At first glance, Porto appears to be a club in transition. Two seasons removed from the departure of Andre Villas-Boas and just several weeks removed from the transfer of superstars Axel Witzel and Hulk, Porto’s domestic campaign has begun splendidly, with them sitting at the top of the table along with rivals Benfica. However, they have yet to play a match without the services of Hulk and it will be interesting to see if they will be able to cope without the big Brazilian.
Porto’s strength lies in their midfield. Joao Moutinho leads the way along with James Rodriguez and Lucho Gonzalez. This talented trio is able to boss Portugal’s Primeira Liga, but they will find themselves up against much stiffer competition in Group A. Colombia’s Jackson Martinez seeks to fill the void created by Hulk’s departure, but the club will need another striker to step up in addition. Whether that role will be taken up by Brazil’s Kleber or Portugal’s Silvestre Varela is yet to be seen. Porto’s defense is slightly above average featuring Alex Sandro, Nicolas Otamendi, the other Maicon, and former Santos star Danilo. They are anchored by longtime goaltender Helton, who provides a steady influence from within the area. Overall, Porto has a strong side that should be enough to see them through to the knockout stages.
The representatives from Croatia seek to play spoiler in this group that will likely be very difficult for them to advance from. They are captained by their hero goalkeeper Ivan Kelava, who nearly kept a clean sheet against Real Madrid last season, but is better remembered by Zagreb fans for single handedly saving them from defeat last season against Malmo in the Playoff return leg. The rest of the squad is a mixture of youth and potential along with a steady veteran influence. 25 year old vice-captain Sammir is one of those veteran influences, boasting over 150 CAPs and 45 goals for the club since 2007.
Stalwart Croatian defenser, Josip Simunic anchors the defense along with Luiz Ibanez. Their midfield may frequently be overrun by superior opponents, but longtime midfielder Adrian Calello will look to avoid that along with Sammir and Bryan Carrasco. Zagreb lacks depth at striker, but newcomer Duje Cop could surprise some opposing defenses. Qualification for the knockout stages seems out of the realm of possibilities, but strange things happen every season.
FC Dynamo Kiev
Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev look to advance to the knockout stages through the difficult Group A, to do so they will have to rely on their experienced midfield of Tottenham outcast Niko Kranjcar, the talented young Andriy Yarmolenko, and Portuguese veteran Miguel Veloso. Marco Ruben, Ideye Brown, and Artem Milevskiy are all skilled strikers, with Milevskiy possessing technical quality to go along with his considerable size which has made him a considerable nuisance for opposing defenses for over a decade with the club.
Taye Taiwo has joined the defense on a loan from AC Milan this season. He will be joining Brazilian defender Betao during his upcoming 100th CAP for the club later this evening along with fellow Brazilians Danilo Silva and Leandro Almeida. If the club is able to get a result from either of their matches against PSG, they will greatly improve their chances of advancing to the next round.
Paris Saint Germain
This summer transfer window featured numerous giant signing for the Qatari owned club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva arrived in record setting deals from AC Milan, and were soon joined by Napoli striker Ezequiel Lavezzi just a few weeks later. The trio was also joined by Dutch fullback Gregory Van der Weil and Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, with Brazilian phenomenon Lucas Moura joining the club in January. After spending nearly €150 million in the summer transfer window, the new owners are surely eager to capitalize with Champions League success.
The early stages of the 2012-13 campaign have not gone as planned, with PSG suffering through three consecutive draws to begin the Ligue 1 season. They have since been able to rebound with wins against Lille and Toulouse, but they will have to keep up their winning streak to meet expectation. The new arrivals were added to an existing formidable squad featuring Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta, Kevin Gamiero, Alex, and Jeremy Menez just to mention a few. Despite their slow start, the clubs immense quality will be on display for the world to see throughout this tournament. This team shouldn’t be having any trouble qualifying for the knockout stages, and once they do if the team gels properly they could have an outside shot at winning it.
Dynamo Kiev may put up a good fight for qualification, I see PSG and Porto advancing out of this group into the knockout stages.