab a spot in the illustrious competition. The main factor between this 21/22 season of Juventus is the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballing legend who moved before his contract ended this season. Like Barcelona losing Messi, the departure of Ronaldo may allow Juventus to play as a collective rather than trying to find their topman each time. Nevertheless, Juventus still have an abundance of quality across the pitch, attackers such as Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata, Frederico Chiesa and new signing Moise Kean are still highly rated players that would still fit in most top European clubs. Other than the attack, Juve lacks a little in the midfield with no concrete players starting in that position, Juventus newcomer Manuel Locatelli could be that player who elevates that midfield to a proper level, we saw how crucial he was for Italy during their Euro 2020 winning run. One of the most secure locations on the Juventus pitch however is that of the defence, with young star Matthias De Ligt and Juventus legends Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci keeping things controlled and collected at the back. Overall, Juventus are still a fantastic club but haven’t shown much promise to the start of this season, we know what type of results the Turin giants can turn up with so I see them finishing second in the group.
Matthias De Ligt
The 2020/2021 Russian Premier League champions Zenit St. Petersburg are looking to impress this season after their successes of last year. The 7-time Russian Premier League champions haven’t had too much history within the UCL, only making it to the Round of 16 twice and no further. The club has had a recent uprising overtaking CSKA Moscow as one of the more prominent Russian clubs and they have quite a decent squad to show for it. Taking a similar route to Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit has acquired a couple of pretty good Brazilians that give the team flair, pace, and great control of the game. Ex-Barcelona players Douglas Santos and Malcom are excellent assets to the squad along with Wendel in the midfield and newly signed attacking midfielder Claudinho from RB Salzburg. Along with their Brazilian forwards, Zenit has target man Artem Dzyuba and quick-footed Sardar Azmoun who we’re clinical last season in their run for the title. The squad plays a traditional 4-4-2 most of the time and tries to keep control as they find passing lanes or crosses toward the big forwards. That control type of contest won’t be in favour of the Russian club within Group A as they will most likely be the ones trying to get possession back from the likes of Chelsea and Juventus. That being said, Zenit are still a decent team and if they can capitalize on Chelsea's lack of defensive pressure or Juventus’ midfield errors, we can see them push for a top spot, but if we’re just talking about quality, I see them finishing 3rd in the group.
The fourth team in Group A is no other than Swedish 2020 Allsvenskan champions Malmo FF. After convincingly beating the Scottish and Bulgarian champions, Rangers and Ludogorets to grab a spot in the UCL, Malmo FF are ready to compete this season. The outlier of the 3 larger clubs in Group A, Malmo has had quite a history in the UCL having gone to the Final in the 1978/79 season but as of last decade, they haven’t managed to get out of the Group Stage. Malmo doesn’t have any top names in their squad per se but they still have a lot of players that have the potential to do considerable damage. Captain Andres Christiansen will be the prominent name for the 3 clubs to shut down as the central midfielder currently has 2 goals this season and is coming off an excellent last season leading them to the championship with his reliable passing ability and great defensive work rate. Up top, however, new loanee from PAOK Salonika, Striker Antonio Colak, has started this season in prolific form having 5 goals and an assist in 8 appearances in the Swedish League. Malmo has some decent players all things considered, but with their form to start the season and comparing with the other talented squads in the group I simply can’t see them going past the groups once again this campaign.