Group D of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League group stages doesn't necessarily constitute a 'group of death,' but it's an extremely competitive one in which all four teams will have a chance to advance. The favorites are clearly outlined, but none of the teams is a slouch and all have some fantastic talent. Real Madrid, the top seed, will be the clear favorites but all of the other teams are strong.
Olympique Lyonnais have met Real Madrid on multiple occasions and made a number of trips to the knockout round of the competition in recent years, but they're a club in transition. They were not up to their normal standards last year in Ligue 1 as they struggled to qualify for the league, and Rubin Kazan gave them problems in the playoff round.
Ajax Amsterdam are experiencing a bit of a resurgence under new manager Frank de Boer, and they should be much more competitive than they were last year when they were also in a group with Real Madrid. Dinamo Zagreb are definitely fourth favorites in this group, but young stars like Sammir and Milan Badelj, both of whom are reportedly coveted by the biggest teams in Europe, will give them a fighting chance to make an impact in the group.
Out before it starts
No one, but Dinamo Zagreb come closest. They are definitely the favorites to finish bottom. Their star players can play at this level, but their depth in talent doesn't quite stack up to the other teams in the group.
Sorry, Europa League for you
This is a tough call, but based on the way Ajax finished the last Eredivisie season and their summer buys, Lyon are looking good for third place and a place in the UEFA Europa League knockout stages. They have looked average to start the Ligue 1 season and still haven't quite gotten the most out of Yoann Gourcuff.
Advancing to the Knockout Stage are...
Real Madrid and Ajax. Real Madrid are the clear favorites and undoubtedly one of the teams with a chance to win the entire competition. Ajax don't have that pedigree, but it's reasonable to call them slight favorites over Lyon. It's more or less a toss-up between the two teams, but the signing of Theo Janssen could push Ajax over the top.
Player to watch
Mesut Özil - Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest star of the Galacticos, but Özil has become just as integral a part of the team as his more famous and more expensive teammate. His creative passing and off the ball movement has added a new dimension to Los Merengues' attack.
Lyon vs. Ajax at Stade de Gerland - If Ajax wants to get out of the group, a point (or win) in Lyon would be massive. This could be the key to deciding who gets out of the group stages and into the knockout stages.