Champions League 2014-15: Group A preview

Sports Mole takes a closer look at the four teams that will be battling for qualification in Group A of this season's Champions League.

ATLETICO MADRID

Previous European Cup/CL best: Finalists: 1974, 2014

Manager - Diego Simeone: Another decent performance from last season's finalists Atletico in the Champions League this term and the Spanish champions may find it difficult to keep their Argentine head coach out of the very biggest clubs' clutches. The 44-year-old, who is known to have many admirers, has already managed Los Colchoneros to Copa del Rey, La Liga and Europa League success - next stop the Champions League?

Key Player - Koke

Atletico Madrid's midfielder Koke celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs Real Madrid CF at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on March 2, 2014© Getty Images

Such is the team ethic that Simeone has installed at the Vicente Calderon, it is hard to identify the most important player, particularly since Diego Costa departed for Chelsea. In Koke, though, Atletico have one of Europe's most creative midfield players. The 22-year-old, regarded by many to be the heir to Xavi's throne within the Spanish national side, weighed in with 15 assists in all competitions last term.

Sports Mole says: Atletico may have been raided by Chelsea in the summer, but Simeone has been shrewd in the transfer market. Mario Mandzukic won the Champions League with Bayern Munich in 2013, while Antoine Griezmann and Alessio Cerci offer pace and trickery. It would be a major surprise if Simeone's men do not advance through to the knockout stages, where a lot will then depend on the luck of the draw.

Did you know?: Atletico have played 78 matches in Europe's premier competition, 40 of which they have won. Meanwhile, 20 have been drawn, while they have been defeated on 18 occasions.


JUVENTUS

Previous European Cup/CL best: Winners: 1985, 1996

Manager - Massimiliano Allegri: As far as some Juventus fans are concerned, 47-year-old Allegri is not the man that they would have chosen to replace Antonio Conte. Rumour has it that the popular Conte stepped down from the hotseat during the summer because the club were not prepared to back him in the transfer market with players that he believed would make his side Champions League contenders. During his four years with AC Milan, Allegri failed to guide the Red and Blacks beyond the last eight of the competition, although he did win one Serie A title.

Key Player - Paul Pogba

Juventus' Paul Pogba celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Trabzonspor during their Europa League match on February 20, 2014© AFP

He may still only be 21, but Pogba is fast becoming one of Europe's most sought-after midfielders. With question marks over whether or not Arturo Vidal's knee will hold up for an entire campaign, it could well be time for France international Pogba to rule the Juve engine room. Athletic, dynamic and tenacious in equal measure, it wouldn't be a surprise if the youngster, fresh from appearing at the World Cup, comes of age in the Champions League over the next few months.

Sports Mole says: One of the biggest shocks to come out of last season's Champions League was the fact that the Old Lady finished third in their group, with Real Madrid and Galatasaray advancing at their expense. Twelve months later, the expectation once again is that Juve should advance through to the final 16 and like Atletico, further progression will be determined by the draw.

Did you know?: When Juventus won the 1996 Champions League in Rome's Stadio Olimpico, they were the first club to lift the famous trophy on home soil since Liverpool's success at Wembley in 1978.


MALMO

Previous European Cup/CL best: Finalists: 1979

Manager - Age Hareide: The former Manchester City and Norwich City defender has a vast experience of management, particularly where Scandinavian clubs are concerned. He has won league titles in three different countries - namely Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which has put him in such company as Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Key Player - Markus Rosenberg

Malmo's Markus Rosenberg reacts after his double score in the UEFA Champions League play-off second leg soccer match against FC Red Bull Salzburg on August 27, 2014© Getty Images

Having become the youngest squad to have ever won the Allsvenskan title last term, Rosenberg's experience could prove vital to the Blues. The 31-year-old, unlike many of his teammates, has previously appeared in the group stages of the Champions League. Arsenal fans may remember him because he found the net for Ajax against the North Londoners in 2005. A tall striker, Rosenberg is useful in the air - a source of many of his goals.

Sports Mole says: Many consider Malmo to be the rank outsiders to progress from this group and it is difficult to argue against that logic. If they are to spring a surprise, a lot will depend on their home form. In truth, finishing third and reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League would be regarded a success for Hareide's men.

Did you know?: Beaten by Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1979, Malmo remain the only Swedish side to have reached the final of the European Cup or Champions League.


OLYMPIACOS

Previous European Cup/CL best: Quarter-finals: 1999

Manager - Michel: As a player, Michel may have won six La Liga titles with Real Madrid, but he never got his hands on the Europe's biggest trophy. However, he was a part of the Madrid teams that won back-to-back UEFA Cups during the 1980s. Last season, the Spaniard guided Olympiacos to the last 16 of the Champions League, having advanced at the expense of Benfica in the group stages. He then looked to have masterminded a victory over Manchester United in the first knockout round with a 2-0 win in Greece, only for his side to waste plenty of chances and lose 3-0 in the return leg.

Key Player - Ibrahim Afellay

Barcelona's Dutch forward Ibrahim Afellay drives the ball during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Malaga CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on January 26, 2014© Getty Images

The 28-year-old has had rotten luck as far as injuries are concerned, but when fit, there can be little doubting his ability. A tricky and speedy winger, Affelay has the ability to both score and assist goals. He's on loan with the Greeks from Barcelona, whom he helped to win the Champions League in 2011. His biggest contribution to that success came in the semi-finals when he crossed for Lionel Messi to score against rivals Real Madrid.

Sports Mole says: If anybody is going to pose a genuine threat to Atletico and Juventus advancing through, it will surely be Erythrolefkoi. The Karaiskakis Stadium can be an intimidating environment to play your football in for visiting sides and Olympiacos will need to take advantage of that if they are to stand any chance of progressing.

Did you know?: Olympiacos's heaviest defeat in Champions League history was suffered back in 2003, ironically at the hands of Juventus, who recorded a 7-0 victory.


Group A fixtures

Tuesday, September 16
Olympiacos vs. Atletico
Juventus vs. Malmo

Wednesday, October 1
Malmo vs. Olympiacos
Atletico vs. Juventus

Wednesday, October 22
Atletico vs. Malmo
Olympiacos vs. Juventus

Tuesday, November 4
Malmo vs. Atletico
Juventus vs. Olympiacos

Wednesday, November 26
Atletico vs. Malmo
Malmo vs. Juventus

Tuesday, December 9
Olympiacos vs. Malmo
Juventus vs. Atletico

Prediction: 1. Atletico 2. Juventus 3. Olympiacos 4. Malmo


Atletico Madrid's Joao Miranda celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Zenit during their Champions League group match on September 18, 2013
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Barcelona55001721515
2Atletico MadridAtletico6420124814
3Sevilla641173413
4Valencia52309369
5Levante52308449
6Real Sociedad5302111019
7Real Betis530267-19
8Real Madrid52219548
9Villarreal52126517
10Athletic Bilbao52124317
11Leganes52123307
12Las PalmasLas Palmas520358-36
13EibarEibar5203310-76
14Getafe512245-15
15GironaGirona512235-25
16Espanyol512238-55
17Celta Vigo511368-24
18Deportivo La CorunaDeportivo5113611-54
19AlavesAlaves500508-80
20Malaga5005111-100
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