Most Champions League seasons will see the introduction of newcomers to the top table of European football. 2018/19 is no exception, and after the first round of UEFA Nations League matches, three clubs will make their bow in the Champions League.
By a quirk of the draw, all three will face English opposition, and here, we take a realistic look at their chances of a good run in the competition.
With their shortest odds against standing at a mere 200/1, Hoffenheim are likely to do the most damage out of the Champions League debutants. Whether that equates to the Die Kraichgauer actually progressing is a huge call to make.
As usually goes with the territory of a debuting CL side with a low UEFA coefficient, Hoffenheim are in an intimidating group. Its top seed is none other than a Manchester City that is, according to current Premier League odds for this season, still odds-on to retain the Premier League title. The long trip to Shakhtar Donetsk will also be a severe test, and matches against a Lyon side that was goal-happy in last season’s Europa League group stage are just barely seen as ‘winnable’.
In that regard, having a reliable captain to keep order and organisation is crucial. Step forward, Kevin Vogt. If nothing else, the veteran midfielder knows how to orchestrate survival against the odds, having notably done so with Augsburg after the club’s promotion in 2011. Up front, World Cup finalist Andrej Kramaric is the obvious threat, with the Croatian netting more than one goal every three games last term.
Verdict: 3rd (Transfer to Europa League) – Too much too soon for Hoffenheim, but a consolation awaits.
Hoffenheim will be extra-hungry for success after failing at the Champions League playoff round in 2017.
BSC Young Boys
For Young Boys, negotiating a playoff tie with Dinamo Zagreb via a 2-1 win is the perfect platform on which to build a maiden Champions League campaign.
Regardless, the Boys of Berne are upwards of 1000/1 to win the trophy for a good reason. Bottom seeds in a group containing Manchester United, Juventus and Valencia, nobody is giving Young Boys a prayer over the coming months.
Of all the Young Boys, one-time United target Guillaume Hoarau will be seen as the crucial element of the squad. He has prior experience of consistent European football, having been a part of the PSG side that began its rise to supremacy at the start of the 2010s. Since joining Young Boys in 2014, the Frenchman has maintained a decent per-game strike rate of around 0.7 for the current Swiss champions.
Verdict: 4th (Elimination) – Hoarau is good in his own right – but currently nowhere near the player he must become to get his side anything other than ‘nul points’.
Red Star Belgrade
This will be Red Star Belgrade’s first appearance in the top European club competition since its 1992 rebranding (as the ‘Champions League’) and subsequent phased expansion. Given the intimidating atmosphere that awaits all visitors, home form will be absolutely crucial for the Serbian giants, just as it was in 1991, when Red Star won the European Cup.
The group also contains Paris Saint Germain and Napoli, and yet again, a reliable captain will be key to success. Captain Nenad Milijas may ring a few bells in the minds of Liverpool fans when it comes to the clash of ‘Reds’ and ‘Red Stars’, with the 35-year-old midfielder making up in experience and vision what he lacks in raw mobility.
Verdict: 4th (Elimination) – Only a slow start from Napoli, who are newly shorn of midfield general Naby Keita in Liverpool’s favour, could truly give Red Star Belgrade any hope of at least making it into the Europa League.