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UCL: Ranking each 2017/18 group from easiest to most difficult

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It’s always to play the “which team has the hardest or easiest group?” game before UEFA Champions League play has even kicked off.

[ MORE: UCL draw — Group H features Real, Dortmund and Spurs ]

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here today.

Thursday’s draw featured many twists and turns, just as every other year does, but there’s little debating which groups will be the most challenging for the 2017/18 group stage.

[ MORE: Ibrahimovic move helps Man United’s aspirations in 17/18 ]

Below, we’ll rate and take a look at which groups present the biggest threat to the teams in them starting with the easiest and working our way down to the most difficult.

(Scale is 1-10 with 1 being the easiest and 10 presenting the biggest challenge)

Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, FC Basel, CSKA Moscow

(Rating: 2)

Other than the travel to Russia, Manchester United should have little problems with their group. Benfica is a side worth watching out for given their track record in the UCL, which includes reaching the knockout phase in the last two seasons.

Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic

(Rating: 4)

There’s no doubting who the two heavyweights are in this group, so it’s a massive uphill climb for Anderlecht and Celtic if they want to pull off any upsets. Chances are though, both clubs will be vying for a place in the Europa League.

Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiakos, Sporting Lisbon

(Rating: 4.5)

Barca and Juventus will be the two sides most people are looking at — and rightfully so. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Sporting or Olympiakos advances, but both clubs present difficult fixtures when playing at home, so they could quietly make some noise.

Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

(Rating: 5)

Liverpool got the group it wanted and needed as the Premier League side re-joins the UCL this season. Sevilla has had loads of success in the Europa League, winning three of the last four years, but the Champions League is a different animal.

Group C: Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, AS Roma, Qarabag

(Rating: 6)

On paper this should be a tricky group given the three big names, but Roma is a very different side than they were last year. They don’t boast the attacking threats that they once did, and Atletico and Chelsea should be able to handle themselves, despite having to make tough trips to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag in their inaugural UCL season.

Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord

(Rating: 7)

This group is a lot tougher than it looks. Feyenoord won’t have much expected of them, but the Dutch side proved last season in domestic play that they can be a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Napoli and Man City present dangerous attacking fronts and will be the ones that are expected to reach the last 16.

Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besitkas, Red Bull Leipzig

(Rating: 7.5)

This could very well be the most underrated group given the names in it, but don’t sleep on any of these four clubs. Monaco should be the favorite to win Group G, but given all the losses they’ve suffered this summer in the transfer market it’s simply a different team from the 2016/17 season. Also, watch out for RB Leipzig in its first UCL appearance.

Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur, APOEL

(Rating: 9.5)

As far as English sides go, Spurs really got the short end of the stick with this draw. While APOEL will likely be the club that has to receive the brutal beatings from all three contenders, Spurs will have the challenging task on its hands of trying to finish above Real and Dortmund, who have both found success in the competition as of late.

Mesut Ozil discusses critique of Turkish background

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Germany’s dismissal from the World Cup came as a shock to many, but one of its players received heavier scrutiny for off-the-field actions.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing move to Bayern ]

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil appeared in two of the three group stage matches for the Germans in Russia, however, his play was overshadowed by his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to the start of the tournament.

The meeting between the two caused several German media outlets to criticize Ozil due to the heated relations between the two European nations.

Additionally, Ozil says his brand was affected as well, with various sponsors pulling their support due to the meeting with Erdogan.

The 29-year-old is of Turkish and German descent, which would have made him eligible to represent either country.

Ozil took to Twitter on Sunday to discuss how the ordeal has affected how the media and sponsorship has affected him over the last month.

Barcelona, Sevilla to play Spanish Super Cup in Morocco

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La Liga champions Barcelona will meet Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup in Tangier, Morocco on August 12.

[ MORE: Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool spending ]

The Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) announced the decision on Sunday, as Barca looks to kick off the 2018 season against last year’s Copa Del Rey runners’ up.

Lionel Messi and Co. defeated Sevilla, 5-0, in the 2017/18 Copa Del Rey final, giving the Blaugrana a domestic double for the first time since the 2015/16 campaign.

La Liga play opens up in Spain on August 19, however, the full fixture list will be revealed on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic: MLS is “lucky I didn’t come 10 years ago”

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a major bright spot, as expected, in his debut season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing Bayern Munich transfer ]

The LA Galaxy striker recorded a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, raising his goal tally to 12 on the year — which ranks fourth-best in the league.

At the age of 36, Ibrahimovic has shown he’s more than capable of producing as a veteran, but it raises the question: how amazing would he have been in MLS had he joined sooner?

Following the Galaxy’s win over the Union, Ibrahimovic joked with media, suggesting he could have had the entire country in his hand if he had arrived in the United States sooner.

“They’re lucky I didn’t come 10 years ago,” Ibrahimovic said, “because I would be the president today.”

Puel insists Chelsea hasn’t inquired about goalkeeper Schmeichel

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Chelsea could very be in the market for a goalkeeper over the summer, but Leicester City’s manager insists that their number one isn’t being targeted by the Blues; or at least not yet.

[ MORE: Klopp discusses Christian Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending ]

With the Blues likely set to lose Belgium international Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, new manager Maurizio Sarri would have to look elsewhere to solidify the team’s goalkeeping situation.

One player that has drawn significant interest after a strong World Cup performance for Denmark is Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, who played a big role in the Foxes’ 2015/16 Premier League title.

Although Schmeichel would be a viable replacement for Courtois at Stamford Bridge, Leicester boss Claude Puel says Chelsea hasn’t expressed its interest to this point.

“No, there is no problem with this,” the Frenchman told Sky Sports. “There is a lot of speculation at this moment, it is normal.

“I think he [Ward] can bring more competition to the squad and more possibilities. It is a good thing to have competition between players in the squad to develop desire.

“It gives good focus and concentration.”

The Foxes recently brought in young Liverpool keeper Danny Ward, which raised further questions about the future of Schmeichel at Leicester.