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Aug 28, 2014

Atletico Madrid set to repeat success in Group A

Mario Mandzukic leads a refreshed Atletico Madrid line as they attempt to better their runners-up finish in last year's competition.
The Champions League draw has been finalised. Here's a preview for Group A:

Predicted finish

1. Atletico Madrid
2. Juventus
3. Olympiakos
4. Malmo

Atletico Madrid (Soccer Power Index (SPI) chance to advance: 83.9 percent)

Atletico were finalists in last season's Champions League, and it might have been thought of as a last great act for a team that reached a miraculous peak. Atletico followed the path of many other surprise sides in being picked apart in the offseason, as so many of their stars were stripped away by bigger clubs. The difference, however, is that manager Diego Simeone's signings seem to have kept the club at a similar level. There is even an argument that they performed superior close-season business than either of their two big rivals, Real Madrid and Barcelona. That could be seen in the Spanish Super Cup. This Champions League, meanwhile, will likely see the effect of Simeone's brilliant management, as Atletico managed to hold on to the most important figure of all. They are also a supreme cup side.

Juventus (SPI: 67.7 percent)

After three years of steady growth, and the gradual expectation that they might finally be ready to make a proper statement in the Champions League, Juventus have hit a bit of a halt. Star manager Antonio Conte has gone, star players such as Arturo Vidal could yet leave, and it already seemed that the club needed an elevation in quality to make the leap. The canniness of the club should mean there is no doubt about their ability to get through a group much more forgiving than last season's, when they fell to Galatasaray. But it's difficult to believe they're quite so capable of taking command.

Olympiakos (SPI: 42.7 percent)

Narrowly made it to the second round last season, and were narrowly prevented from making history as Manchester United staged a huge recovery in their round-of-16 second leg. Now, Olympiakos have made significant strides in terms of transfers, with exciting names and influential figures such as Eric Abidal and Ibrahim Afellay signing on. That should bring them right to the brink of qualification again. The greater difficulty of the group, however, may leave them just short.

Malmo (SPI: 5.7 percent)

Picked up where they left off last season by streaking to the top of the Swedish league, and are currently a comfortable seven points clear. That was continued in the Champions League with a commanding win over Red Bull Salzburg in which international Markus Rosenberg was influential. This, however, represents a different type of task. Malmo should compete hard against each of the other three teams, but it's unlikely to prevent them from ending up at the bottom of the group.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.

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