Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa.
Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg.
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich.
Group D: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia.
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni.
Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan.
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni.
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege
Quite an interesting draw yesterday, and the British clubs on the whole will be happy with the groups they have landed in. No obvious group of death but certainly quite a few where three teams will be competing to qualify.
Group A is quite tough to call. You have the traditional heavyweights of Bayern and Juventus joined by the Ligue 1 Champions Bordeaux. The Germans have made a shoddy start under Van Gaal this year and it remains to be seen if they are preparing to sell Ribery following the arrival of Robben, Juve have bought well this summer and should be strong while it will be interesting to see if Bordeaux have the players to compete at this level. We can safely say Maccabi will be bottom.
Man Utd have a slightly trickier task then usual in Group B but should still comfortably qualify. The long distance trips to CSKA and Besiktas might be a drag, and they drew the one fourth pot team no one wanted in German champs Wolfsburg. Wolsburg have kept the team that took them to the title last season (bar the manager) and Edin Dzeko will look to continue impressing scouts across Europe. Fergie’s side should come top and it will be between Wolfsburg and CSKA for second.
Group C sees Kaka go back to Milan with his new side Real Madrid but they should both be qualifying. Marseille might cause a shock or two at home but will likely fall short in third place.
Chelsea face away tricky ties at Atletico and Porto in Group D as well quite a long trip to Nicosia but their experience should see them qualify. After all wasn’t Ancelotti hired to win this? Porto and Atletico will tear strips off each other and I think that the latter’s superior strike force of Forlan and Aguero will see them join the Blues in the second round.
Group E will be scrappy and I can see both Lyon and Fiorentina causing Liverpool some problems. It could be very tight between these three even though on paper Liverpool are easily the strongest side. They seem to find compact technical teams quite difficult to break down in the group stages and it wouldn’t surprise me if they went through in second.
Group F sees Zlatan and Eto’o return to their respective former clubs with Barcelona playing Inter at the San Siro on matchday 1. Both teams should comfortably qualify though Barcelona’s away games against Rubin Kazan and Kiev are not until November onwards so the weather could play a factor. In particular Guardiola’s side will not want to go to Kiev in December needing something from their last game. I’m sure that won’t be the case though.
Rangers have a fair chance at qualifying from Group G as they’ve been paired with one of the weaker top seeds in Sevilla as well as Stuttgart and Unirea. I think it will be between them and the German side for second with Sevilla’s experience at this level seeing them through in first.
The last group (H) sees Arsenal get quite a gentle draw alongside Standard Liege, AZ Alkmaar and Olympiakos. None will be easy to beat, but all should be beaten. Liege will look to Steven Defour to try and help them get second ahead of Alkmaar but I suspect it will be the Dutch champions who end up nabbing it behind the Gunners in first.
I suspect there won’t be too many shocks overall but I’m sure one or two clubs will manage to mess things up. It all starts on September 14th, can’t wait!