Champions League Picks & Group Predictions | Looking at Group D, Including Inter Milan
Quality Sport Images/Getty. Pictured: Take Kubo.
Group F is the clear toughest group in the Champions League because of the top end quality of all four teams in it, but Group D is one of the most balanced from top to bottom as well. Inter Milan are fresh off a final appearance, Benfica have proven they can hang with Europe’s elite, Real Sociedad are a stingy defensive Spanish side and RB Salzburg’s youth and energy make them a difficult opponent.
Inter Milan replaced Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko with Marcus Thuram and the attack is absolutely flying in Serie A. They’ve won all four league matches in dominant fashion with 13 goals scored and one against. It’s not as if Inter have played a weak schedule either, because Monza and Fiorentina are solid mid-table sides that Inter swatted away and Milan are a Champions League caliber team. Inter’s won every match by multiple goals.
There are real questions about how good Inter can be defensively given how little ball winning exists in their midfield following the departure of Marcelo Brozovic in the summer transfer window. The tactical flexibility has been impressive because they’ve won playing on the front foot in possession, breaking down defensive sides and they’ve won comfortably against Milan and Fiorentina with just 40% of the possession. They lost goalkeeper Andre Onana and defender Milan Skrinar, but replacements Yann Sommer and Benjamin Pavard are excellent fits for the squad.
Inter are correctly priced around even odds on to win this group given their more established record in a top five league when compared to Benfica. Inter dispatched of Benfica in the Champions League quarterfinal as well, but their matchups should be fascinating tactically given the underdog (Benfica) will likely have the majority of the possession in both contests.
Despite the lost talent in the offseason, Inter appear to have replaced them and maybe even improved. They’re primed to be in the second tier of CL contenders for yet another season.
Benfica have had no issues maintaining their elite form in Portugal, but I have my doubts about Roger Schmidt’s side repeating the performances in a difficult and balanced group. They’ve sold Goncalo Ramos and Darwin Nunez in consecutive summers now and look short on goals to me. They signed Arthur Cabral and Angel Di Maria, but true talent and age remain risks for both of them in this system.
The midfield remains talented, well-coached and solid, but the loss of Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea was a key departure and they really missed him in the quarterfinal defeat to Inter.
Benfica shocked most of the soccer world last year in winning their group over PSG and Juventus. Both of those teams proved to be quite flawed by year’s end, and that Benfica team last year had better underlying defensive numbers than the current one. Schmidt’s aggressive press and possess system held up last year, but now Benfica have conceded more than 1 xGA in three of their first four Portuguese matches.
The market has caught up to Benfica now, and they’re more likely to regress downward and not advance.
Real Sociedad were one of the best defenses in Europe’s top five leagues last season. Only Napoli, Roma and Manchester City conceded fewer xG. The question with this system is whether or not they can score enough goals to escape from a difficult group. Through the early stages of their season in Spain, the answer would suggest no.
They’ve gotten almost no minutes from Mikel Merino, Mikel Oyarzabal and Umar Sadiq, however. Sociedad have had to play with a skeleton crew of attackers on multiple occasions already, which led to 2.7 xG in their first three matches against Girona, Las Palmas and Celta Vigo.
Given the pressing and aggressive nature of Benfica and RB Salzburg in this group, the more conservative and defensive Sociedad could prove to be an effective foil. There’s no real ceiling for this Sociedad team in trying to make a very deep run, but in a balanced group I’m not convinced they are much worse than second place projected Benfica.
The Salzburg machine keeps on rolling with identifying young talent, developing it and then turning it for a profit. Once again, Salzburg have an extremely youthful squad full of unproven players at the top level of European football.
Salzburg were highly competitive with both Milan and Chelsea in last year’s group, even though they finished third and were sent down to the Europa League. They had the same underlying xG difference as Milan but did not advance. The problem is that Salzburg made a lot of sales in the summer transfer window and we just don’t know if they’ll be able to effectively replace them.
They sold forwards Noah Okafor, Benjamin Sesko and Junior Adamu. Salzburg lost top midfielder Nicolas Seiwald and goalkeeper Phillip Kohn. As a result, there’s more uncertainty for this squad. If they were able to run it back, I’d be a believer in them as a long shot here. The loss of talent will keep me away, but I’m prepared to quickly change my opinion on them as we get more information and data.
Best Bet: Real Sociedad to Advance (+140)