Borussia Dortmund face familiar foes in the group stage of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League draw, joining Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur in Group H. Underdogs APOEL Nicosia round off one of the most difficult foursomes in the entire competition.
There was a certain sense of inevitability in the air when Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were picked in opposite halves of the draw, meaning Dortmund would be able to face the reigning champions once again. Sure enough, the Black and Yellows and Madrid will square off for the 9th and 10th time since 2012.
The first team to retain the Champions League title, Zinedine Zidane’s Real are quite possibly one of the strongest sides in club football history and, if their mauling of FC Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup is any indication, the Galacticos may well be able to be even better than last season.
Of course, one ought not to forget Dortmund actually won the group ahead of Real last season, thanks in large part to Madrid’s 3-3 stumble at Legia Warsaw. Peter Bosz’s team will not be intimidated by the Santiago Bernabeu, nor by the star power in Zidane’s side.
If it gets any better than playing Champions League matches in Spain’s capital and the Westfalenstadion, Wembley Stadium may well be the one place you could point to. It’s there that Tottenham will play all their games this season, while White Hart Lane is under reconstruction.
Spurs have not enjoyed their temporary stay in English football’s most hallowed ground thus far, failing last season to make it out of a group that contained AS Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow. While Mauricio Pochettino’s team will have much more familiarity with their surroundings this season, seeing as they play there every other week, they still have to convince onlookers they can play well on the European stage.
Dortmund dispatched Spurs without much difficulty during the 2015/16 Europaleague, beating them 3-0 at home and 2-1 on the road. Of course, Pochettino opted not to play his best team as Spurs were still somewhat involved in a title race they ultimately lost to Leicester City (and even St. Totteringham’s day still happened).
If the North Londoners take the Champions League that much more seriously, they have enough quality to potentially give Dortmund a run for their money in the presumed race for second place. One caveat: goalscoring midfielder Dele Alli will miss the first three rounds of matches through suspension.
APOEL, finally, are the great unknown. Having eliminated Luxemburg side Dudelange, Viitorul of Romania and Slavia Prague in the qualifiers, the Cyprian champions have made it to the group stage the hard way.
With few players BVB fans will have heard of — goalkeeper Boy Waterman and former Borussia Mönchengladbach striker Igor de Camargo are the two “household” names — APOEL will be expected to come out of the group stage with six defeats.
However, few teams exit the group stage in that fashion and APOEL shocked the football world before, making it to the quarter-finals in the 2011/12 season — when Dortmund dropped out of the group stage in fourth place behind Arsenal, Olympique Marseille and Olympiacos.
Still, anything but six points against the Cypriots would have to be considered a weak showing and would certainly complicate Dortmund’s annual aim of surviving the group stage.
BVB Prediction: 2nd Place
Real look even stronger than last season and it’s unlikely they’ll again drop points against the weakest of the four teams in the group, making them clear favourites for the top spot. Spurs and Dortmund are similarly strong teams, but the English side doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt on the European stage at this point. The two head-to-head matchups on Matchday 1 at Wembley and Matchday 5 in Westfalenstadion will be crucial.