The Way-Too-Early US Guide to Predicting the 2023-2024 UEFA Champions League

Football season. The most wonderful time of the year.

While millions of Americans are welcoming fall’s cool respite by snuggling up with the NFL or NCAA, real ones know where the best football is: Tuesdays and Wednesdays, exclusively in Europe and the middle of your workday.

That’s right — it’s mid-September. Time, once again, for the greatest yearly competition in the world: the UEFA Champions League, a battle royale between the top soccer teams in Europe, and, therefore, the world.

Though the competition technically started qualifying stages a few months ago, the tournament begins, in earnest, this week with Matchday 1 of the group stages. It marks the 32nd edition of the UCL, and Manchester City are both the reigning champs and the favorite to win it all.

The final will be hosted next June in London’s Wembley Stadium, capacity 90,000, home of the 1966 World Cup. Can anyone stop Man City from winning it all?

I think someone can. Of course, it’s a futile and stupid gesture to try and predict the outcome of a competition that will end in nine months — I have no clue how these teams will be playing one month from now, much less in nearly a year after countless injuries and another transfer window. But, if the teams stay generally healthy, and barring any mind-blowing transfers of epic proportions, here is what I see as the most likely outcome of the greatest tournament ever conceived.

UCL Group Stages — Who Will Win Each Group?

Champions League group stages consist of eight groups, A-H, with four teams each. Each group has six matches and each team plays every other team twice: home and away. The group stages run from September 19 to December 13.

Group A

Bayern Munich – Bundesliga

Man U – Premier League

Copenhagen – Danish Superliga

Galatasaray – Turkish Super Lig


This group is really straightforward. Even though Man U is struggling mightily right now (love to see it), they are probably still better than Copenhagen and Galatasaray. Bayern is miles ahead of everyone else. I’m picking Bayern and Man U to move forward, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Galatasaray shock the Red Devils.

Predicted Finish: 1. Bayern 2. Man U 3. Galatasaray 4. Copenhagen

Group B

Arsenal – Premier League

Sevilla – LaLiga

PSV – Eredivisie

Lens – Ligue 1


Like Group A, Group B has a clear power disparity at the top. The Gunners are miles ahead of everyone in this group — easy win for Arsenal. PSV, starring USMNT players Pepi, Dest, and Tillman, is rolling in the Dutch Eredivisie right now, and will likely finish second. Sevilla is struggling, as is Lens. Sevilla will likely be gunning for that Europa League trophy once again.

Predicted Finish: 1. Arsenal 2. PSV 3. Sevilla 4. Lens

Group C

Real Madrid – LaLiga

Napoli – Serie A

Braga – Portuguese Primeira Liga

FC Union Berlin – Bundesliga


Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Real Madrid v Napoli, twice, is world-class blockbuster material. Real Madrid is looking better this season than Napoli, but don’t count the Italians out yet. Both Braga and FC Union Berlin are competition for most teams, but not for Napoli and Real Madrid. 

Predicted Finish: 1. Real Madrid 2. Napoli 3. FC Union Berlin 4. Braga

Group D

Inter Milan – Serie A

Real Sociedad – LaLiga

Benfica – Portuguese Primeira Liga

RB Salzburg – Austrian Bundesliga


Inter Milan, the second-most popular team in the world that starts with “Inter Mi-“, is last year’s runners-up and still in top form. They just thrashed Milanese rivals AC Milan 5-1 just the other day, and no one in Group D will even present a challenge to them. The rest is kind of a toss-up — Benfica and Salzburg are both playing well in their domestic leagues, and Sociedad is having a rough start. I think Benfica survives.

Predicted Finish: 1. Inter 2. Benfica 3. RB Salzburg 4. Real Sociedad

Group E

Atletico Madrid – LaLiga

Feyenoord – Dutch Eredivisie

Lazio – Serie A

Celtic – Scottish Premiership


This group could be interesting, depending on how Atleti plays. On the one hand, the other Madrid team should clearly be the best in this group. But sometimes, Atletico likes to play with their food, which can lead to trouble. Lazio is having a bad start in Serie A. Celtic is playing well enough, but the Scottish Premiership does not equal LaLiga. Feyenoord is playing really well and will likely have the best shot at beating Atletico.

Predicted Finish: 1. Atletico 2. Feyenoord 3. Lazio 4. Celtic

Group F

Newcastle – Premier League

PSG – Ligue 1

Borussia Dortmund – Bundesliga

AC Milan – Serie A


The Group of Death. There’s one every season. Usually, it involves Bayern and Barcelona in some capacity. But not this year. This year… It’s the Group of F.

It’s actually not as big of a question mark as everyone thinks. NUFC is clearly the best team in this group, thanks in part to their Saudi PIF owners, the same ownership behind the Saudi Pro League revival. Dortmund and Milan are competing for second — both have looked good this season, but far from dominant. And while it will be wonderful to see USMNT stars Pulisic, Musah, and Reyna battle it out, there is one important thing to remember about this group: PSG is French for trash.

Predicted Finish: 1. Newcastle 2. AC Milan 3. Dortmund 4. PSG

Group G

Man City – Premier League

Young Boys – Swiss Super League

RB Leipzig – Bundesliga

Crvena zvezda – Serbian SuperLiga


This group is so easy to call, I’m not even going to bother trying to pronounce the team with all the consonants. (No disrespect — whoever they are, they are currently 2nd in Serbia.) Man City barely has to play their starters to win this group. Same for Leipzig — City v Leipzig in Germany will probably be the best game of the six. The Young Boys still have some growing to do, and again, no disrespect to the Serbs, whoever they might be. 

Predicted Finish: 1. Man City 2. RB Leipzig 3. Young Boys 4. Crvena Zvezda

Group H

Barcelona – LaLiga

Porto – Portuguese Primeira Liga

Shakhtar Donetsk – Ukrainian Premier League

Antwerp – Belgian Pro League


Group H also appears to be fairly straightforward. Barcelona, Spain’s reigning champs, are more loaded than Taco Bell Nacho Fries (TM) this season. Porto, currently leading the Portuguese Primeira Liga, is probably the second best. Antwerp is fifth in the Belgian league currently (not super prestigious), and Shakhtar is dominating the Ukrainian Premier League. Shakhtar seems to steal a surprise win every year, usually, and inexplicably, against Real Madrid — will Madrid’s biggest rivals suffer the same fate? Maybe. But they’ll still win the group.

Predicted Finish: 1. Barcelona 2. Porto 3. Shakhtar 4. Antwerp

And that’s the group stages, scheduled to end in December. Following a January transfer window, the surviving UCL contenders will have till February to lick their wounds and prepare for:

Predicting the UCL Knockout Rounds — February – May 2024

UEFA has released no official bracket for this yet (why would they? Again, making predictions this early is a fool’s errand), so I will be using last season’s format to predict how the group stages will go.

Round of 16 – February 2024

Match 1 – H1 v B2

Predicted Match – Barcelona v PSV

Barcelona v PSV is a little spicy. Sergino Dest will look to have something to prove against his old side. And even though PSV, Pepi, Dest, and Tillman are currently rolling, Barca rolls even deeper. Expect FCB to roll over PSV.

Predicted Winner – Barcelona

Match 2 – E1 v G2

Predicted Match – Atletico v RB Leipzig

The round of 16 is usually right around when everything implodes for Atletico, a team with historically higher expectations than they’ve ever met. Leipzig is having a lightning start to the Bundesliga season, and barring any major changes in quality, they look better than their Spanish counterparts.

Predicted Winner – RB Leipzig

Match 3 – C1 v H2

Predicted Match – Real Madrid v Porto

You almost feel bad for Porto here. Drawing Real Madrid in the first knockout round? Nobody deserves that. Nobody.

Predicted Winner – Real Madrid

Match 4 – D1 v E2

Predicted Match – Inter Milan v Feyenoord

Like Porto above, one has to feel for Feyenoord — playing so well in their domestic league, and then drawing one of the five best teams in Europe. It could be a banger, but Inter looks damn near unbeatable at the moment. 

Predicted Winner – Inter 

Match 5 – B1 v C2

Predicted Match – Arsenal v Napoli

Now this is one a-spicy piece-a pizza. What a matchup. If they were to play today? Arsenal — no doubt in my mind. But I haven’t given up on Napoli yet. Yes, a tough start to the season. But they still have the talent, and I think they’ll pull it off. Here comes a hot take, straight out of Serie A:

Predicted Winner – Napoli

Match 6 – G1 v F2

Predicted Match – Man City v AC Milan

As much as I want to call this for Pulisic and Milan, you and I both know that I cannot. I’m just looking for moral victories here: a goal or an assist or two from Puli would be good enough for me.

Predicted Winner – Man City

Match 7 – A1 v D2

Predicted Match – Bayern Munich v Benfica

Another unfortunate draw for a team performing well domestically — I’m speaking of Benfica, of course. Bayern, Kane, and the rest of Tuchel’s machine will likely terminate the Portuguese giants.

Predicted Winner – Bayern

Match 8 – F1 v A2

Predicted Match – Newcastle v Man U

With how Man U is playing this season, the Red Devils will have barely made it to this point in the competition. In fact, in most other groups, Man U wouldn’t make it to the knockout rounds. Their luck runs out here against a Premier League rival — the actually well-built NUFC.

Predicted Winner – Newcastle

Quarterfinals – April 2024

You’re still here for what essentially equates to football fan fiction at this point? Good, because I’m not done yet.

After the Round of 16 comes the quarters. Now we’re getting into super hypothetical territory, though I do think everything I predict will happen. Obviously.

Match 1 – Game 1 v 5 Winner

Predicted Match – Barcelona v Napoli

What a dream match. Two ancient, decorated clubs, battling it out in the spotlight, exactly as it should be. Will we see Arsenal here instead of Napoli? Maybe. Either way, it’s going to be a banger, and either way, Xavi’s revamped Barca, a dangerous elixir of youth and experience, will skate by here. 

Predicted Winner – Barcelona

Match 2 – Game 6 v 3 Winner

Predicted Match – Man City v Real Madrid

The banger to end all bangers! A rematch of last year’s semi-final, Man City’s true coming out party. Pep vs. Ancelotti. Bellingham vs. Ederson. Tradition vs. Money. Money vs. Money. Should be great.

Predicted Winner – Man City

Match 3 – Game 8 v 2 Winner

Predicted Match – Newcastle v RB Leipzig

Another exciting tie — at this point, I guess they all are. RB Leipzig’s blitzkrieg vs Newcastle’s speed and money. Money money money. Soccer, at this level, is about money. Newcastle has more of it and is probably a better-rounded team as a result.

Predicted Winner – Newcastle

Match 4 – Game 4 v 7 Winner

Predicted Match – Inter Milan v Bayern

A true tactical and philosophical battle to take place here: defense versus offense. German attack versus Italian strongholds. Beer versus wine. It’s hard to bet against Inter right now… But against my better judgment, I’m gonna go with Harry Kane and his powerful Skechers. 

Predicted Winner – Bayern

Semifinals – Late April, early May 2024

And then there were four. All giants, in their own right, though some more than others. If and when all my predictions come true, here’s what comes next.

Match 1 – Game 3 v 2 Winner

Predicted Match – Newcastle v Man City

And here it is, my hottest take of the tournament: Man City is going to choke here. NUFC is going to pull a Chelsea and upset Man City in the semis. The teams are well-matched and will have seen one another plenty by April. I think it’s going to be epic, and I think Newcastle is going to shock the world. 

Predicted Winner – Newcastle

Match 2 – Game 1 v 4 Winner

Predicted Match – Barcelona v Bayern

Oh no! Barcelona v Bayern is a Culer’s worst nightmare! Bayern has absolutely slaughtered the Catalan Kings in the UCL something like 175-6 the last 15 times they’ve met. But that was then. This… Is approximately seven months from now. It’s going to be epic. And Barcelona, like Newcastle above, is going to shock the world, starting with Germany. 

Predicted Winner – Barcelona

Final – June 2024

Newcastle v Barcelona

I mean, there’s no way I’m wrong about this, right? It’ll take healthy seasons, stellar play, major improvement, lucky breaks, and two semifinal upsets to get here — but I’m telling you, it’s going to happen. And when it does, it will be glorious. Sure, Newcastle will have somewhat of a home-field advantage in Wembley. But Barcelona is rolling in the deep, like Adele, who is also from London (I think). And, just like the Grammy winner, Barca will say “Hello” to their first European trophy since 2015. Is this metaphor still working?

Winner – Barcelona

As always — there is undoubtedly no way I could be wrong. 

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Featured Image: Dall-E 2

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