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Friday, 14 December, 2018

Leipzig should not be underestimated

Lethal Leipzig hotshot Timo Werner
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It's just as well that Monaco are regarded as among the best recruiters and developers of young talent in the game as their superb side who dazzled last season has been ripped apart.

Keeping hold of a team who toppled Paris St-Germain in Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-finals was always going to be difficult but while Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko went with the club's blessing the loss of Kylian Mbappe will have hurt.

Mbappe scored five goals in 536 Champions League minutes last season as well as 15 goals in 29 Ligue 1 outings, statistics which caught the eye of Paris St-Germain as the teenager completed the exodus on the final day of the transfer window.

Monaco have signed well and big things are expected of Stevan Jovetic, Youri Tielemans and particularly Balde Keita, while Thomas Lemar and Fabinho have remained so Leonardo Jardim's side still possess enough talent to make their Champions League mark.

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Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

It's commonly reported that Marco Silva was Porto's first choice when they were hunting a new manager this summer but Sergio Conceicao was still given top billing when given the job following Silva's snub.

"His love for the club was important," said president Pinto da Costa. "But what was fundamental was the competence he has shown as a coach. It was more difficult to do what Sergio did at Nantes than to do what Zinedine Zidane did at Real Madrid."

Conceicao's short spell at Nantes saw him lead the club from relegation material to seventh in Ligue 1 and hopes are high internally that finally Porto have found the right man to end a four-year trophy drought which is four years too long for the Dragao faithful.

Portugal international Andre Silva, who notched 16 times in the league, left for Milan and Ruben Neves bizarrely joined Wolves but otherwise the predicted firesale failed to materialise and much will depend on whether Conceicao is as good as Da Costa suggests.

Besiktas have qualified for the Champions League group stages six times and failed to qualify on every occasion and it may not be seventh time lucky for the Turkish title winners.

Besiktas landed back-to-back Super Lig titles for the first time in 25 years, although that joy was tinged with frustration at missing out on a top-two place in a Champions League group which also included Napoli, Dynamo Kiev and Benfica.

The Turks lost only once and took four points off Napoli but the defeat - 6-0 in Kiev - literally brought keeper Fabricio to tears.

Coach Senol Gunes decided performers with knowledge of European competition were needed so in came Alvaro Negredo, Gary Medel and Pepe and the Portuguese defender is potentially one of the best free signings anywhere in Europe this season.

Retaining the services of loan star Talisca was imperative, although many in Turkey claim Besiktas have a problem against teams who adopt high-pressing tactics, which does not bode well for the double-header against energetic Germans Leipzig.

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Group E

Group F

Group H

No team in the Champions League group stage have a lower coefficient ranking than Leipzig but underestimate them at your peril after the Bundesliga's most controversial club caused a storm on the pitch last season to finish second in their first season after promotion.

Backed by multi-billionaire company Red Bull, Leipzig were only founded in 2009 with their energy-drink sponsors saying they wanted to go from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga in a decade.

They are ahead of schedule but are more than ready for their maiden European adventure under the shrewd guidance of sporting director Ralf Rangnick and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.

The ambition was proven when midfield sensation Naby Keita was refused a move to Liverpool - the Merseysiders instead agreed a deal to sign him next summer - and 21-goal Timo Werner also remained. The speedy striker is likely to lead the line for Germany at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

It's a tricky draw for Leipzig but they were unquestionably the team from pot four everyone wanted to avoid.

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Leipzig were unquestionably the team from pot four everyone wanted to avoid in the draw
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